PEORIA – Kaneland sophomore Victoria Clinton's goals evolved as Saturday's IHSA Class 2A Girls Cross Country State Meet unfolded.
"My goal was to be in the top five and stay up there," Clinton said. "When I stayed up there and realized I had a pretty good chance of being in the top three, I knew I should just go for it."
Clinton's time of 16:56 at Detweiller Park in Peoria was a personal best by about 30 seconds, according to Knights coach Doug Ecker.
"It was a really fast course," Clinton said. "It went by incredibly fast. It was nice ground, not too hard, but not too soft."
Clinton becomes the first Knights cross country runner – female or male – to win an individual state championship, Ecker said. The program's previous best was third place by Kerry Rink in 1986 when Illinois had a one-class system.
"You have to have the talent and you also just have to have it on that day because there are so many good runners in Illinois," Ecker said. "You could run your best on that particular day and someone else could be just a little bit sharper. I think it's an amazing thing. State champions are hard to come by."
Clinton finished 11 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Stephanie Saey of Galesburg, who clocked in at 17:07. Marengo's Katie Adams, who relegated Clinton to a second-place finish at sectionals and was unbeaten on the season, finished ninth in 17:32.
As a team, the Kaneland girls placed sixth. Freshman Brianna Bower was 32nd in 18:09, junior Sydney Strang was 38th in 18:14 and sophomore Aislinn Losdwig finished 69th in 18:36. Amanda Lesak (81st place), Maggie Brundige (98th) and Abby Dodis (120th) also were solid for the Knights, with Brundige battling through plantar fasciitis, according to Ecker.
St. Francis' Katie Roback finished 18th individually in 17:45.
Kaneland boys coach Chad Clarey said his runners wondered how they could provide a suitable encore after Clinton's dramatic performance in the girls race.
"That's exactly what we wound up doing," Clarey said. "We had two runners in the top 50 and as deep as the whole Class 2A field is, we had some other guys in the low-100s."
Clarey said the Knights' cumulative team time of 78:34 was the best in 16 downstate appearances by the program.
Senior Conor Johnson (36th place, 15:18) and junior Kyle Carter (48th, 15:22) were the leaders for the Knights, who landed in 13th place as a team.
In Class 3A, Geneva placed sixth in the 25-team field and could challenge for the podium again for years to come.
Freshman McKenzie Altmayer (36th, 17:27) and sophomore Brooke Nusser (42nd, 17:31) paced the Vikings, who rode a similar youth movement to successive state titles in 2007-08.
St. Charles North placed 17th behind junior Ashley England (40th, 17:29). St. Charles East sophomore Torree Scull was the top area finisher in the race, running 31st in 17:20.
Batavia freshman Dakota Roman placed 58th in 17:44.
In the boys race, North placed 20th in the team standings as senior Spencer Gray took 45th in 15:02. Nathan Klair (106th, 15:26) was next for the North Stars, who had their sights on a more productive day.
"We're kind of walking away not feeling great," North coach Kevin Harrington said. "We know that we accomplished a lot and did some good stuff, but we walked in with high expectations of ourselves. It's one of those things where it's great to have those expectations, but you can't always run the perfect race."
Batavia senior Trevor Hollis (62nd, 15:09) paced the area's contingent of individual qualifiers. Geneva senior Mike Bianchina, who was recovering from a fractured left leg suffered during track sectionals last spring, took 90th in 15:20.