Mia Gianfrancesco envisioned a smoother final cross country regular season.
The only two-time all-state athlete in the history of the Batavia girls program, Gianfrancesco was slowed by an ankle injury suffered in warming up for her intended season debut – the First to the Finish Invitational at Detweiller Park, the state finals site in Peoria.
But the Batavia senior is starting to find her rhythm.
With coach Chad Hillman resting his starters last weekend in preparation for the loaded Twilight Invitational at Naperville North on Oct. 9, Gianfrancesco entered the fray at the St. Charles North Invitational over the weekend.
“We were trying to get another [competitive] race before conference, regional, sectional and state,” Gianfrancesco said.
Gianfrancesco tamed the trying conditions at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles by touring the 3-mile layout in 18 minutes, 8.4 seconds. In doing so, she turned back fellow returning all-stater Naomi Ruff, a South Elgin sophomore, by six one-hundredths of a second.
St. Charles North sophomore Rachel Price, also all-state last fall, was fifth in 18:18.6.
It was the first major individual championship for Gianfrancesco since storming to the league title two years ago in the Bulldogs’ final season in the Upstate Eight.
“I was going to stick with the top people,” Gianfrancesco said of her strategy. “I was just kind of picking off people and trying to make the last mile the best I could.”
Batavia entered the season as the consensus No. 4 team in Class 3A, behind defending state champion Naperville North, runner-up Yorkville and third-place trophy-winner Downers Grove South.
All four programs will collide Oct. 9 in Naperville.
“I know the group I should be with,” Gianfrancesco said of her mission.
In the boys race at LeRoy Oakes, defending Class 3A state champion Wheaton Warrenville South demolished the field en route to the title.
But St. Charles North senior Ryan Arnold had an impressive showing with his third-place finish in 15:21.5.
The North Stars were sixth at their home invite.
“Running in the mud is a quality that not every fast kid has,” St. Charles North coach Kevin Harrington said of his lead athlete. “I was happy with where he was at. We keep getting better [as a team] every week. I see it how we are scoring compared to other teams.”
SCE boys, Surtz continue to roll
The St. Charles East boys made yet another trip to Detweiller Park over the weekend in a collective effort to exorcise their shared disappointment with leaving Peoria without a state trophy last fall.
“[The fifth-place state finish] doesn’t define us anymore,” St. Charles East senior standout Bob Liking said.
Liking captured his third major individual championship of the fall with his 14:23.2 time – a career best – at the state site.
Micah Wilson (fifth) and Aidan King (ninth) also showcased their skills for the Saints, who romped past Sandburg 41-72 for the team title.
The schools occupy the top two spots in the coaches’ poll.
“We wanted to go out kind of slow [as a team pack],” Liking said. “We really pushed it up between miles 2 and 3. I thought our whole squad did that very well.”
Liking said he and his fellow starters will rest until the DuKane Conference championship.
“It adds fuel to the fire,” Liking said of the expected duel with Wheaton Warrenville South.
Meanwhile, Rosary sophomore LIanna Surtz has been a one-man wrecking crew of late.
The defending state runner-up in Class 2A was the star attraction in winning the championship flight at Wheaton North on Oct. 5.
“I made sure to relax in the first half of the race and then try to push it and grow my lead in the last mile and a half,” Surtz said.