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Boys, girls cross country runners eye breakthroughs and more in 2015

St. Charles North sophomore Audrey Ernst is part of a young North Stars core eyeing a breakthrough in 2015.
St. Charles North sophomore Audrey Ernst is part of a young North Stars core eyeing a breakthrough in 2015.

Poll Kane County Chronicle-area boys and girls cross country coaches about any 2015 scheduling shifts and the answers are polarizing.

Some, such as St. Charles North boys coach Kevin Harrington, admit to enacting “quite a bit of a juggle” on the itinerary. Others take solace in standing pat with familiar weekend meets.

When it comes to its annual Larry Eddington Invitational on Sept. 19, Kaneland stands in the rare position of changing while staying the same. The longstanding meet will return to its Elburn Forest Preserve roots in 2015 after taking a detour to Kaneland’s new on-campus course last season.

“That’s what the athletes want,” Knights boys coach Chad Clarey said. “It’s really what that meet is all about: the kids and what they can do on a more rugged and challenging course.”

Because Kaneland hosted a Class 2A boys regional last season on its far flatter, on-campus course, officials elected to move the Eddington from Elburn Woods for a dry run.

Although visiting athletes and coaches praised the new layout and the meet’s organization, at least one team gnashed its teeth upon passing the forest preserve on the way to Kaneland.

The shift serves at least one other purpose for Clarey’s team, whose top returners include senior Austin Kintz and sophomore Matt Richtman. Elburn Woods’ hilly course offers athletes a preview of coming attractions for a state series that includes similarly sloped paths at regionals and sectionals.

“Unfortunately,” Clarey said, “that flat path that you’re trying to get for peak races isn’t going to come into the question until we potentially make it to the state meet.”

However they finish, the Knights are eager to embrace the climb.

North has solid footing: North likes its chances to contend in what should be an exciting Upstate Eight Conference River Division girls race.

Sophomore standout Audrey Ernst returns to anchor a young but seasoned lead group that also includes classmate Ally Suyak and juniors Allie Chen and Madison Kauffmann.

Also back to boost the cause is senior Nina Olshever, who coach Shari Hayes said “needed a break from cross country” in 2014 but returned on the heels of a solid junior track season.

For all the familiar faces, Hayes found an influx of cross country newcomers who came from other sports and are trying distance running for the first time.

“They’re just getting used to running,” Hayes said. “I have no idea where they’re actually going to end up in the season.”

‘Dogs ripe with enthusiasm: Success breeds success, the adage goes.

The Batavia girls program knows more than most, entering 2015 with much of its youthful core back from last season’s 11th-place state team, plus a few eager athletes waiting in the wings.

Less than a month before the Bulldogs earned the best 3A state finish in program history, the Rotolo Middle School eighth-grade girls won an IESA state title.

“I would say there’s enthusiasm every year here because of how well they’re doing at Rotolo,” said Bulldogs coach Chad Hillman, whose wife, Kate, coaches the middle schoolers. “So we’re following up on that because when we get the girls here, they’ve already been running and succeeding and part of it for two or three years.”

Sophomore Emma Stephens, who took 36th individually at state in 2014, helps steer a Bulldogs pack that also includes classmates Marygrace Golden and Daphne Kolody and senior Dakota Roman. The program graduated just one senior from its top seven last season.

“So far, so good,” Chad Hillman said. “Just trying to get everybody back into the groove of everything that comes with the fall at school. Training shifts, adding some intensity to the training and the schedule, of course, when you get back to school.”

Vikes vets set tone: Recent Geneva graduate Mitchael Deamantopulos parlayed his one and only boys cross country season into a collegiate running opportunity at Illinois-Chicago.

Vikings coach Bob Thomson still beams about the turn of events, but he’s also overjoyed about a related development: Geneva returns much of its core from last season, as the program bids for its first team trip downstate since 2010.

“We’re excited like we haven’t been for awhile,” Thomson said. “It seems like as good as we get at the end of the season, we’d be senior-heavy in our top seven. But now we’re excited to have a good group of kids with experience coming back that we haven’t had for awhile.”

Thomson touts the Vikings’ depth as a valuable resource. Incumbent seniors Brian Caskey, Julian Desens and Jake Tracey have welcomed the return of classmate Steve Creger, who Thomson said “looks like he’s pushing back into the top again” after nagging injuries curtailed his development as an underclassman.

“We’re just excited about getting to our first meet and seeing how things are going to pan out for us,” said Thomson, who also coaches the Geneva girls.

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