Bob Liking never wishes to experience such a feeling again.
“It just didn’t line up,” the St. Charles East senior said of the final results of the Class 3A boys cross country state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria last fall.
The Saints were coming off their first sectional team championship in decades the week before, only to fall short of a trophy with their fifth-place finish.
“[Liking] knows that if he would have run what he was capable of, we would have a trophy,” St. Charles East coach Chris Bosworth said. “He doesn’t want that to happen again. Bottom line: I don’t think he wants to let his team down again. He felt he did last year.”
The Class 3A state powers are concentrated in the western suburbs this fall as the Saints are ranked behind only longtime powerhouse York and defending state champion Wheaton Warrenville South.
Liking had a brilliant season opener at the Leavey Invitational on Sept. 7 at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles, becoming the lone athlete to eclipse 15 minutes (14:59) in a 14-second triumph over teammate Micah Wilson.
St. Charles East captured their home invite for the first time.
The Saints’ Aidan King (fifth), Luke Schildmeyer (sixth) and Zack Loomis (eight) complemented the Liking-Wilson 1-2 finish to give St. Charles East (22 points) a decisive victory over perennial power Downers Grove North (76 points).
Batavia was a distant third with 91 points. St. Charles North, Marmion and Geneva were sixth, seventh and 10th, respectively.
“We were really eager to race on Saturday,” Liking said. “It’s going to get harder as we get into the season.”
Liking was hesitant about his chances of winning as he was slightly under the weather.
“I wanted to go out slowly,” Liking said. “The [front] pack kind of helped with that. I don’t think I had too insane of a race.”
“They definitely have some good firepower up front,” Geneva coach Peter Raak said of the Saints.
Abbott surpasses FitzPatrick
St. Charles East returning all-stater Alice Abbott fondly recalled her first cross country race at the Leavey.
“I was a freshman and it was my first race,” Abbott said. “The coaches wanted me to get a race under my belt. I was in the frosh-soph race. I beat all the other girls by over two minutes. That was the only race I have ever run on frosh-soph. My coach [Matt Kaplan] decided I wouldn’t be on frosh-soph anymore.”
“I have a policy of freshmen working their way into the season,” Kaplan said.
Abbott was the class of the girls field Sept. 7, defeating highly regarded Barrington junior Molly FitzPatrick by eight seconds with her championship time of 17:30.
Barrington turned back Benet for the girls team title.
St. Charles East was sixth among local programs, with Geneva and Batavia occupying slots No. 7 and 10.
“I thought [Abbott] looked really strong, especially over the last 150 meters,” Kaplan said. “I think that [17:30] is one of the top-five times on the new course.”
Nationally ranked Batavia rested its state veterans.
“I really wanted to go against Batavia’s Katrina Schlenker,” Abbott said. “But I will have plenty of chances against her for the rest of the season.”
The Batavia sophomore was the Class 3A state runner-up last season.
“[Coach Chad Hillman] is having us race every other week until [the DuKane] Conference [meet],” Batavia two-time all-state returnee Mia Gianfrancesco said.
Raak, the Vikings’ veteran girls track coach, oversaw both Geneva programs for the first time in his new capacity as head coach.
“I guess ‘overwhelming’ is a pretty good word,” Raak said. “It was great to build a new part of Geneva cross country.”