In the past four seasons, few runners have been in as many cross country meets, and been as durable and diligent, as Elizabeth Venezio.
The Lincoln-Way Central senior added to her impressive list of races Saturday by leading the Knights to their second straight SouthWest Suburban Red meet championship.
“I can’t believe how fast the season went by,’’ Venezio said. “It didn’t hit me until practice on Friday.’’
Venezio and freshman teammate Gretchen Zirgaitis were third and fourth, respectively, at Turtlehead Lake. The entire squad — Madison Smith (fifth), Heidi Killinger (sixth), Dana Boucher (ninth), Emily Furtek (13th) and Amanda Baker (15th)— achieved all-conference status.
“We run the same way, we have the same pace,’’ Venezio said. “It was cool just being able to run with each other.’’
“The best part about our team is how they work together,’’ Central coach Brian VanBeveren said. “They keep each other up throughout the race…The seniors have been great mentors to the young girls.’’
Venezio and Killinger’s experiences have included the past three state meets. Venezio was Central’s top runner at the 2012 state final (18:43).
She was the team’s No. 2 last year (18:54) behind Smith (18:47) when the Knights moved up a spot to 24th place.
Next for Central will be the Minooka Regional on Saturday at Channahon Community Park followed by the Nov. 1 Quincy Sectional.
Central won the Andrew Regional last year and finished third at the Edwardsville Sectional behind Minooka and O’Fallon.
“If we make it to state, it would be awesome if we were top 20, even 21 or 22,’’ Venezio said. “It would be a really good end to the season.’’
Central’s boys team also earned its second straight conference championship Saturday as junior Ian Peterson clocked 15:37 for the individual title.
“I think we can win regional and compete with O’Fallon for sectional,’’ Peterson said. “State, we’ll see what happens. We’re looking for maybe top 12 as a team, top 10.’’
Going far at Thornwood
Thornwood senior Deandra Stokes isn’t the first member of her family to take up running, but she’s the first to go long distances.
“My mom and dad did track, but they were in sprints,’’ Stokes said. “My mom even told me I was crazy for doing distance. She said she could never do it.’’
Stokes made all-conference her only two seasons running cross country. She placed 11th in the 2013 SouthWest Red meet and 12th Saturday at Turtlehead Lake.
Stokes has run track at Thornwood since her sophomore year, but she prefers cross country.
“I like how you can do just one race and die. When you’re done, it’s done,’’ Stokes said.
Thornwood will be in the Andrew Regional, where Stokes hopes to earn a spot to the Quincy Sectional, and hopefully her first state meet berth.
Sandburg’s Casey Jensen, runner-up to Lockport’s Morgan Bollinger in last year’s SouthWest Blue race, edged All-Stater Bollinger for this year’s title, 18:21.8 to 18:22.5.
Two All-Staters, Marist’s Maryclare Leonard and Fenwick’s Olivia Ryan, were at it again for the East Suburban Catholic title.
Ryan won last year by 15 seconds, but Leonard was a much closer runner-up this time, 17:46.09 to 17:45.56 for Ryan.
In boys races, Sandburg (SouthWest Blue) and Bremen (South Suburban Blue) both repeated as conference champs while Oak Lawn (South Suburban Red) reclaimed the title from Shepard.
In preparation for its regional, state contender Sandburg took seven of the top eight spots in the SouthWest Blue meet, led by individual winner Tom Brennan (15:14.8).
Local Class 3A regionals Saturday will be hosted by Sandburg (Midlothian Meadows), Andrew (Turtlehead Lake) and Lockport (Dellwood Park).
Class 2A regionals include Illiana Christian (North Creek Meadows) and Morris High School, where Lincoln-Way West, Providence, Rich East and Crete-Monee will run.
The top six teams and first five runners not members of qualifying teams in each regional will advance to sectional competition.