Alexa Haff returns to lead Hinsdale Central to Marist Sectional championship

MIDLOTHIAN — Alexa Haff didn’t have to run Saturday at the Class 3A Marist Sectional.

Cross country’s defending state runner-up could have rested another week and Hinsdale Central still would have qualified for the state meet without her.

Haff took the previous two weeks off from competition to rest a hip injury. But she was feeling better in the days leading up to the sectional at Midlothian Meadows and ran the morning race.

The sophomore won the sectional in 17:02 to beat Plainfield North junior Rachael Lau (17:12) and claim her first victory since the St. Charles North Invitational Oct. 4.

Haff led Hinsdale Central (50) to the team title over Lockport (82) as the Red Devils captured their first sectional championship since the state championship team in 2006. The Devils qualified for state for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

“Alexa is only a sophomore, but she is a master of knowing her body, listening to her body and knowing what she needs to do, which is be patient,” Devils coach Mark McCabe said.

Haff’s ability to run Saturday likely increases her chances of winning the individual state meet and leading the Devils to their second state title in school history. Glenbard West will be favored to repeat its team title Nov. 8 at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

If Haff did not run in the sectional, McCabe still could have placed her name on a list of eligible qualifiers for the state meet.

“Getting a race under her belt helps going into the state meet,” McCabe said. “She lives her life like an athlete [by knowing when to run].”

Haff admitted to some apprehension at the start of the race, but after feeling no pain after the first mile, she was back to her former self.

“The start was crowded. I wanted to get into my rhythm as the race progressed, but I was getting confident, which was good,” Haff said.

With Haff sitting out the past two weeks, junior teammate Annie Zaher placed third at the West Suburban Silver meet Oct. 18 and won the Hinsdale Central Regional Oct. 25. Zaher settled back into her usual No. 2 spot for the Devils on Saturday and placed fourth (17:27).

“[I run] a little different with [Haff running],” Zaher said. “At first at the start, I was more conservative. A lot of girls passed me at the beginning, but I got them in the woods [portion of the course].”

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