Neuqua Valley has left a lasting impression in the sport of boys cross country in the start of the 21st century.
Four years after the south Naperville high school opened its doors, the Wildcats made their official debut at the state finals in 2001.
Neuqua has been a fixture at Detweiller Park ever since, and last Saturday was no different after Nick Bushelle finished fifth at the Hinsdale Central sectional to spearhead a 13th consecutive top-five finish in the sectionals.
In the last seven years, Neuqua Valley has won two state championships while placing fourth an equal number of times. The Wildcats were fifth at Hinsdale Central, but comfortably ahead of sixth place Plainfield South.
Paul Vandersteen has been the Wildcats’ head coach all but one year since Neuqua Valley opened in the fall of 1997.
“This is a team that I think will be confident when we get to the state finals,” Vandersteen said. “They’re racers. They are going to get in there and battle.”
The Wildcats captured the inaugural Class 3A championship in 2007.
York, the 28-time state champion, was upset by New Trier at the Lake Park sectional, making the team race for the largest-class division too close to call.
“I think we’re capable of being a top-10 team,” Vandersteen said. “There are so many teams in the mix for a state trophy. There aren’t a lot of great teams this year, but there are a lot of very good teams. That’s why you run the (state finals).”
Vandersteen had his preseason fears of inexperience allayed as the fall progressed.
Daniel Weiss, Alec Monovich, Michael Widmann, Shiva Singh, Colin Weidman and Matt Horsley complement Bushelle, the Wildcats’ unquestioned leader.
Naperville North was runner-up to DuPage Valley rival WW South Saturday at Waubonsie Valley. The Huskies’ Jake Pecorin and Kerry Gschwendtner finished in consecutive places (10-11) to extend the season.
Jon Klaiber, Christian Moore and Andrew LaDeur were the other three placers for Naperville North.
“Traditionally, we are a top-10 team (at state),” Naperville North coach Dave Racey said. “The expectations are the kids will run their best race of the season. I still consider (York) to be the best team. There is a lot of parity this year, which is good for the sport.”
Naperville Central advanced out of Waubonsie Valley as well, becoming the fourth conference school to make the state cut. Scott Hicks’ eighth-place result led the Redhawks.
Ryan Auld, Jon Ashley, Geoffrey McCullogh and Alec Siwek had counting times for Naperville Central, which was fourth in Aurora.
Benet made the most of being in 2A. For the first time since 2006, the Redwings are state bound after snaring the final berth out of the Wheaton Academy Sectional.
Brady McLaughlin, Sean Harnik, Kelly Crombie, Max Tuttle and John Stoppelmen, Phillip Parisi and Ryan Wolfe are the Redwings’ starters.