PEORIA, Ill. — Thirteen consecutive years of bringing a boys cross country team to the state finals brought an unusual satisfaction to the season Neuqua Valley fashioned.
“It was definitely a unique year for us in terms of pecking order,” Neuqua coach Paul Vandersteen said after the Wildcats, fifth out of the brutally deep Hinsdale Central Sectional, finished 10th at Detweiller Park in the Class 3A state meet.
“If you would have told me in late June that six (of our downstate starters) would be in our top-12, I would have never believed it.”
Nick Bushelle was the one known commodity for the program, and the senior ended his career with an All-State performance.
But Vandersteen credited the development of Collin Weidman and Alec Monovich as indispensable to the Wildcats’ late-season progression.
“I don’t think our coaches would have had (Weidman) in the top-20 runners in the program during the summer,” Vandersteen said. “(Weidman) came on like gangbusters. The other big surprise was Alec Monovich.”
The Hinsdale Central sectional produced three of the top-five teams in the state as the hosts turned back bids from runner-up Downers North and Lyons Township for their first state championship.
“Success breeds success,” Vandersteen said of the West Suburban Silver Conference placing four member schools in the top-five.
Like many coaches, Vandersteen was completely surprised that 28-time state champion York settled for fifth place.
“Two and a half weeks ago, they looked like a top-10 national team, let alone a potential state champion team,” Vandersteen said of the legendary Elmhurst program.
A lucky No. 13
Thirteen of the 21 Naperville-area runners who participated in the 3A state finals will return for at least one more campaign.
Naperville North — which edged Neuqua Valley by three points, 285-288, for ninth place — welcomes back Kerry Gschwendter, John Klaiber, Andrew LaDeur and Christian Moore next season.
Dan Weiss, Michael Widman, Weidman, Shiva Singh and Jake McEneaney will give Neuqua Valley even more ammunition for another state run next season.
Naperville Central, one of four DuPage Valley Conference schools to advance out of the Waubonsie Valley Sectional, returns Scott Hicks, Kevin Wandke, Geoffrey McCollogh and David Kennedy.
The Redhawks had an off-day by their standards over the weekend as the squad was only able to better Joliet West in the 25-team field.
Gschwendter headlines the list of top returnees for next season after leading the Huskies with his top-35 finish overall, 28th among team runners.
“It was a great experience,” the Naperville North junior said.
Back to 3A
Benet will return to Class 3A status next fall after finishing 19th in the 2A race.
But coach Kevin Renicker will reload with six battle-tested runners as Brady McLaughlin, Sean Harnik, Max Tuttle, Jimmy Watson, Kelly Crombie and Phillip Parisi return.
John Stoppleman had his career end as the Redwings’ sixth-counting score Saturday.