Girls cross country state preview: Claire Monticello’s late surge helps Loyola make state

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The Class 3A Lake Park Sectional was the first time all season that the Loyola girls cross country team had its five best runners compete in the same race.

Junior Claire Monticello made her season debut at the state-qualifier, completing the course in 19 minutes, 33.2 seconds to finish 68th overall. She was Loyola’s fifth-fastest runner — each team’s five fastest runners count toward its score — and in the final 10 meters she was truly spectacular.

Monticello passed Young sophomore Zoe Kane-Priessi (19:33.6, 70th overall) and St. Ignatius freshman Maddie Kyhl (19:33.4, 69th) right before she crossed the finish line. The Ramblers wound up earning the sectional’s fifth and final state berth by just one point — 205-206 — over sixth-place St. Ignatius.

“Our fifth, and St. Ignatius’ fifth, they actually ended up with the same finishing time except for 0.23 of a second,” Loyola coach ChrisJon Simon said. “That was really how we made it (downstate).”

Monticello had been missing from Loyola’s lineup all season because she strained her lower back early in the fall, Simon said, and her back would regularly spasm when she ran in practice.

As a result, Monticello was not able to train with her teammates for the majority of the season. She used alternative methods — bike workouts, pool workouts and workouts on elliptical machines — to maintain her fitness in preparation for her return.

The Class 3A state meet is scheduled for Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

NEW TRIER

New Trier sophomore Kelli Schmidt and freshman Molly Schmidt finished 18th and 19th, respectively, at the Lake Park Sectional, with times that were only .07 seconds apart.

The Schmidt sisters’ times have been within a second or two of each other all season, New Trier girls cross country coach John Burnside said. Burnside said Molly Schmidt has been able to keep up with her older sister largely because of her mental toughness during races.

“Molly really has a courageous nature about her,” Burnside said. “She’s willing to stick with Kelli and the rest of these older kids, even when her body is hurting. … I think the big thing that can happen in the middle of the race, too, is a lot of self-doubt.

“When you feel that pain and you’re still not near the end, there’s really the chance to just give up. And she’s just never done it. She’s never let fear dictate her race and, for a young runner, that’s really something that’s very amazing.”

The Schmidts, along with the rest of the Trevians’ varsity squad, advanced to the Class 3A state meet by finishing second (76 points) at the Lake Park Sectional. New Trier junior Mimi Smith (16:55.0) finished second overall at the sectional, and freshman Cara Keleher (18:05.9) finished 15th.

New Trier senior Kaitlin Frei (18:14.9) rounded out the team’s top five by finishing 22nd.

EVANSTON AND NILES WEST

Niles West junior Christine Mujica (18:00.1) finished 13th at the sectional, and Evanston senior Kyla Steman (18:12.5) took 20th overall.

Both Mujica and Steman qualified for state as individuals, and Saturday afternoon’s Class 3A state meet will be the first for both runners.

REGINA

Panthers junior Kate McDonough advanced to Saturday’s Class 2A state meet in Peoria by placing 24th at the U-High Sectional with a time of 20:44.

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