Last season, senior Hannah Dutler contributed to a ninth-place finish by the Lyons Township High School girls cross country team at the Palatine Invitational.
At the invite Saturday, the Lions were second in a field with five top-10 ranked Class 3A or 2A opponents.
“This year is just completely the opposite end,” said Dutler, 31st and the team’s No. 4 finisher.
“I think there’s a different mentality that we all want to work hard. And we’re all just really good friends. We’re more emotionally invested in it. You feel like you’re running for the team, not just for yourself.”
The Lions hope to reach the 3A state meet as a team after missing the past two seasons.
Senior Vanessa Flaherty qualified for state individually in 2014, finishing 75th (18:01). Senior Natalie Jaramillo remains from the 2012 state lineup.
Other key veterans are Dutler, senior Diana Kafkes and juniors Brianna Liddell and Megan Ng. Two big additions are freshmen Sarah Barcelona and Emily Henkel.
The Lions began the season unranked but now are among the top 12 in all three 3A polls. They won their Lions Pride Invite Sept. 5 and were eighth in the 3A race at the First to the Finish Invite Sept. 12 at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, site of the state meet. Flaherty’s team-best 18:01 for 30th basically matched her state time.
At Palatine, LTHS only was beaten by four-time defending 2A champion Yorkville. Barcelona (13th) and Henkel (19th) were the team’s top two finishers. Flaherty battled illness but still was 25th.
“We’ve made huge strides to be even talked about with the top 10, 15 teams in the state,” LTHS coach Stetson Steele said. “I think we’re in a good spot for now. I couldn’t be happier with where we are now as opposed to a year ago.”
LTHS boys cross country
The Lions have not earned state team trophies in consecutive seasons for almost 60 years.
After taking third in Class 3A in 2014, LTHS is in the title hunt again.
On Sept. 19, the Lions returned to Peoria’s Detweiller Park, annual site of the state meet, and won the Richard Spring Invitational 80-96 over two-time defending 3A state champion Hinsdale Central.
On Sept. 5, the Lions were second by just one point (36-37) to second-place state finisher Sandburg, the prohibitive pre-season state title favorite, at their Lions Pride Invitational.
Senior Connor Madell, an all-state 15th in 2014, junior Vince Zona (35th) and senior Matt Begeman (123rd) return from the state lineup.
Sophomore Danny Kilrea, senior Roland VanTessel and juniors Matt Pall and Graham Kutchek have been among the top seven. Other key contributors include seniors Tim McCarthy and Andrew Best and junior Tyler Morales.
In Peoria, Zona was third (14:40.2) and Kilrea (12th, 14:53.4) and Madell (14th, 14:55.8) also placed in the top 15. Begeman (21st, 15:02.9) just missed breaking 15:00.
At the Lions Pride Invite, Zona (14:50.38) and Madell (14:55.14) finished 1-2 with Kilrea and Begeman 9-10.