Julianne Melby

The Lyons Township High School girls cross country team turned in a strong performance Sept. 10 during the First to the Finish Invitational at Detweiller Park in Peoria, site of the annual IHSA state meet.

The Lions placed third in the Class 3A girls race (129), one point behind second-place Batavia.

Juniors Shannon Cranny (17th, 18:35.8) and Julianne Melby (19th, 18:38.0), senior Charlotte Lange (28th, 19:00.2), junior Anna Bylsma (31st, 19:01.5) and senior Scarlett Lestina (34th, 19;04.6) were top-50 medalists, followed by juniors Kristina Findley (78th, 19:45.5) and Madison Findley (79th, 19:45.7) in their season debuts.

The Lions had dominated their LTHS Invite on Sept. 3, taking second through fifth with a four-second split and with two more top-10 finishers.

“That boosted all of our confidence a lot, seeing how we could all stay together but it’s something we want to try and keep doing,” Cranny said. “We try and run our workouts like that to get ready for the races.”

The LTHS lineup should only get stronger when senior and 2021 all-stater Catherine Sommerfeld returns to action this month from an off-season injury.

The Lions also have worked with coach Eric Simon for a full season after he was hired right before the official start of 2021 practices. Last season, they missed qualifying for state as a team for the first time since 2014.

“We just want to move on to this year because we’re stronger and we’re better,” Melby said. “We have a closer pack for our top five and six, so I think that really helps our split.”

RBHS girls place 13th in Class 2A race

If Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Bryce Pacourek returns to Peoria’s Detweiller Park for the IHSA Class 2A state meet Nov. 5, she should have her best course time.

Something else would make that race even better.

“I just really want our team to qualify for state. That’s my main goal,” Pacourek said.

“Everyone is doing awesome this year. We’ve just got to keep everyone healthy and happy, and we should be having a good season.”

Lily Kocourek

Pacourek finished 26th (19:03.5 for 3.0 miles) at Detweiller on Sept. 10 to earn a top-50 medal in the Class 2A girls race of the First to the Finish Invitational. Sophomore Gianna Gelb (66th, 20:04.6), juniors Lily Kocourek (77th, lifetime-best 20:17.2) and Maria Dalton (126th, 21:10.8), seniors Jojo Rodriguez (152nd, 21:30.0) and Mia Wagner (196th, 22:23.4) and junior Maiana Nelson (205th, 22:29.4) were the Bulldogs’ next six finishers.

As a team RBHS placed 13th out of 47 teams in Class 2A at the invite.

The last time the RBHS girls qualified for state as a team was 2019, Pacourek’s freshman year. Last season, Pacourek (72nd, 18:58.33) and Gelb (151st, 19:45.42) were individual qualifiers. The team was 10th at sectionals, three places from advancing.

“Last year we thought we were going to go, and it didn’t work. Not that I’m avoiding it, but they might be talking about it more than me,” said RBHS coach Blair Jensen, whose team hosts its annual invite Sept. 17.

Pacourek battled adversity as a junior, particularly with iron issues, yet still found success. She ended the spring track season with her two fastest 800-meter times, including at the IHSA Class 3A state meet.

Her time Sept. 10 beat her 2021 invite time by 9.5 seconds and was comparable to her Detweiller at Dark evening race July 29 (19:05.2), even in the midst of Saturday’s heat.

“I definitely learned [from last season] to handle races that go bad. I learned to kind of push through a little more and just get a lot mentally tougher,” Pacourek said.

Making significant improvements from their 2021 invite times were Gelb (21:54.2) and Kocourek (20:45.5). Gelb said she still is transitioning from track to the longer distance races.

“Offseason was pretty good. I was just really trying to get back into consistency and the idea of racing again,” Gelb said.