Lyons Township High School senior all-staters Nick Strayer and Cillian Henning are the No. 3 and 4 top returning finishers from the 2022 Class 3A boys cross country state meet.
That’s not the only higher state finish they‘re contemplating this season.
The Lions hope to improve upon taking seventh and contend for top five, if not their first top-three state trophy since being second in 2015 in what would be their 15th consecutive state berth.
For the Class 3A preseason, the Lions are ranked No. 8 by ILXCTF.com and No. 9 by MileSplit Illinois. The Lions play host to their annual Mike Kuharic Invitational on Sept. 2.
“It’s going to be great having [Henning] up there with me, but also for the team aspect,” Strayer said. “My personal goal is to win the state championship and then on the team side get a trophy. There’s a lot of great competition but no one’s unbeatable.”
At 2022 state, Strayer (9th, 15:06.67 for 3.0 miles), Henning (10th, 15:06.76) and graduated Aidan Collins (19th) gave the Lions three top-25 all-staters in one state meet for the first time.
Hinsdale Central senior Aiden Bandukwala, the defending state champion, and Sandburg senior Grant Giblin (6th) also return from the state’s top 10.
“Knowing we were both top-five juniors is a big confidence booster,” Henning said. “Last season and training this summer has been pretty good fuel.”
Senior Brendan Whalen (172nd, 16:33.27) is the Lions’ only other 2022 state returnee.
As usual, the Lions have great depth with seniors John Barrette, Kole Beck-Jewusiak, Aidan Fouliard, Luke Kleyweg, Theo Sullivan and Max Waschuk; juniors Charles Ciesla, Isaac Constas, Ethan Meuer, Aaron Obert, John O’Halloran, Tate Pavelka, Lukas Peterson and Ben Wuggazer; and sophomore Patrick Collins.
Current No. 3 runner Wuggazer was among the Lions’ top seven in 2022 before an ankle injury sidelined him for the postseason. After state, he rejoined LTHS runners for the Nike Cross Midwest Regionals and they were the fourth-highest Illinois finisher. Barrette, Waschuk, O’Halloran and Collins also were state alternates.
“Everything at this point is where I would say it needs to be for that to try and make that [success] happen. We’ve just got to run good down the stretch,” LTHS coach Mike Danner said. “There are probably 10 kids outside of our top three capable of making the top seven.”
At the 2022 West Suburban Conference Silver Meet, the Lions were fourth. Henning and Strayer were an all-conference fifth and 10th, respectively, and went on to earn all-regional and all-sectional honors with top-five and top-10 finishes in those races.
LTHS girls eye place in state’s top 10
Behind strong pack running, the Lions returned to IHSA state as a team in 2022 after missing in 2021 following five straight trips.
An experienced senior class has the Lions thinking at least another top-10 finish. In the preseason IHSA Class 3A rankings, the LTHS girls are No. 7 by ILXCTF.com and No. 9 by MileSplit Illinois.
“[Pack running is] one mentality we try to work on in workouts and races,” LTHS senior Julianne Melby said. “There’s just so many of us that can run together and do really well together and I think it is more prominent than last year.”
Senior Shannon Cranny (70th, 19:02.55 for 3.0 miles) was the Lions’ No. 3 state finisher in 2022, when they placed seventh (293 points). Melby (122nd, 19:32.69) and seniors Kristina Findley (136th, 19:39.02) and Anna Bylsma (139th, 19:41.56) were No. 5, 6 and 7.
Big-race veterans Melby and Cranny will set the tone after the Lions graduated three of their top four state finishers, including 2021 all-stater Catherine Sommerfeld (Vanderbilt).
Cranny, however, will not compete immediately as she conservatively returns from injury after a summer of solid training.
“I’m hoping I can bounce back quickly and definitely help the team,” Cranny said. “We definitely lost a lot of strong runners, but we still have a lot of talent so we’re still feeling hopeful.”
Seniors Lauren Bohringer, Alessandra Feig, Madison Findley and Kelly Makovic, along with sophomore Jenna Lally were 2022 state alternates. Junior Leigh Ferrell, sophomore Anna McDonnell and freshman Sadie O’Hare also could contribute. Madison Findley ran at the 2022 WSC Silver Meet in place of Cranny, and Ferrell competed at 2021 sectionals.
Melby was 18th at last year’s WSC Silver meet, two places from all-conference honors. The Lions play host to their annual Mike Kuharic Invitational on Sept. 2.
“We have a pretty good [group], but most lack varsity race and postseason experience. There will be opportunities for those without this previous experience to have a big impact,” LTHS coach Eric Simon said. “The team knows we are perennially state qualifiers, but also know that qualifying is not a given.”