EDWARDSVILLE — The giant Metro East Lutheran Invite is always a great place to find a barometer for what the cross country season may have in store and this year was no different.
Saturday at SIUE the meet featured 47 total boys' teams and 45 girls' squads, some just entering individual runners. There were 334 girls running altogether and 400 boys and that doesn't include the annual middle school race that kicked off the event at 8:30 a.m.
Civic Memorial and Marquette Catholic both participated on Saturday. With both featuring new coaches it was a good measuring stick for the programs.
First-year CM head coach Mark Beatty was pleased with how the Eagles performed. The boys' squad finished 21st out of 37 full teams. They compiled 585 points. The girls' team only had three entries, but were led by 2014 AdVantage News Cross Country Runner of the Year Alex Singleton, who finished 24th with a time of 21:40.01.
“This is one of the toughest courses we will run all year,” Beatty said. “To start with this is a good test for the kids mentally and physically. We're pretty proud and happy with the way we finished. There's some stuff in the middle there we need to work on, but we had a lot of kids passing at the end and moving up at the end so we're happy with that.”
Marquette first-year coach Mike Brooks is working on building numbers in the Explorers' programs so neither had full teams entered on Saturday, but he was pleased with the efforts.
“This is my first year and I inherited three runners, one boy and two girls, so my first objective was to recruit and start building a program,” Brooks said. “We have five boys and five girls now. They didn't all run today because we have some that aren't quite ready and this course is a challenging course if you're not ready to run.”
Unfortunately for the Explorers, their top female runner, Natalie Halliday, was unable to complete the race. She had some trouble on the back side of the course and had to leave via injury default, but Brooks expects her to be fine.
“Natalie's a senior and a really good runner, she ran really good last year,” Brooks said. “Unfortunately she had a little problem today, she got to the big hill on the course and went down and wasn't able to finish the race, but she's recovered well and I think she'll run again on Tuesday at Carlinville. She's a good runner and I have confidence she's going to have a good season.”
Singleton wasn't especially pleased with her day. With the hilliness of the SIUE course, it's tough to train for and being the first meet of the season makes it taxing on the legs.
“I think I started out pretty good,” Singleton said. “I had a faster time and then my second mile I just fell way off. I kept trying to get back to it in my third mile and I just didn't have it in my legs. My lungs are fine but with my legs I think I need to do more hill work. We haven't done a whole lot of that. We've done some, but I need to do that and more miles.”
Beatty said her time was better than when she ran in the Mud Mountain event at SIUE over the summer, so that was pleasing.
“Alex was disappointed, but I've never found Alex to be truly happy after most of her races. She pushes herself and that's a good thing,” Beatty said. “She did take about 40 seconds off of her Mud Mountain time from the summer. It wasn't her fastest time on this course, but we know we want her to peak in late September so we're going to build up our mileage.”
A pair of sophomores joined Singleton in the race for CM. Monica Baker (27:16.99) and Alexis Enke (31:06.69) were the other runners for the Eagles.
As for the Marquette girls, freshman Natalie Brown (25:43.05) and junior Lily Kostecki (31:52.44) competed and Brooks was stoked with Brown's effort in her first high school race.
On the boys' side, Beatty believed the Eagles worked well as a unit. They were paced by senior Frank Trost (50th, 19:09.00). He was joined in the scoring by: sophomore Cohl Callies (19:51.16), senior Weihua Li (20:27.72), freshman Drake Stephenson (21.29.93) and freshman Parker Borth (23:26.53).
“We've got a good core group of guys,” Beatty said. “We had four finish in under 22 minutes, so we'll take that right now. Frank Trost is our senior leader and he came in with our lead. He's been fighting through some knee pain lately, so we were happy with his time.”
As for the Marquette boys, sophomore Tommy DeClue turned in a time of 20:31.59 and junior Adam Sanders was clocked at 23:05.12. Brooks was pleased with those performances.
“They both ran well,” Brooks said. “Adam, this is his third year and Tommy, this is his first year running and he's got a lot of promise. Both of them will progress well over the course of the season.”
Brooks just wants to see gradual improvement from the Explorers with the hope to compete on the team front come postseason time.
“I told (Mike) Slaughter when I took the job at Marquette that my goal was to build a program,” Brooks said. “Marquette has had some good runners, but they haven't had numbers recently so my challenge is just to build numbers. Anyone who is interested in running right now, I want them to run. I coached at Illinois College for 13 years and when I took over the program there it was the same situation. After about three years we were up to 12 men, 12 women, right where I wanted to be. My philosophy is you build numbers the quality is going to take care of itself. We just want to come out, have fun and run.”
In the girls' race Rochester came away with the team title with 58 points. The boys' race went to Salem with 96 points.
Anna Sophia Keller of Effingham St. Anthony ran away with the individual girls' crown, turning in a time of 18:03.17. Kara Martin of Herrin was second in 19:27.99. Harrison Thomas of Carterville was the champion for the boys, clocked at 16:17.25.