PRINCETON — The shattering of a course record and the return of a Princeton runner to coach his team to the championship were the marks of this year’s Gary Coates Cross Country Invitational.
Rachel Hickey of LaSalle-Peru outsprinted Kayla Schiera of Sandwich tape to tape, claiming top medal honors for the girls. Schiera, who defeated Hickey the last two years to claim first fell 0.42 seconds short this year.
Hickey and Schiera ran neck and neck the entire race, creating distance from the rest of the field almost immediately.
“I’ve never been able to beat her [Schiera] here before,” Hickey said. “We’ve raced on this course year after year and every year I’ve just fallen short. This year I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Not without a fight anyway.”
Hickey’s time of 17:54.84 shattered the old course record set by Kirstie Ramsey of Annawan by more than half a minute.
Haley Weidner of Bureau Valley finished comfortably in third with a time of 19:26, matching her best time at the invite which she ran as a freshman in 2014.
“I felt pretty good,” Weidner said. “I think I went out a tad too fast. This course is so flat, but then it gets to you. You go out too fast and it can catch up to you really quick.”
Even though they did not place a single runner in the top five finishers, Amboy/LaMoille claimed the team plaque with finishes of 6th (Margaret Vaessen), 9th (Kaitlyn Ortgiesen), 10th (Cassidy Corcoran), 19th (Gabrielle Sawin) and 23rd (Ashley Althaus) for a total of 66 points.
“We don’t have a lot of sprinters,” A-L coach Bob Halberg said, “but we have a lot of deer.”
Halberg is a Princeton High School alumnus and ran for coach Gary Coates, the name sake of the tourney. His assistant coach is also a Princeton alum: Michael Robinson.
“We tied [for second] with L-P last year,” Halberg said. “This year, we lost our first two runners from last year so we weren’t exactly sure how we’d do, but we do know that we have to run in a pack. So we run in a pack for the first mile and then it is everybody for themselves. It worked today.”
Other area girls who finished well include Jenna Parente of Hall and Nataleigh Nugent of Bureau Valley, who finished 11th and 12th respectively.
“I like the flat courses like this,” Parente said, noting she ran her best race so far this year. “I was glad to beat Nataleigh after coming in behind her last week.”
Rounding out the top girls teams were Morris (74 points), Sandwich (89 points), and LaSalle-Peru (90 points), with Bureau Valley (113 points) missing a plaque by one place with a fifth-place finish. Host Princeton finished eighth while Hall recorded an 11th-place finish.
On the boys side of the meet, it was the runners from the small schools that outpaced their big school rivals for top medalist honors. Spencer Mauch of Sterling Newman, Tom Stamberger of Amboy/LaMoille and Westley Schmidt of Hall battled for the top position throughout the race. But Mauch proved to have the best kick at the end and took home the medalist honors.
“My time was just about where I thought it would be,” Mauch said. “I was coming off a little bit of a hamstring injury this week. So I was hoping to push through it. I really think I accomplished what I wanted to do today.”
Stamberger was pleased with his second-place finish.
“I’m pretty happy with it,” he said. “It was better than I expected. I was hoping for the top five. I tried to surge before the half mile because I don’t have a strong ending kick. That’s when I got past Westley. But that’s also when I got passed by the Newman runner.”
Hall’s Schmidt was hoping to break a time of 16:40 and he did, earning the third-place metal.
“I was happy with the race,” Schmidt said. “For the first two miles the three of us – Thomas Stamberger and Spencer Mauch - we worked together. The last mile we had to show who was the most dominant of the three of us. They really showed the hard work they put into it.”
LaSalle-Peru took home the top team plaque for the boys with 45 points while Newman (59), Morris (73) and Hall (83) claimed the other three plaques.
One of the key runners to propel Hall into the top four was junior Ethan Cattani who kicked it in over the final 100 yards to pass two runners and give himself an eighth-place medal.
“I kicked it in, and not only did I pass the kid in front of me, but I didn’t let the kid behind me pass me," he said.
• Notes: Ryan Gochanour of Fieldcrest set the fresh-soph boys course record while also leading his team to a first-place finish.
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