By FRED KRONER
The girls’ cross-country program at Mahomet-Seymour has been gaining traction.
The two best seasons in the past decade — based on postseason results — were last year and this year.
The Bulldogs were fourth at state a year ago and, on Saturday, secured a top 10 team finish in Class 2A despite missing one injured varsity runner.
“We’re happy we ended 10th,” first-year head coach Kristin Allen said. ”We had girls pack up.”
The team leaders were once again freshman Elizabeth Sims and senior Brisa McGrath.
Sims earned All-State honors with an eighth-place individual performance at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
McGrath was 27th in a field of 216 finishers and missed repeat All-State honors by two spots.
After them, the remaining five Bulldogs completed the 3-mile course within 32 seconds of one another.
“We’re a young team and I keep telling them that,” Allen said.
M-S’ Madi Balbach was 116th in 19:26, Grace Lietz was 120th in 19:28, Olivia Bunting was 128th in 19:32, Emily Bednar was 144th in 19:43 and Klein Powell was 158th in 19:58.
Teammate Delaney King, the fifth M-S runner at regionals, was sidelined with an injury.
Of the top eight, six are freshmen: Bednar, Bunting, King, Lietz, Powell and Sims.
“A lot of freshmen don’t get to run at state,” Allen said. “It’s all good for the future.”
Sims became just the fourth M-S girl to secure a top 10 state placement.
She joins Amy Clawson (sixth in 2007), Maureen Scott (seventh in 2001) and Lauren Whitehouse (eighth in 2014).
Sims surpassed her expectations from the beginning of the season in August.
“I didn’t expect to be top 25,” she said.
Junior high runners compete at a 2-mile distance in cross-country. Moving up to 3 miles was an adjustment.
“My first race this year was the first race I ran competitively at 3 miles,” Sims said.
She quickly adapted to the distance.
“After the first couple races, I thought I was better at 3 miles than 2,” Sims said. “I feel I can keep my pace.”
She opened Saturday with a 5:20 first-mile split.
“That was my PR for a mile and surprised me,” she said. “It also gave me confidence.
“I started faster than I expected. My goal was to stay with the people ahead of me.”
For the 10th consecutive meet, Sims posted the Bulldogs’ fastest time.
“She has an almost fearless mentality,” Allen said. “She beat competition she hadn’t beaten before and did an awesome job.”
Sims’ posted her career-best time at 17:34.
“She got great position (early) and not only held it, but also kept moving forward,” Allen said.
State was the eighth consecutive meet where Sims was a top 10 performer. She was the individual winner in five races this season.
Sims was part of a youth movement on the Class 2A state leaderboard.
There was only one senior among the first nine runners. In placing eighth individually, Sims was the third freshman to reach the finish line.
McGrath was timed in 18:04 and was just a few seconds off of her season’s best.
“I wish I had a better kick,” said McGrath, a 2017 All-Stater. “I got out strong and gave it my all.”
Allen estimated that McGrath was in the 18-22 range much of the race. In the final 800 meters, McGrath realized it would be tough to maintain her position.
“I knew I don’t have a very good kick,” she said.
Allen said there was no disappointment with the team leaders.
“Our top two ran outstanding races,” she said.
In 16 overall state appearances as a team, previous M-S squads have only bettered the 2018 performance twice. In addition to the fourth-place finish in 2017, the 2007 team also captured fourth.
This year marked the fourth in a row for the school to secure a top 20 team place at state and the first in school history with regional and sectional titles in the same season.
“This will provide motivation for the girls,” Allen said.
The team champion was Belvidere North, followed by Vernon Hills, Prairie Ridge and Normal University High.
“The season was really awesome,” said McGrath, who plans to continue her running career in college. “We worked hard and the team kept on getting better.”