Benton’s Mia McLain and Nashville’s Brandon Schnitker will be looking to repeat all-state performances at the Class 1A state cross country meet Saturday. In the meantime, Marion’s John Bruce hopes to challenge for all-state status in Class 2A.
McLain burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and placed 10th in the girls meet at Peoria’s Detweiler Park. She crossed the finish line in 17:55, 1:33 off the winning pace, and five of the nine runners ahead of her were seniors.
Brent McLain, Mia’s father and coach, said they are hoping for a top-25 (all-state) finish.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed again, a top 10 finish would be great,” he said. “We don’t want to overshoot it.
“You’d like to see your athletes get better. We ran so well last year we don’t want to overlook it. We want a medal and that’s what we’re going to go up there and shoot for.”
On the other hand, McLain has one year of experience at Detweiler tucked away. The approach won’t be quite as cautious this year.
“I think we’re going to be in the front group or two,” Brent McLain said. “As long as we can stay in contact. We’re going to try to be a little smarter. If someone tries to throw a surge in there, we’ll try to cover it.
“We’re not going in nervous and scared. We’re not going to try to just hang on. We’re going to try to compete a little bit.”
McLain is coming off a win in the sectional race, nipping Freeburg’s Breanna Chandler by two-tenths of a second.
Nashville, Pinckneyville and Du Quoin all advanced to state as teams. Du Quoin’s Gabi Alongi placed third overall in the sectional.
In the Class 1A boys race, Nashville’s Schnitker placed 14th overall. He was fifth in the sectional.
Pinckneyville and Benton qualified as teams. Pinckneyville runners Garrett Johnson and Grant Batteau placed in the Top 10 in the sectional.
In Class 2A, Bruce and teammate Michael Rutkowski could be knocking on the door of all-state status. Bruce, a sophomore, finished second to Charleston’s Nick Oakley in a photo finish. Rutkowski placed seventh.
“It wasn’t unexpected he ran as well as he did,” said Marion coach Eli Baker. “We knew he’d be top three. There were five guys that could win that race. He ran smart which put him in good position to win. It was definitely a video finish.
“It was disappointing as far as he didn’t win. I think it’s fuel for his fire going into this weekend.”
Bruce finished 48th overall last year.
“I think John is capable of being top 25, which is all-state,” Baker said. “I have higher expectations for him than that. Depending on how he gets out, I don’t see any reason he can’t finish near the top of the pack. I feel he is good enough to race with anybody in the state.
“As a freshman, last year was a new experience for him. This year it’s kind of old news. At this point, it’s an expectation to get to the state race. As a young man, he’s definitely maturing, not just as a runner, but physically stronger.”
In the meantime, Rutkowski is just rounding into shape. He was sidelined with a stress fracture in his ankle most of the season. The state championship will be just his sixth race of the year.
Marion also qualified as a team, the only 2A team from Southern Illinois.
Carbondale freshman Madeline Prideaux will be the only Southern Illinois representative in the Class 2A girls’ race.