HARRISBURG — The Southern Illinois River to River cross country meet at Southeastern Illinois College turned into a Benton showcase Thursday.
The Rangers took both individual titles — Mia McLain on the girls side and Reece Johnson on the boys — and also took team honors. The Benton girls easily outdistanced Herrin 19-56, while the boys also placed ahead of Herrin 17-40.
Du Quoin’s Gabby Alongi led her team to the Mississippi title, finishing third overall. Du Quoin finished well ahead of Pinckneyville 19-53. On the boys side, Du Quoin’s Landon Swiney was the individual winner while Pinckneyville claimed the team title 37-46 over Du Quoin.
In the girls race, McLain opened a sizable lead over Alongi and Massac County’s Ainsley Bailey by the mile mark. McLain circled the course in 18:40.7 to win her fourth straight conference title. Bailey was second overall at 19:11.4 while Alongi logged a time of 19:45.1.
The Benton senior hardly broke a sweat on a cool afternoon. After crossing the finish line, she strolled casually through the chute, checking her time as she walked.
“Today’s goal was to just go out and push myself and get a fourth conference win,” McLain said. “It’s (the final conference race) sad, but at the same time I’m really proud of myself just looking back on all the summers, all the early mornings.
“There is still a lot of work to do at state, but I’m just really happy with the way everything turned out.”
Winning a fourth conference title was an obvious goal for McLain, who just announced she will be running collegiately at the University of Northern Florida.
“It’s kind of like we’re on a checklist now,” she said. “Conference — we can check that box. Now, we have our last home meet, the Benton Invite, on Monday, then we’ll have regionals, sectionals and state. It’s just going down the list now.”
Johnson, a junior transfer from Neoga also won by a comfortable margin, crossing the finish line in 16:12. Swiney was second overall at 16:27.3.
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“I just got out hard,” Johnson said. “Du Quoin went out hard in front of me in the first 100. I didn’t really want to wait around today so I just kind of took it after the first 400. I tried to push it the whole race.
“It’s a tough course. I was happy with it (the time).”
Johnson said the boys and girls teams feed off each other.
“That’s kind of been the theme so far with Mia our stud girl,” Johnson said. “She doesn’t lose. The girls team probably pushes us more than any other team. It’s kind of competitive in practice … who has the lowest scores.”
Johnson’s teammates were right behind him at the finish line, Brady Gischer was second, Chase Owens third, Josey Sample fourth and Parker Sieveking seventh.
While Swiney won the individual title in the Mississippi, Pinckneyville placed five runners in the top 13 to claim the team title. Steven Hirte was third, Daniel Garavaglia fifth, Trent Morgenstern seventh, Dawson Chaney ninth and David Wagner 13th.
In the Ohio girls team competition, Benton took five of the first six places. In addition to McLain’s win, Hailey Wallace was third, Mia Wills fourth, Addisyn Miller fifth and Madi McLain sixth.
Du Quoin was nearly as dominant in the Mississippi side.
Gabby Alongi was first, followed by Lauren Heape second, Olivia Phillips third, Grace Alongi sixth and Jacqueline Crain seventh.
“I’m really excited for that because I think that’s going to help us break into the top ten at state,” said Gabby Alongi. “I’m glad we’re all pulling ahead. It was a good race."