BELLEVILLE — The Class 1A Sectionals at Swansea Clinton Hill Conservation Park on Saturday left a lasting impression on many runners with the symbolic passing of the torch.
Du Quoin ran a nearly perfect afternoon according to coach Eric Kirkpatrick. Junior Olivia Phillips opened up the morning with a third-place finish that sparked life in her team, which finished four runners within the Top 15. Senior Jacqueline Crain placed ninth, while teammates Lauren Heape and Kallie Oestreicher helped gain the edge over Maddie Karcher and the Hamilton County Lady Foxes, 53-88.
Kirkpatrick’s team entered the third heat trailing by six points with freshmen Oestreicher and Lainey Miller left to run. The runners were prepped, and Oestreicher answered the bell by winning her heat with a time of 20:46 to send Du Quoin home with some hardware.
“We really up and down the lineup had ourselves a day,” said Kirkpatrick. “Jacqueline Crain as a senior from that second heat popped up and got ninth which was fantastic, and then we went into that third heat with two 14-year-old freshmen that walked down to the line by themselves and you have to tell them that we’re down six.
“I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, telling them or not, but we told them and talk about responding.”
Massac County’s Ansley Bailey capped off her illustrious high school career with a first-place time of 18:38; naming her the girls individual champion. Bailey outpaced Breese Central’s Kristen Ess by 41 seconds as the runner-up. Both runners came in as regional champions after Bailey claimed her invitation at the Marissa Regional, while Ess claimed hers after becoming the first Central athlete to win a regional title in Freeburg last Saturday.
As a junior, Bailey placed fourth at the Benton Sectional and 14th overall at the state meet. Even without a state race, the senior remains excited to run at SIU next year and she’s ready to welcome the competition.
“I’m so excited to have a team to run with,” Bailey said as a school individual. “I won’t be the Lone Ranger anymore, so I’ll actually be pushing myself and it’s going to be hard because there’s going to be girls that are better than me.
“I’m honestly excited about that. I definitely think that it will make me a better racer.”
Bailey’s coach Cory Hastings said after the race that he and his runner have had conversations in regards to college expectations. Hastings left happy knowing that his senior is a champion and credits Bailey’s hard work throughout the years for her success.
“Her dedication like I said last week is top notch,” said Hastings. “It was a culmination of the four years of hard work. There’s been blood, sweat and tears, that, for her final IHSA race to end like this showed her ability to push through and get that championship that she has earned throughout her hard work”
Benton entered the day after winning the McLeansboro Regional last weekend on both the boys and girls side. While the Lady Rangers placed third behind Hamilton County and Du Quoin, Gavin Genisio proved why he was regarded as one of the top freshmen boys coming in with a second-place finish behind Trenton (Wesclin) senior Justin Mumford.
Genisio clocked a 15:56 in front of senior teammate Reece Johnson (16:02) to help lead Benton to a sectional championship over second-place Pinckneyville, 63-78. The tandem was accompanied by Chase Owens (17:35) and Mason Tieffel (17:40), with Parker Sieveking (17:51) as the bookend 25th runner to cap off a Top 25 finish for all five Rangers.
“Honestly, I felt amazing today and knew I was going to come in and have a good race,” Genisio said after the race. “I’m really proud of Reece. He pushed me from the second to third mile and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my coach too; he really pushed me throughout the race and it was just a great day all around.”
When asked what the chances were of catching Mumford, who outpaced Genisio with a time of 15:19, the freshman knew he’d be pushing for second.
“I don’t think I had a chance to catch him. He really pulled out fast and is a great runner, so hats off to him man, he’s great.”
Genisio is ready to lead the wave next year alongside Pinckneyville freshman Isaac Teel. Teel placed fourth overall with a time of 16:10, and was followed by Du Quoin’s Landen Swiney, who Kirkpatrick added after the race had been chasing Teel all season long and fell one second short.
For Benton’s Johnson, it was one last run that he will never forget. Johnson said after his race that Genisio will go down as Benton’s greatest runner in school history, which says a lot about his teammates' talents considering Johnson is The Southern’s reigning Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Johnson reflected on his two years spent at Benton since transferring from Neoga as a junior.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. It’s really gone by fast, but it’s been an honor and a privilege to be able to wear the ‘B’ across my chest for the last two seasons. I give God all the glory. I would have never imagined running for a coach as good as Coach McLain. I wouldn’t want to run for anybody else in the entire state and I’d put him up against anybody; he has an intensity that is unmatched.”