BENTON — After nearly three miles, the Benton Class 1A girls cross country sectional came down to the final step.
Benton sophomore Mia McLain led Freeburg’s Beanna Chandler by 2-3 strides the entire race. In the last few feet Chandler pushed hard, but McLain had just enough to earn the individual sectional title.
McLain crossed the finish line in 17:33.6, two tenths of a second before Chandler.
“I didn’t expect her to be that close,” McLain said. “I can usually hear her breathing, but the crowd was just so loud. I didn’t know she was coming in on me that quick. I ran just fast enough.
“At the end of two miles she fell back a little bit, maybe two seconds. I knew she was really a good 800 runner from track. I knew she had a great kick. I tried to keep gaining on her in the woods. I knew she had a great kick, so I tried to save a little bit for the end.”
That winning time reflects a stellar effort by McLain.
“I dropped about 20 seconds off my personal best here, which is a new course record,” she said. “I’m very happy about that. That just gives me more motivation for state. It gives me a whole boost of confidence. I came in knowing I had a good chance to win it, knowing I’d have to go really hard. I’m ready for state. It’s going to be fun.”
McLain advances to start as an individual.
Nashville won the team crown at Benton with 95 points, followed by Freeburg 102, Breese Mater Dei 109, Pinckneyville 139 and Du Quoin 166. Du Quoin narrowly secured the final team berth, edging New Athens (170).
Jaylyn Bower led the winning Nashville team with a seventh place finish at 18:44.9. Du Quoin’s Gabi Alongi placed fifth in 18:00.4.
Individual qualifiers include McLain, Massac County’s Ansley Bailey, who placed third, Brooke Biffar of Waterloo Gibault, Madelyn Tepe of Okawville, Maddie Quant and Chloee Phillips of Salem and Camri’s Payton Dixon.
In the boys’ race, Nashville’s Brandon Schnitker was the top area finisher, placing fifth overall.
“It felt good,” he said. “I tried keeping up with the front pack for the whole race. They just kind of took off around the two-mile marker. I haven’t really run with them all year, so I didn’t’ really know what their strategy was or what they were going to do. I tried my best just to keep up with them and came away with a really good time.
“I came here to make it to state, to run my best race and do whatever I can to get to state. Then, go to that and have the race of my high school career there.”
Breese Mater Dei’s Luke Goebel won the race in 14:24.9 with Trenton Wesclin freshman Justin Mumford just a step behind.
Freeburg took with team title with 92 points. Pinckneyville was second at 116, Columbia 127, Benton 138 and Mater Dei 149. All five teams head to state next weekend.
Pinckneyville placed two runners in the Top 10 in Garrett Johnson and Grant Batteau.
Qualifying for state as individuals were Schnitker, Austin Knight of Carterville, Logan Fulkerson and Gavin Conway of Steeleville and Sparta’s Isaac Sinn.
In Class 2A, the Marion boys advance to state with a fourth place finish. Sophomore John Bruce placed second overall.
Bruce finished in 15:00 in a dead heat with winner Nick Oakley of Charleston. Teammate Michael Rutkowski also cracked the top 10, finishing seventh in 15:23.
Chatham-Glenwood won the team title with 79 points. Springfield was second with 92 and Waterloo and Marion tied for fourth at 125.
In the girls’ race at Decatur, Carbondale freshmen Madeline Prideaux was the long state qualifier. She placed 14h overall.