Cross country: Mendota’s Anthony Kelson set for return trip to state

L-P’s Ashlee Lord, Henry-Midland’s Daniella Bumber to make meet debut

Newman's Lucas Schaab chases Mendota's Anthony Kelson to the finish line at the 1A Oregon Sectional held at Oregon Park West on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.

Last fall, Mendota junior Anthony Kelson ran at the IHSA Cross Country State Meet for the first time.

On Saturday, he placed 10th at the Class 1A Oregon Sectional to earn a return trip to state, but it doesn’t feel as monumental this time around.

“It’s definitely a big accomplishment, and I’ve been getting a lot of praise for it, but it doesn’t feel as big as last year,” said Kelson, who is one of three area athletes who will run at state along with La Salle-Peru’s Ashlee Lord and Henry-Midland’s Daniella Bumber. “The return trip doesn’t feel like as much of an achievement as last time.”

Still, Kelson is looking forward to running this weekend in the Class 1A race at Detweiller Park in Peoria, which begins at 10 a.m.

“I’m just planning on having fun for this one,” Kelson said. “Anything that happens, it doesn’t really affect much else. Going to state is the main achievement. I don’t have a shot at finishing at the top at state, so I’m just going to go there, and I’m going to run my best race, and I’m just going to enjoy it. It’s twice the size of all the other races that we ran this season. It’s an entirely different experience, and I’m just going to do my best to enjoy every minute of it.”

Kelson said he learned from his experience last fall when he finished 119th in 17:15.09.

“Last year, I was really confused and got caught up in the whole chaos of the event,” said Kelson, who ran a 16:57 at the sectional. “The race is absolutely amazing, but you need to kind of know your way around things there. I did not. So we’re definitely going to be getting to the starting line faster [this year]. I’m going to have my cleats on a lot faster. Just everything we’re going to do a lot faster.”

Kelson is aiming to cut his time down from last year’s state meet.

“Going to state is the main achievement. I don’t have a shot as finishing at the top at state, so I’m just going to go there and I’m going to run my best race and I’m just going to enjoy it.”

—  Anthony Kelson, Mendota junior

“I’m going to shoot for a low 16 time and just see what happens,” Kelson said. “I’m not super focused on goals for this one. It would be nice if I could somehow break into the 15s, but that’s going to be really tough. That said, if I were to do it this season, it’s going to be here. It’s really flat, and the sheer energy from all the runners and all the cheering, you can get a [personal record] here.”

First finisher,  Mendota’s Anthony Kelson running the course at Eastwood Country Club in Streator Saturday during the LaSalle County Invitational.

Lord will run at the state meet for the first time, competing in the Class 2A race at 11 a.m.

“Qualifying for state in my senior year holds tremendous significance for me,” Lord said. “Not only does it mean that I get the chance to extend my cross country season and continue doing what I love, but it also grants me the honor of representing my school and my team at a higher level of competition. This is an incredible opportunity that I am grateful for, and I am excited to make the most of this experience.”

Lord qualified for state with a personal-best 20:34 to place 28th at the Geneseo Sectional. She hopes to cut time at Detweiller.

“I’ve run on the [state] course before during practice, and I realize that it’s a very fast course,” Lord said. “I plan to start out fast – a six-minute mile and then run at a 6:20-6:30 mile for the rest of the race.

“My primary goal this season has been to run under 20 minutes, and if I can do that [at state], I will be happy. I don’t have any expectation of getting in the top 10, but I do think I can place around 80th to 90th.”

L-P's Ashlee Lord runs in Saturday's Gary Coates Invitational at Zearing Park.

Bumber has state experience in track and field, but this will be her first trip to state in cross country. She won state medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes at the state track meet last spring as a freshman.

“Qualifying for state means to me that I can do anything I put my time and energy into,” Bumber said. “I’m regularly a sprinter, and I only do cross country as endurance training, so being able to run 3 miles and qualify for state doing it impresses myself.”

Bumber earned her state berth by placing 11th in 20:32.41 at the Oregon Sectional.

“This week I plan to work a lot on speed training,” Bumber said. “My endurance is there, but being able to hold a fast pace is something I need to work on. Hopefully, I can maintain a six-minute pace.

“My biggest goal for state is hitting the 18-minute range. At the beginning of the season, my coach asked me, ‘What is your biggest goal time for this season?’ I told her I wanted to be at an 18:45/18:50,” Bumber said. “I have already shaved 30 seconds off my time from the beginning of the season, and I want to keep progressing. If I reach the 18s, I will know I gave the race everything I had, and I will be pleased with myself.”