Prep Sports

Cross Country: Downers Grove South’s Sophia McNerney takes second at sectionals, leads area state qualifiers from loaded Hinsdale field

HINSDALE – Downers Grove South senior Sophia McNerney passed on defending her West Suburban Conference Gold Division cross country title Oct. 16.

She had battled a head cold and nausea during Naperville North’s Twilight Invitational the previous week.

“It was a little disappointing because it was senior year. I knew regionals and sectionals were more important and that’s what kind of got me through it,” McNerney said.

At Saturday’s Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional, McNerney finished second (17:36.04 for 3.0 miles) to Oak Park-River Forest senior state title contender Josephine Welin (17:31.90). McNerney is among several area runners optimistic for top-three state trophies and individual top-25 all-state honors at the state meet Nov. 6 at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

“I’m pretty excited with where I am,” McNerney said. “It’s my senior year. The season hasn’t really gone the way I wanted it to but racing less and taking conference off is really helping with feeling stronger.”

Many others performed great at Katherine Legge Memorial Park, but this was the toughest of the state’s four sectionals. With only seven teams advancing, there were nine top-11 ranked girls teams by ILXCTF or MilesplitIL and seven top-nine ranked boys teams besides another three and six top-25 teams, respectively.

Downers South, Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central advanced both teams. The Lyons Township boys also advanced, but the LT girls were 11th, although all-sectional junior Catherine Sommerfeld qualified individually.

Hinsdale Central won the girls sectional 104-111 over perennial power Naperville North. Downers South (133) was fourth and Downers North (155) sixth.

Hinsdale Central junior Dan Watcke (15:10.99), Downers South senior Tim Neumann (15:15.09) and Downers North senior Roy Llewellyn (15:15.73) finished 1-2-3 in the boys sectional. Downers North (85), Hinsdale Central (92) and LT (144) were second, third and fifth to No. 1-ranked Sandburg (70).

Other top-10 all-sectional girls were Hinsdale Central junior Catie McCabe (3rd, 17:45.27), Sommerfeld (4th, 17:45.90) and Downers South freshman Holly Johnson (5th, 17:54.18). Hinsdale Central boys senior Colby Revord was seventh (15:30.32).

“If we go down at state and do that (again) or hopefully better than I think we’re going to be in a really good position,” McCabe said. “If we can take second place here, we have a really good shot at going for second place at state,” Llewellyn said.

“It’s a huge confidence booster.” “We’re really excited. We think we can do something special next week,” Watcke said.

The Downers South boys were rated no higher than finishing eighth at sectionals, but Neumann, Carter Smott (37th), Joey Puccillo (42nd), Nick Motuelle (53rd) and Josh Poeschel (61st) prevailed.

“We knew at the get-go we were underrated,” Neumann said. “If we just performed the way we did (winning) regionals, we were all confident that we’d make it. This just affirms what we thought.”

The Downers North girls were ranked to advance in one poll but finish eighth in another. Claire Pyne (14th), Ashley Novak (23rd), Sydney Hnatiuk (35th), Ava Geiger (47th) and Audrey Casten (51st) helped overcome usual top-five finisher Karly Harkness (77th) losing her left shoe early in thick mud.

“Our overall focus was we can’t control that there are 10 teams here that probably belong at the state meet. All we can do is control our race,” Downers North coach Tim McDonald said. “They did (our strategy) perfectly.”

Other top-five team girls finishers were Hinsdale Central’s Erin Milligan (16th), Sarah Fischer (29th), Gabby Thanos (32nd) and Louisa Brorson (33rd) and Downers South’s Kelsey Casella (26th), Nora Joy (56th) and Madi Sisson (57th). Llewellyn was followed by Topher Ferris (14th), Caden Weber (23rd), Karen Shetty (24th) and Kyle McNally (30th), a key 2020 contributor who made his varsity season debut after being injured. LT’s top five were Chuck McLawhorn (13th), Finn Gallagher (16th), Cillian Henning (36th), Hayden Constas (44th) and Aidan Collins (54th).

McLawhorn, an early top-five contender, was immobile post-race after turning his right ankle halfway through. McLawhorn continually praised Gallagher’s performance.

“I can do better but this was a good step forward, being up by Chuck even though he was hurt,” Gallagher said. “If it all comes together next week, I think we can do really well.”

“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt and race the best you can,” said Downers South boys coach Brian Caldwell before his team qualified. “I understand the geographic representation (argument), but we get teams from downtown (eighth-place Jones) and then all the way out to Oswego.”