STERLING — The Oswego cross country teams want to pack it in, in an effort to not pack up early in the postseason.
Emphasis on pushing packs together was the goal for both Panthers teams at the Sterling Invitational on Oct. 7. While doing so, both teams came away with runner-up finishes. The girls lost a close race to Hononegah, 68-74; and the boys fell way short of Pleasant Valley (Ia.), 42-88.
Both Panthers squads had one runner in the top ten, and two more finish right after the other just outside the top ten.
“We were really focusing on pulling our pack back together,” Panthers girls coach Eric Simon said. “We’re getting that dynamic back on track. We ran at Peoria Central last week [at Detweiler Park] and ran a good race, but kind of strung out a little bit.”
Grace Pagone didn’t have a pack to run in, but only because she was the third-best runner after 2 miles behind DeKalb’s Katherine Olsen and Schaumburg’s Madison Marasco, the race winner. While Hononegah’s Lauren Johnston snuck up past Pagone for third place, Pagone’s mindset became fixated on wanting to finish strong for her team. The senior finished in fourth place with a time of 18:47.9.
“At the beginning, I was by myself because there was a pack ahead and a pack behind, so I was stuck in the middle,” Pagone said. “That wasn’t in my favor, but my coach told me before [the race] to find a purpose, and that purpose was the team.”
Ella Hale finished 11th for the Panthers (19:29.0), with Caitlin Guist right behind in 19:30.4.
“I just did it for my team, and stuck with it,” Pagone said. “It was incredible, and I’m so happy for them. Today was another step for us going into the championship season. I’m really excited, and excited for the team to see where this goes.”
Brandon Nelson led the Panther boys with a sixth-place finish in 15:51.9, with Mitch Bradford (16:09.0) and Joe Fioresi (16:09.3) finishing 12th and 13th, respectively. Panthers boys coach Daniel Whipple is confident that his second- and third-best runners can close the gap on Nelson as the postseason approaches.
“We needed them to find themselves,” Whipple said. “They’ve been slowly doing that all season. I still believe that there’s more there, but it was a good step forward for those two guys.”
“We did a good job of giving our heart today,” Nelson said. “I feel like we could have done a better job packing up [late], but we were working on being a team, and that’s going to help us going forward.”
Oswego took the top three spots in the mixed open race, with Brady Mello winning (16:50.4), followed by Corey Saelens (17:03.0) and Noah Vanderhei (17:13.8). Sydney Luchyn was the third-best Panthers girls runner (20:47.7).
“We just tried pushing as a team that first mile,” Nelson said. “That was our goal, and I thought we did a pretty good job at that, being in the first mile together.”