It wasn’t the way that Shelby Hunter wanted to do it, but the Oregon High School senior is headed to the IHSA Class A state cross-country meet for the fourth year in a row.
Hunter finished 11th place at the Oregon sectional to grab the sixth of seven available at-large berths set aside for individuals not on a state-qualifying team.
The previous three years, Hunter made it downstate as a member of a Lady Hawk state-qualifying team.
That was her hope again.
“The whole year and even today, I was looking at it from the team concept,” Hunter said. “I run better that way than as an individual.”
Julie James of El Paso, who placed third in the state two years ago as a sophomore, but did not run last year due to injury, won the meet with a time of 18:30. Close behind was sophomore Regan Weidner of Bureau Valley.
“I don’t know if it was my best race ever, but it was my best race on this course,” said Hunter, who finished with a time of 19:26.
Interestingly, of the 153 competitors at the sectional, Hunter, Julie Buzzard of Rockford Lutheran andAubree Johnson of Rock Falls are the only runners to be making their fourth trip to Peoria this Saturday.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hunter said. “At the beginning of the year, that was my goal – to get to state.”
The Class 1A state meet will be held in Detweiller Park in Peoria on Saturday at 9 a.m. The boys’ 2A will be at 10, with 2A and 3A to follow afterwards.
“Shelby is a strong runner and will accomplish anything she puts her mind to,” Oregon coach Lynn Ahlgrim said. “I feel she has a good chance of placing in the top 25 and receiving a medal.”
As a team, Oregon finished in 14th place with 357 points. It was first time in four years the Lady Hawks are not sending a team downstate and only the third time in 12 years.
“I feel the season went well,” Ahlgrim said. “All the athletes gave it there all, and we all realize what we need to work on for next year. They are all a great group.”
Jenn Rogers placed 63rd with a time of 20:55. Other scorers were McCahl Sanders (22:10), Kimmie Janke (22:23) and Kelci Foss (22:54). Amber Tucker and Grace Nelson rounded out the sectional roster.
Rock Falls ran away with the team title by placing five runners in the top 20. Other qualifying teams were Winnebago, Henry-Senachwine, Byron and Rockford Lutheran. Last year, Henry lost by one point to Oregon for the final qualifying position.
The boys also had a pair of individuals competing in Austin Burkhart and Garrett Newman.
Burkhart ran a respectable 17:30 to place 49th overall. Newman closed out his varsity career with an 18:07 clocking to take 83rd place. Rock Island Alleman, with individual champ Ethan Aldfinger (15:52), won the boys crown with 71 points.
Winnebago edged Byron for second, 124-126. Newman and Ottawa Marquette grabbed the final two qualifying spots.
“I thought they both ran very well,” Ahlgrim said. “Austin finally looked like the Austin of past.”