CRYSTAL LAKE – The message Crystal Lake Central senior Rachel Bush will offer her younger teammates this week will be similar to what she’s told them all season.
The Tigers are headed to the IHSA State Cross Country Meet again, which will make Bush’s fourth time competing in the Class 2A girls race.
“My freshman year, I think I dropped something like 1:45 at state from my sectional time,” Bush said. “I’ve been there three years and when you’re a freshman, you have no idea what you can do.”
Central aspires to bring home a state trophy with a top-three finish, just as it did in Bush’s sophomore year when the Tigers were second, three points behind Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
The Tigers feel like they can compete with any of the other favorites out there, such as Dixon, Nazareth Academy, Springfield, Sacred Heart-Griffin and Yorkville. Central won the Belvidere Sectional Saturday with 82 points.
The Tigers have competed well in big meets and dominated in the area this season, winning their first Fox Valley Conference Meet since 1996.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve had a day when we were awful,” Central coach Shannon Schroeder said. “We haven’t had everybody have their best race on the same day. But we’ve had other people step up at some times.”
Schroeder hopes that race is Saturday at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. The Tigers were fifth in 2007, runners-up in 2008 and 10th last year. This could be their best team yet with Kelly McNeely, a transfer from Johnsburg who was 10th in Class 2A state last year, leading the way.
Bush is the lone senior in the lineup, while juniors Molly Flood and Madie Edwards both have run at state. Sophomore Bronwyn Harper and freshmen Maddie Dagley and Avery Robertson have given central great balance.
“We definitely have some girls who could have run better,” McNeely said. “We’re hoping next week it all comes together. From last year [running as an individual] to this year, it’s so different. It’s cool to have the whole team aspect and be going through it together.”
Bush relishes her role as a team leader and captain.
“I love this team,” Bush said. “I’m going to miss them so much. I have to make sure these girls aren’t scared, but excited [about state].”
Bush said Flood, who overcame an iron deficiency earlier in the season, was battling a sore left leg Saturday. The Tigers know anything can happen if they are at their peak Saturday.
“I don’t know anybody that’s a shoo-in,” Schroeder said. “We have a shot at a trophy, we’re in the mix. We have an opportunity.”