BELVIDERE – Crystal Lake Central’s Ryan Pitner was not taking the bait.
Pitner felt like Dixon’s Simon Thorpe was urging him to take the lead at several points during the IHSA Class 2A Belvidere Cross Country Sectional, but Pitner declined.
“He had a lot of pace changes, because I think he wanted me to lead,” Pitner said. “I just stayed with him. It was a little uneven. It was actually kind of a strange race.”
Pitner stuck with his plan, then made his move in the final 800 meters, pulling away and winning in 15:09.09, 11 seconds better than Thorpe, to lead the Tigers to third place as a team with 102 points.
Vernon Hills rolled to the team championship with 45 points, with Dixon second at 99. Kaneland (163) and Prairie Ridge (181) also qualified as teams for Saturday’s IHSA Cross Country State Meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
Woodstock sophomore Luke Beattie, who finished eighth, was the lone area individual qualifier from Belvidere. Prairie Ridge freshman Filip Pajak took 11th to lead the Wolves to a state berth.
“Simon Thorpe’s a real good runner, one of the top kids in the state [in Class 2A],” Central coach Bill Eschman said. “We talked about how you can’t keep letting guys get away and then catch him. [Pitner] knows what he’s doing. He’s really grown into a fantastic runner. It’s impressive.”
Central’s Nick Amato took 16th, and Zach Gemmel was 18th. It will be Central’s fourth consecutive trip to state.
Beattie will be running at state for the first time, but he knows the course and meet well.
“Getting to state has been a goal ever since I saw my sisters [Elise, Kayla and Maura] go to state,” Beattie said. “My coach [Matt McCulley] has been telling me the top 10 is where I needed to be. I tried to put myself in that area and stay with them as long as I could.”
Even as a freshman, Pajak was looking at qualifying for state as a goal.
“I went out pretty fast and stuck with this pack of guys and kept hunting for the next two miles,” Pajak said. “At the end I just laid it all out, looking at the finish line and seeing state. This was probably my best race of the season, I pretty much went as hard as I could.”
Waubonsie Valley Sectional: At Aurora, Keagan Smith of Huntley finished in fourth place with a time of 15:35 to qualify for state as an individual. The Red Raiders as a team finished 11th out of 18 schools with 259 points. Huntley's Seth Conroy came about a second short of qualifying as an individual with his 18th-place finish and time of 15:52.
Jacobs' Matt Johnson also qualified for state. Johnson finished second with a time of 15:49. The Golden Eagles finished ninth as a team with 235 points. Zach Johnson was second on the team with a 30th-place finish and a time of 16:14.
Schaumburg Sectional: McHenry’s Jesse Reiser won with a time of 15:03, two seconds faster than second-place Zach Dale of Conant. Reiser was the only local runner at the meet to advance to state. The Warriors finished 11th as a team with 287 points. Hersey took the team title with 93 points.
Oregon Sectional: Harvard’s Jorge Pichardo finished eighth with a time of 16:30 to qualify for state. The Hornets finished 10th with 253 points. Winnebago won the meet with 82 points.
Marian Central finished 12th with 335 points and did not qualify any individuals for state.
• Kevin Meyer contributed to this report.