Beating Metamora at the Mid-Illini Conference boys cross country meet is a tall task.
It didn’t happen Friday, when the No. 13 state-ranked Redbirds won their fifth straight conference meet title. Pekin had plenty of reasons to be proud, too.
The Dragons placed second behind Metamora, their best finish at the conference meet in years.
“We wanted to win, of course, and there’s always a chance of that in cross country because it’s one race,” said Pekin coach Cole Stoner.
“But each one of our guys (who scored) would have had to drop five seconds per mile in each of three miles of the race to do it. We look up to Metamora. Coach (Gene) Jones runs a great program there. They’re what we’re trying to become. They’re the Goliath of our conference.”
Metamora scored 37 points Friday. Pekin (64), Washington (72), Dunlap (100), East Peoria (114), Morton (136) and Limestone (224) rounded out the team standings at Detweiller Park in Peoria, where Pekin was the host in the Mid-Illini’s host rotation.
Adam Gilbreath-Glaub of Metamora won the race in 15:06.8. East Peoria’s Mark Skaggs was second (15:34.6), Pekin’s Kolton Dunkelbarger was third (15:42.3), Washington’s Avery Davidson was fourth (15:46.2) and Pekin’s Brody Blackwell was fifth (15:54.5).
Also scoring for the Dragons were Bennett Custer (11th, 16:15.7), Seth Kasinger (20th, 16:37.3) and Andrew Wolfe (25th, 16:51.9).
“We got what we expected from Dunk and Brody,” Stoner said.
There were some unexpected pleasant surprises for Pekin.
Custer’s time was a personal-record.
“After the race, I asked Bennett who was that guy I saw out there,” Stoner said. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but I sure like him.’”
Wolfe’s time was a season-best. He passed a few runners at the finish.
Jayden Tabb (31st, 17:16.3) and Ian Sayles (43rd, 18:59.3) also ran for the Dragons.
“This is a great group of guys. They love to run,” Stoner said.
Dunkelbarger is the lone senior of the seven Pekin runners who competed in the conference meet.
Pekin finished fifth in the meet last year, but only 12 points out of second place.
The Dunlap girls team, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 15 in the nation, cruised to its sixth straight conference meet championship.
Four of the top six runners were from Dunlap, led by race winner Campbell Petersen (17:34.7) and two-time defending individual champion Franny Verville (17:39.7). Morton’s Aspen Gordon was third (17:46.9).
Pekin’s top finishers were Paige Arseneau (7th, 18:02.8) and Alex Bassen (10th, 18:29.5).
Dunlap scored 23 points. The Eagles were followed by Washington (76), Canton (110), Morton (112), Metamora (118), Pekin (123), Limestone (201) and East Peoria (202) in the team standings.
Pekin coach Erika Gilmore said she was pleased to see her runners’ determination to improve their times and work together.
“But I would like to see them run more aggressively and cohesively, communicating with each other and being aware of who they need to pass to lower our team score,” she said.
Brianne Nye (33rd, 20:28.0), Lily Wagemann (36th, 20:31.8) and Madison Vicary (37th, 20:44.7) also scored for the Dragons.
Morgan Vermillion (39th, 20:47.9) and Jessica VanDyke (43rd, 21:03.1) also ran for Pekin.
Next for the Pekin boys and girls cross country teams is the Class 3A Minooka Regional this Saturday. A top-six team finish is required to move on to the Granite City Sectional.
“The IHSA is sending us two hours north (to Minnoka) and two hours south (to Granite City),” Stoner said. “But that’s all right. We’re runners. We’re used to long distances.”
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.