Pekin girls cross country coach Erika Gilmore said she approached last weekend’s Canton Invitational with modest expectations.

“Three athletes in our usual lineup couldn’t compete, so I was hoping we’d take home some hardware with a medal or two for placing in the top 20 individually,” Gilmore said.

Surprise! 

With five freshmen among Pekin’s top seven finishers Saturday at Big Creek Park, the Dragons tied for third place in the team standings, just seven points away from second place, and won a team trophy.

“Our freshmen had some trepidation about Canton’s course. I was worried they might struggle a little with the mental aspect of overcoming its rolling hills,” Gilmore said. 

“Was I wrong! They showed up at the meet to run and compete. The meet was an eye-opener for me. There’s a lot of potential locked up in my nine freshmen, but I wasn’t expecting them to unleash it so early in the season. They ran hard, tackled the hills, and applied the skills we worked on earlier in the week in preparation for the meet.”

Gilmore said what happened Saturday reinforced her belief that her team has depth, and gives her hope for many more successes this season.

“Our freshmen are getting physically stronger, and what they did in the Canton meet proved they’re becoming headstrong as well,” she said.

There’s no doubt about Paige Arseneau’s strength. The Pekin senior won the race Saturday in 19:50.3. 

Freshmen Emma Cox (7th, 22:20.8), Olivia Wolf (21st, 23:43.9), Elizabeth Deverman (22nd, 23:57.7) and Preslie Burgess (29th, 24:56.7) also scored for Pekin.

Freshman Kylee Hadsall (36th, 25:52.8) and sophomore Jayvian Riley (37th, 25:57.2) rounded out the Dragons’ lineup.

Canton scored 52 points and won the invitational team title. Macomb was second with 73. 

Pekin and Elmwood each had 80, followed by Quincy Notre Dame (107), Athens (134), Farmington (160), Deer Creek-Mackinaw (186), Monmouth-Roseville (261) and Bushnell-Prairie City (266).

Limestone, Peoria Manual and Cullom Tri-Point did not have full teams.

Pekin earned third place in the team standings because its sixth finisher — Hadsall — placed ahead of Elmwood’s sixth finisher.

SECOND BEST: Quincy got in the way of a great season-opening tournament for the Pekin volleyball team.

The Dragons won three of five matches Saturday in the Quincy Early Bird Invitational. Both losses were inflicted by the hosts.

Quincy outlasted Pekin 25-20, 20-25, 25-18 in the tournament title match after beating the Dragons in three sets in pool play.

Pekin beat Fort Madison (Iowa) 25-13, 25-15 and East St. Louis 25-9, 25-13 in pool play before Quincy beat the Dragons 25-13, 21-25, 15-11.

A win over Galesburg in the semifinals sent Pekin to the title match.

Emma Clark and Anna McGovern of the Dragons were named to the all-tournament team.

Clark led Pekin with 30 kills and McGovern had 25. Clark also had 42 digs and five aces. McGovern also had a team-high nine blocks.

Logan Finneran (team-high 49 assists and team-high eight aces), Brooke Sherwood (43 assists) and Olivia Evans (team-high 56 digs) also played well for Pekin.

START WITH A SPLASH: The season got off to a promising start for new Pekin co-op girls swimming and diving coach Chris Dunn and her team.

The Dragons dunked three opponents Aug. 25 in winning a meet at Rock Island. Pekin scored 439 points and was followed by Freeport (342), Rock Island (318) and Monmouth-Roseville (85).

Kelen McDaniels led the way for the Dragons. She won both of her individual events and was part of Pekin’s winning 200 freestyle relay.

McDaniels won the 50 freestyle (:25.36) and 100 butterfly (1:01.18.) Claire Whiting, Jaidlyn Sellers, Sami Curtis and McDaniels won the 200 freestyle relay (1:49.55.)

Sellers also won the 100 freestyle (:58.13) and 100 backstroke (1:03.76).

Curtis battled to win the 500 freestyle by .43 seconds. She was clocked in 5:45.39. Olivia Sholl of Rock Island was second in 5:45.82.

Twin sisters Hunter Woodring and Katlyn Woodring placed third and sixth in diving for Pekin after only a few practices. This is their first experience with diving.

“I’m very excited about the team and season,” Dunn said. “My awesome assistant coaches from the boys season (last winter) are back.”

Those assistant coaches are Jill Weckbach and diving coach Krista Carlson. 

“Krista is excited about working with the Woodring sisters,” Dunn said. “Now that we have the diving board back at our pool (it was sent out for re-coating), Krista wants to have tryouts to recruit possible new drivers.”

There are 28 girls on the Pekin team including eight freshmen and nine seniors. Seven girls from Tremont, Pekin’s co-op partner, are on the roster.

“Our depth is phenomenal and we have so much potential,” Dunn said.

EASY WIN: The Pekin boys golf team wasn’t a gracious host Tuesday.

The Dragons downed Washington 169-192 in a Mid-Illini Conference match and improved to 3-1 in the conference.

Medalist Mason Minkel led Pekin with 38. Cooper Thleritis (40), Ethan Sullivan (43) and Brady Hilst (48) also scored for the Dragons. Dawson Woll (50) and Justin Taphorn (51) rounded out Pekin’s lineup.

YOU: Have some news or photos for the Notebook or thoughts on My Take? Please send them to stevestein21@yahoo.com.

Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve. GateHouse Media Illinois contributed to this report.