5,163 runners hit Peoria for Illinois' largest high school cross country meet
Detweiller Park hosts the state’s biggest high school cross country meet on Saturday.
Yes, the biggest.
The 33rd Annual First to the Finish Invitational brings in hundreds of Illinois’ top teams and thousands of runners for an early season preview of the state finals, which have called the Peoria park home since 1970.
Peoria High athletics director Brien Dunphy is once again the race director of the huge high school event, formerly the Woodruff Invitational.
“The race always displays the best of the best individuals and teams in the state,” he said, “but we are most proud that every runner gets to run at Detweiller Park on the IHSA state championship course.”
Here are three things to watch at the six races during the FTTF:
Runners, teams, race personnel
A big reason that FTTF is the state’s largest meet is the sheer volume of participants: 5,163 runners across 349 teams from 194 schools. Volunteers will also be on hand to help hand out awards to the top 50 individual finishers and the top five teams in each race.
“In one capacity or another," Dunphy said, "I expect almost 80 people to be working Saturday."
River City Race Management, which is run by Jerry and Elaine Reibling along with Larry Hicks, will be there to time and score the meet.
Tons of ranked teams
Mike Newman of ILXCTF.com puts out weekly rankings of the top 30 teams across all three classes for boys and girls. Those ranks will be well-represented on the historic 3-mile course.
The Class 1A girls race includes six of the top 10 teams. No. 4 Eureka is the highest rated among Peoria-area teams, along with No. 11 Olympia, No. 27 El Paso-Gridley and 29th-ranked Elmwood/Brimfield.
Eighth-ranked Dunlap highlights six of the top-10 ranked 2A teams. Metamora (No. 14) and Morton (No. 22) are also in attendance. The 3A girls field features half of the top 10 teams.
No. 5 Olympia and eighth-ranked Elmwood/Brimfield are two of the seven top-10 ranked 1A boys. Deer Creek-Mackinaw (No. 23) and Eureka (No. 26) are also racing.
The top seven teams make up the field in 2A including fourth-ranked Morton. No. 14 Metamora as well as 19th-ranked Dunlap will be running. Five of the top-10 3A boys teams will compete for the top spot.
The race schedule is 1A girls at 9 a.m., 1A boys at 9:40 a.m., Class 2A girls at 10:20 a.m., 2A boys at 11 a.m., girls open at 11:40 a.m., boys open at 12:20 p.m., girls Class 3A at 1 p.m. and boys 3A at 1:40 p.m.
Top Peoria-area runners competing
Many of the state’s top runners will be crossing the Detweiller finish line for the first time since the 2019 state meet.
Maybe the overwhelming favorite to take home the 1A girls race is Anna Perry. The Eureka senior won the 1A ShaZam XC Club Championship last November as well as winning both 2020 regional and sectional individual titles.
Among the other area 1A runners to watch are Elle Knapp (Eureka), Addie Symonds (Elmwood/Brimfield) and Abby Litwiller (Olympia).
In the 2A girls race, expect to see Morton runners Emma Skinner, Arlie Akers and Taygen Beyer leading the Potters. Dunlap will boast Kate Robertson and Saniya Matthew along with Morgan Phillips and Abbie Gleason.
Katie Lalumandier, Alayna Ruach and Audrey Heil could help give Metamora the top finish among Mid-Illini Conference teams.
On the boys side, Wilson Georges gets a chance to show out on a statewide stage in the 2A race. The Limestone senior clocked a 14:50.6 last September on Detweiller, then followed that with a sectional title in 14:51.3 on Halloween.
Georges’ Mid-Illini brethren looking to crack the top 50 include Jackson Ward (Washington), Josh Weeks (Morton), Henry Welsh (Dunlap), Cade Zobrist (Morton) and Nathan Haines (Metamora).
Elmwood/Brimfield’s Thomas Harmon should be among the top 1A area finishers. Also in the mix will be Owen Dare (Olympia), Noah Ludy (El Paso-Gridley) and Isaiah Hill (E/B).
Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.