The road to state: The Rockets cross country performance was "impressive"

by Daniel L. Chamness
      Special to The Sentinel

CHAMPAIGN -- Based on their dominating performance all season, no one could doubt the Unity Rockets were going to win another Class 1A IHSA cross-country state title.

Heading into the Illinois High School Association sectional meet, the program did not lose a meet. Not one race to any team. The program has brought home state titles in 2021, 2017, and 2015. The Rockets also collected trophies in 2016 for second and third-place hardware in 2018 and 2019.

The path to the state finals included crushing it at the St. Joseph-Ogden Class 1A sectional meet held at Dodds Park on the campus of Parkland College back on October 29. The day was just one more chance to show just how dominant they were and had been all season.

The Rockets cemented the sectional title by 86 points, finishing with 40 points. Marshall took second with 126 points.

"Their performances were very impressive," said Kara Leaman, Tolono Unity's head coach of the Rockets' performance at sectionals. "They are excited. While we have won a state title before, we have never done it back-to-back. They want to be the first Unity Rocket team to do it."

Not only did they leave the sectional with the all-important team championship plaque, four of the scoring top five left with individual sectional hardware.

Emily Decker finished the 2.95-mile course in 18 minutes and 2.49 seconds. The sophomore was fifth. Mackenzie Pound (sixth), Erica Woodard (seventh), and Olivia Shike (10th) finished within 21 seconds of Decker. Pound finished at 18:11.21, while Woodard entered the chute at 18:12.55. Shike crossed the finish line at 18:22.89.

The fifth scorer, Reagan Stringer, clocked in at 18:51.59. Camryn Reedy and Josie Cler took 18th and 25th, finishing respectively at 19:25.71 and 19:47.82.

"This Saturday, my hope for every athlete is that they can walk away knowing they competed as well as they could," said Leaman.

While the Spartan girls did not qualify as a team, Savanna Franzen grabbed one of the individual qualifying spots, taking 13th in the sectional. She ended her race at 18:35.28.

"I tried to be controlled the first 50 percent of the race," said Franzen. "I was not feeling the best today. This course is not all that fast. I am looking forward to running at Detweiller, which is a very fast course."

She led the Spartans to a 10th-place finish, which scored 271 team points.

Hannah Mock (61st), Sydney Steinbach (69th), Sophia Kasper (82nd), and Kaytlyn Baker (93rd) rounded out the top five for the Spartans.

Mock, Steinbach, and Kasper, all freshmen, all broke the 22:00 barrier. Mock finished in 21 minutes and 09.72 seconds, Steinbach finished the course in 21:35.14, and Kasper finished at 21:58.25. Baker closed out the Spartan effort with a time of 22:26.77.

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