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Morris boys and girls harriers advance out of regional

After several days of seemingly endless cold and rain, the skies opened up and the sun blessed the IHSA Class 2A Morris cross country regional with its presence. Though the hosting Redskins weren’t exactly basking in the sun, it was a solid showing with both the boys and girls advancing to next week’s sectional at Illinois Central College in East Peoria.

Morris finished fourth out of nine teams competing in the girl’s race with juniors Sara Burns and Valerie Pfaff leading the way for the Redskins with 10th and 14th places, respectively. Bridget Gile, Sydney Corrigan and Maddie Davy rounded out Morris’ qualifiers with 25th, 27th and 40th place finishes.

“The course itself was muddy and sloppy in some areas, so I don’t think times were as quick as they could have been but the weather definitely cooperated,” Morris head coach Joe Blumberg said. “We try to preach mental toughness to our girls and guys, and the weather can certainly influence your mental outlook, but great weather, great atmosphere and great competition.”

With a time of 20:15, Burns finished just under two minutes behind Lincoln-Way West sophomore Natalie Waters who took first by a landslide.

“We had a pretty good idea that we were gonna make it to sectionals because in conference we beat a lot of these teams” Burns said of her team’s efforts. “But even though we thought we were going to make it, we still wanted to come out and do our best personally.”

Pfaff finished 11 seconds behind Burns and couldn’t have been happier that the nasty weather of the past few days had subsided.

“The weather was huge. The last couple of days in practice you feel kinda down because it’s just so hard to run through (the cold and rain), and we get out here this morning and it was just beautiful and it makes you feel like running,” she said.

With 116 points, the fourth place Lady Redskins would finish 72 points behind first place Providence Catholic, with Lincoln-Way West and Lasalle-Peru rounding out the top three for the girls.

Meanwhile, the boys may have fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a regional crown, but a third place finish for the Redskins was facilitated by a great day from Sjostrom.

“Our goal was to win the regional and put two guys in the top five, but we came up just a little short,” Sjostrom said. “I think I did pretty good personally, but it could have been better. I think I could have gotten the second place guy (Lincoln-Way West’s Ryan Kennedy).”

Sjostrom’s time was just a second behind Kennedy and 28 seconds off the pace of first place finisher Steve Sismelich of Providence. His third place finish was followed up by a 10th place finish from sophomore Austin Patterson, while juniors Austin Fatlan, Brock Kukman and Eric Robinson also qualified for the Redskins with 14th, 16th and 18th place finishes respectively.

Unfortunately, it was a day of could-have-beens for the varsity boys, with top runner Jacob Wantland fighting through a lingering hip injury. Wantland’s 44th place finish didn’t qualify for the Redskins, but he finished the race despite being in clear pain all morning long.

“(Wantland) is a competitor and I think he had goals of winning this meet, and I think he could have – not to take anything away from the other guys. To his credit, he was on a bike and he was in a pool trying to keep his cardio up to give himself a chance, but the hip just didn’t cooperate,” Blumberg said. “I know he feels bad and that he let our team down, but we’re not the team we are without him, and I thought our other guys stepped up and ran very hard.”

With Wantland rendered ineffective, Morris’ 60 points landed them 28 points behind first place Lincoln-Way West and just six points behind conference rival Ottawa.

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