Those teenage kids that Dixon residents see running through the streets most days after school will be trophy hunters this weekend.
The Dukes and Duchesses both figure to be in the running for team hardware when the IHSA State Cross Country Meet is held Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria. Six races are on tap, the first four of which will involve area athletes.
It begins with the Class 1A girls race at 9 a.m., followed by the Class 1A boys at 10 a.m., the 2A girls at 11 a.m., and the 2A boys at noon.
On the girls side, Dixon is coming off a gutsy performance Saturday at the 2A Belvidere Sectional, where it placed second to Lake Villa (Lakes). Three of its top seven runners (Nicquelette Fazekas, Taylor Renkes and Grace Johnson) dealt with nagging injuries in the weeks leading up to the race, and the team’s top runner at the sectional, Paige Stees, was battling the effects of a cold.
A soggy course and windy, chilly weather did little to slow down the Duchesses, however.
“I’m really excited, especially with how well we did this past weekend,” Stees said. “I think that we can come together and do something good.”
“It just depends on how we come together as a team and how everyone races,” added Jade Miller, who finished 1 second behind Stees at the sectional.
Dixon will trot out a veteran crew for the state meet. Stees, Fazekas, Miller, Renkes, Taylor Hills and Grace Johnson all ran 2 years ago when the Duchesses placed sixth as a team. Emily Conderman, a freshman, is the lone newcomer.
“I think we’ll be more calm, since we’ve been in this situation a few times,” Stees said. “I think we’ll be ready for it.”
Stees and Miller were each all-staters a year ago when they placed 23rd and 25th, respectively.
As for this year, Dixon coach Evan Thorpe noted the top two teams will likely be Benet Academy and Chicago Latin, but it is wide open for the third spot. Lakes is led by defending individual champion Brooke Stromsland, and if her supporting cast steps up, Lakes could be tough to catch.
The Duchesses, meanwhile, will be looking to build on the momentum of a strong sectional, and a week of healing.
“We were ranked fourth in preseason, so we are pretty good,” Thorpe said. “We didn’t know if we’d be able to hold it together, but we’re holding it together by a shoestring. Now we’ve got one more week to put it on the line.”
On the boys side, the Dukes enter the race as one of the favorites, along with Kaneland, the team it finished second to at the Belvidere Sectional. The Knights amassed 64 points, with the Dukes next at 71.
Dixon runners stressed they didn’t have their A games working that day.
“Last week we didn’t have our best race, and we were still only seven points behind them,” Christian Seagren said. “That gives us a little bit of a confidence boost, knowing that if we do run our best race, there’s a very good chance that we could beat Kaneland.”
“All of us need to do our part for sure, one through five,” Brock Drengenberg added. “If we all have a really good race, we can definitely be up there.”
Drengenberg, a junior, and Seagren, a senior, lead a Dixon team that returns five of its top seven runners from a club that finished fifth in 2A a year ago. Also back from that group are junior Cadyn Grafton and seniors Logan Griswold and Aidan Johnson. Thomas Sitter, a senior, and freshman Brayden Bock are this year’s additions to the top seven.
Drengenberg was 16th at state last year with a time of 15:12, and he hopes to break 15 minutes this year.
“It definitely adds confidence, knowing that I did so well last year at the state meet,” Drengenberg said. “I know I can definitely do it again. It’s supposed to be a nice day, so it’s definitely within reach.”
Seagren will be making his third appearance at state. He was 100th in 16:09 as a sophomore, then 76th in 15:56 as a junior.
“I know it’s usually fast, so I’ll have to go out harder than I’m used to,” Seagren said. “It’s the best of the best out there. I’ll just run my race and keep pushing as hard as I can the whole race.”
Catching Kaneland, as well as holding off other pursuers, will not be an easy task, according to Thorpe. Of the top five runners for each team, Dixon won just one head-to-head match-up at the Belvidere Sectional.
That’s not to say the Dukes are backing down from this challenge. In fact, they are united in what lies ahead.
“The goal all year has been to win, and that’s a testament to the culture of the team,” Thorpe said. “The culture of the boys team is exactly what any head coach wants to develop in any sport. These guys truly care about one another, and they truly keep each other accountable to do the right things, but they do it in such a positive way. They are a fantastic group. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Dixon does have a good recent track record at Detweiller. At the 43-team Peoria Invitational on Oct. 5, the Dukes took first place with a mere 68 points. The top four Dixon runners posted times between 15:26 and 15:45, and a fifth crossed the finish line in 16:04.
“We ran a magical race at Detweiller the first weekend in October,” Thorpe said. “If we can recapture that, anything is possible. We’re going there to win, but at the same time, to be on that medal stand would be fantastic.”