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GRANITE CITY – Edwardsville’s cross country teams had a pretty good day in Granite City Saturday morning.

The Tiger girls won the varsity team title while the boys finished second behind St. Louis University High in the 45th edition of the Granite City Invitational meet at Wilson Park, while Abby Korak won the girls individual title and Roland Prenzler took second behind the Warriors’ Andrew O’Keefe.

The EHS boys had four of their runners – Prenzler, Jack Pifer, Zach Walters and Max Hartmann – finish in the top 20 runners on the day, while the Tiger girls – Korak, Hannah Stuart, Elise Krone and Kiara Delgado – also finish in the top 20 on the day, while Emily England finished 21st to seal the team title; Alexander Valdez finished 50th for the Tiger boys to help them take second but finish above Southwestern Conference rival O’Fallon in the team race.

“We had a lot of positive performances,” said Tiger coach George Patrylak. “I can’t say the athletes are 100 percent satisfied with how the day went, but the positives outweigh the negatives. On the girls' side, I thought that Abby Korak (who covered the three-mile course in 17:52.18) looked very strong, running away in the last-half mile of the race.

“Again, with Abby, I think we’re going to see more next weekend with the big pack in competition at (next Saturday’s First to the Finish Invitational meet at Detweiler Park in Peoria, the site of the state cross-country meet in November); I think today, she ran a smart race and counted on her strength and speed at the end of the race to pull away.”

Hannah Stuart also turned in a good performance, finishing fourth on the day in a time of 18:50.61. “Hannah Stuart had a very strong race for us today, being our No. 2 runner,” Patrylak said. “After that, we looked good in the sense that we had six in the Top 25 (on the day), six receiving medals, but a lot of those places were in the high teens and 20s.

“We’re going to need to keep moving up; right now, we have a little too big of a gap. The reality is if two of O’Fallon’s top runners – if O’Fallon runs even one of them – we’re talking about a second-place finish. There’s a lot of positives, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

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On the boys' side, Prenzler’s second-place finish in 15:16.45 behind O’Keefe’s 15:10.58 was a big factor or the Tigers; Edwardsville’s second-place team finish – seven points separated the top three teams, SLUH, Edwardsville and O’Fallon – made Patrylak happy, but there’s still work to do. “On the guys’ side, we had four in the top 13,” Patrylak said. “I think a couple of spots there, we faded a little bit, but if we have four in the top 13 in a 30-some team meet, that’s always a positive showing. We need to get that gap closed a little bit.

“The definition for this season is going to be how much we can close what our five-six-seven (runners) can do, because right now, that’s our Achilles’ heel; we finished second five points out of first and only two points in front of O’Fallon; we have to get somebody or a group of people to step up, because until we close that gap between four and five, we’re going to get our tails handed to us when we get up to the Peoria-sized meets.”

Alton’s boys' team finished in the back of the pack on the day, but the Redbirds did have a top performance from Cassius Havis, who finished 16th on the day with a time of 16:09.75. “It’s early in the season and we’ve got a ways to go,” said Redbird coach Vernon Curvey. “Cassius, on the individual side, did fairly well; we don’t have a lot of seniors, but lots of juniors; we’re still young and we’ve got a ways to go.

“We’re light on numbers this year, but we’re going to keep plugging ahead with the kids we’ve got. We’ve got that first one under our belt and see where you are, not just where you think you’re are and make adjustments and keep training.”

For Jersey’s performances on the day, “it’s kind of a bittersweet day,” said Panther coach Harold Landon. “We ran a meet on Wednesday, so our goal was to try to improve on our times from Wednesday; both of our No. 1 runners on the girls side and boys side had to drop out of the race with side cramps; that obviously hurt our team score, but we did improve on our times for everybody.

“When you can improve on your times, that’s a good day.; it’s a good competition here and a well-run meet; now it’s on to Peoria and we hope we can continue to improve on our times.”

Saturday’s meet was the 45th edition of what’s become one of the area’s top early-season meets. “It was amazing when long ago, (the Invitational) started and it’s continued to grow; the reason that it’s been able to grow was that I started to realize when it gets to this magnitude, you can’t do it alone,” said GCHS coach Rich Skirball. “Parents step in and take over the concession stand, putting the timing to Chris Arnold at Endurance Race Timing and then shirts to The Cubby Hole and of course, Dave Williams (the Granite City Park District’s Director of Parks and Recreation) is always there with the Park District staff always helping out.”

O’Keefe’s win was a credit to the work he put in over the summer, Skirball felt. “He (O’Keefe) has had an amazing summer’s worth of training,” Skirball said. “He’s in a great state of mind, an amazing kid, an amazing talent; he came out today and executed against excellent competition against these guys from SLU High and Roland Prenzler from Edwardsville and the freshman coming in from Quincy (Fiker Rosen, who finished fifth on the day) – it’s one of the top-notch races around and to be able (for O’Keefe) to defend his title (O’Keefe won last year’s boys individual crown) and win again – on his senior year – it’s just something very special.

“Roland’s excellent; those two are elite class, for sure.”

Among other area girls runners, the top performances for each team came from Alyssa Kowalski of Triad (21:07.00), Chessy Nikonowicz of Granite City (21:15.65), Janelynn Wirth of Roxana (20:48.80), Maggie Fitzgerald of Collinsville (21.16.71), Grace Sharich of Jersey (23:14.09), Laina Wilderman of Piasa Southwestern (22:25.56), Jessica Markel of Alton (22:37.79), Ryane Clendenny of Civic Memorial (23:16.95); among area boys runners, top performances on the day came from Drake Bleier of Triad (16:50.17), Carlos Ruvalcaba of Roxana (16:46.48), Mark Eldridge of Civic Memorial (17:29.06), Christian Cazier of Jersey (17:53.94), Diego Hernandez of Collinsville (17:35.53), Caden Bohn of Piasa Southwestern (17:38.51) and Ryne White of East Alton-Wood River (18:29.41).

SLUH won the boys freshman-sophomore race with 48 points, with Edwardsville (119) fourth, Collinsville (220) seventh, Triad (240) 10th, Granite City (320) 12th and Alton, CM, Jersey, Southwestern, Roxana and EAWR also taking part; O’Fallon won the girls JV meet with 31 points, followed by Edwardsville (133) fifth and Alton, CM, Granite City, Roxana, Triad and EAWR also taking part in the competition.

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