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The Highland, Hillcrest Academy and Lone Tree cross country teams see each other often. Almost every race, in fact.
That familiarity has created a mini rivalry and respect between the top girls runners at each school.
On Monday evening at Waterworks Park in Fairfield, Hillcrest Academy’s Leah Bontrager won that competition by placing third at the conference meet. Highland’s Madi Thomann was fourth and Lone Tree’s Macie Bopp was sixth.
“Toward the end I saw her, (Thomann), and still felt strong so it was just like, ‘I can do this,’” Bontrager said. “As I passed her she told me I looked strong and I told her she did too.”
Over the course of the season, they have raced together five times. Bontrager has led the small group three times and Thomann twice. Bopp beat Bontrager last time out at Waterworks Park at a meet hosted by Fairfield earlier this season.
“They’re the nicest people ever, so I never feel like it is a rivalry but respect for them,” Bopp said.
Thomann added that the knowing that competition will be there helps her run better.
“We’re all pushing each other and getting better by trying to keep up with each other. We pull each other along,” Thomann said.
At this year’s SEISC meet all three were All-Conference runners with Hillcrest’s Sarena Gerber and Lone Tree’s Natalie Patterson also gaining All-Conference honors.
Bontrager took third place with a strong second half of the race. At the halfway point she was more than five spots back from her final finish. Gerber finished in 13th with a time of 22:48. It was the first time the senior earned All-Conference honors.
Patterson finished 14th in 22:58, it was the first All-Conference honor for the Lone Tree senior.
In the team race, Pekin ran away with a score of 37. Highland was fourth and Hillcrest Academy sixth. Ten teams fielded scoring teams.
The Highland girls scoring members included fourth place Thomann, 24th place Fiona Mahler, 27th place Taylor Sublette, 34th place Alli Brand and 63rd place Katelyn Waters.
The Hillcrest girls scoring members included Bontrager, Gerber, Taryn Leichty in 46th, Chloe Staley in 49th and Julia Boller in 51st. Ainsley Shaw placed 68th for the Ravens.
The meet was the first time this season that Leichty, a Hillcrest Academy freshman, has run in the No. 3 spot for the Ravens. She ran a season-best 26:25.
Lone Tree’s Alberto Cortes was the top area boys finisher in 32nd place in 19:49. Cortes said he was coming off of a cold, so while not happy with his time he understood it.
Cortes said now all attention is focused on the state-qualifying meet next week and working to improve. He said he will likely need a 30 second improvement on his season-best time and now he will just work on building the mental capacity to do that.
He helped Lone Tree to an 11th-place team finish at the meet of 14 total teams. After Cortes was Cale Christofferson, who finished 47th in 20:41. The Lone Tree lineup was rounded out by Nick Saltzman (60th), Ethan Willoz (79th) and Blake Honeycutt (23:29).
Highland was 14th as a team. The Huskies were led by Noah Oriano in 22:23. Teammate Jacob Roling finished one spot back in 69th. Brendan Schnoebelen ran 23:42, Matt Butler 27:14 and Noah Holden 30:17.
The top finisher for the Hillcrest Academy boys was Colby Harris in 56th place, who ran a season-best 21:05. Will Kolck was close behind in 21:07. Hillcrest’s final runner was Owen Swartzendruber in 67th in 21:52.
Highland, Lone Tree and Hillcrest Academy will run on Thursday at Big Hollow in Mediapolis. The state-qualifying meet is next Thursday. Site assignments will be released this week.