With the postseason rapidly approaching, first-year head coach Rich Skirball Jr. is finding a lot to like about the Granite City cross country team.
The Warriors followed a strong performance at the Springfield Invitational on Sept. 22 with another solid showing at the Peoria Invitational on Saturday.
The Warriors were scheduled to run Tuesday in the Madison County Meet at Belk Park in Wood River and don't compete again until the Southwestern Conference Meet, Oct. 12 at Frank Holten State Park in East St. Louis.
"We have some people that have been injured and we should have them back in time for conference and again for the regional (Oct. 20 at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville)," Skirball said. "I wouldn't count us out of the fifth (and final state qualifying) spot at the sectional (Oct. 27 at Bloomington). I definitely feel we're among the top 10 teams in the area."
At Springfield, Granite City set 18 personal records, with senior Greg Rogers, the No. 1 boys runner, placing 10th overall. Senior Haley Broyles, who has been the top runner for the girls the past two weeks, also set a personal mark of 21:44.
"The boys were 11th out of 29 teams, which is one of the best finishes we've had there," Skirball said. "We held Tyler Manion out of the varsity race and put him the freshman-sophomore division, where he placed 14th and won a medal and beat his personal record by 20 seconds. He's a key contributor for us and we would have cracked the top 10 with him in the lineup."
In a bigger field at Peoria, the Warriors performed well.
"It's a huge meet on the state cross country course (Detweiller Park) with 52 team scores and 60 teams represented," Skirball said. "They treat it like the state meet with all the officials and everyone else there.
"It was varsity only, so were only able to run our top seven boys and girls. But out of those 14 kids, nine set personal records."
Rogers placed 13 in a field of more than 350 runners as his time of 15:15 beat his personal record by 32 seconds. Ramone "Tino" Briagas had a time of 16:46 while Chris Steward, Tyler Manion and Zach Manion rounded out the top five for Granite City, all with times of 17:30.
On the girls side, Broyles ran a school-record time of 20:40. Junior Linette Hernandez, who had been the No. 1 runner most of the season, had a personal-best time of 21:16.
Freshman Kori Nesbit had a personal record of 22:22. Senior Abby Cox, who beat her personal record at Springfield by nearly a minute and a half, shaved another 30 seconds off that time at 22:26.
"Cayla Blakeburn also ran an awesome race, and for a freshman, it's easier to get overwhelmed in a big meet like that," Skirball said.