Team scores are not kept at the Oregon Open cross-country meet, but if they were, the Rock Falls girls would have been the runaway winner.
Paced by second and third-place finishes by Bailey Fortney and Alex Gomez, the youthful Rockets are beginning to look like a force to be reckoned within 1A.
They had been a secret, not making the pre-season top 25 rankings. But, after out-running solid squads from Rockford Christian and Kaneland, Rock Falls has to be considered in the conversation for programs on the rise in Illinois.
“Eventually, we’re hoping for a state championship,” Fortney said. “We got a lot of new freshmen coming up. It’s a race in practice with all the new girls.”
RF coach Mark Truesdell pointed out that the middle school is in its third year of cross country and its feeder system has helped.
“It’s starting to bear fruit,” he said. “You got to sell it. The key is when kids see they are improving and having success.”
Close behind Fortney and Gomez were Erin Porter and Bry Ganther. Both earned medalists honors for finishing in the top 10 among the 124 entrants.
“The team was able to stay in control and stay mentally strong on the hills,” Gomez said.
Madison Fortney, Bailey’s younger sister, was 22nd at 21.50. The first four finishers were between 19:24-20:42 on the 3-mile Park West course.
“It’s a hard course. It’s half mental and half physical,” Bailey Fortney said. “We had a strategy coming in. Our main goal was to relax and stay with the main group, but we Alex and I ended up in the lead. Just run in the moment and don’t think about the finish.”
Rockford Christian’s Madison Franseen, a state medalist in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, took first in 19:15.
As she has been doing all year, it was freshman Leah Watters leading Oregon. She took 30th at 22:06.
Sophomore Cynthia Nyderek was 51st with a time of 23:16. Other top five runners for Oregon were Lydia Cermak and Katelyn and Madison Byerly.
“Leah has moved up to our No. 1 runner,” Oregon coach Tim Gipper said. “With two sophomores and four freshmen in our top seven, the girls have a lot of potential. Their times are better than earlier.”