If the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls cross country team qualifies for the Class 3A state meet, coach Tom Tarrant received a preview of what’s to come on the return trip from Detweiller Park Sept. 17 for Peoria Notre Dame’s Richard Spring Invitational.

“It’s been one of the most fun teams I’ve ever coached. They were singing on the bus, driving me crazy, coming back from Peoria,” said Tarrant, laughing.

“They’re just really into it. They really want it this year. I hope they get it. If they don’t, no one will be disappointed because they’ve had a great season.” 

The Huskies are in contention for their first team state berth at Detweiller since 2013 and second since the sport expanded to three classes in 2007.  

With senior veterans and key newcomers, the Huskies entered the DyeStat top 25 3A state rankings after the Spring Invite. While not currently ranked, they are among those expected to contend for the fifth and final team berth out of the Marist Sectional Oct. 29 at Midlothian Meadows.

The Huskies compete at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet Oct. 15 at Lyons Township’s south campus. They rarely have had their entire lineup intact, yet on Oct. 1 they won Lisle’s Mane Event (53 points) by 31 points over Chicago Christian.

“We don’t really have that big, strong No. 1 runner but what we do have is a real team concept,” Tarrant said. “The attitude this year is really strong. (Their approach) is to have fun but work hard.”

Senior Mahal Schroeder was an individual state qualifier last year, taking 92nd (18:07), and the No. 5 finisher on the 2013 state team (147th). Schroeder was the Huskies’ lone, top-16 all-conference finisher at the 2015 Silver Meet (16th).

Senior Caroline Gallo also is having a great season after battling illness toward the end of 2015 and senior Hallie Voss has continued her streak of top-five team finishes. Varsity newcomers include freshman Gillian Lundgren, junior Talia Brookstein-Burk and sophomores Molly Ryan and Eleanor Kallay.

At Lisle, Schroeder and Gallo finished 5-6 and Voss (10th), Lundgren (14th) and Brookstein-Burk (15th) also were among the top 15.

On Sept. 10, the Huskies won Marmion’s Royal Cadet Invite. Gallo and Schroeder were first and second, Voss fourth, Lundgren ninth and Brookstein-Burk, senior Athena Lasiotis and Kallay also among the top 16.

The Huskies then were among 58 teams at the Spring Invite. Despite muddy Detweiller conditions, Schroeder was 24th (18:24.9) – within 20 seconds of her last state race — and Gallo 42nd (18:44.2) for the 11th-place Huskies.

This is a new sectional grouping for the Huskies. This week, they are ranked behind Downers Grove South, Lyons Township, Hinsdale Central and Lockport as well as unranked Plainfield North. The top seven individuals not among the advancing teams also qualify for state. 

At the 2015 sectional at Lake Park, Schroeder was the last individual state qualifier with a 24th-place overall finish. The Huskies were seventh (223), 23 points behind fifth-place York.

“I think we’re there (in contention). I think we’re a little better than people think we are,” Tarrant said.

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