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Cross Country: Downers Grove South's Sophia McNerney, Tim Neumann add to memorable seasons with regional titles

CHICAGO – At Marist, the right-field foul pole was the ideal finishing point for the Downers Grove South boys and girls cross country programs on Saturday.

With optimal running conditions for a late October morning, Downers Grove South juniors Sophia McNerney and Tim Neumann both added to their memorable seasons. McNerney started the day, with a strong finish running along the warming track on the baseball field to finish with a time of 17 minutes, 25.86 seconds to win the Class 3A Marist Regional meet. 

Two hours later, on the flat, single-loop course, Neumann completed the sweep for the Mustangs, outlasting a late push by Hinsdale Central’s Daniel Watcke to notch a winning time of 14:50.27.

McNerney and Neumann each kept their impressive undefeated seasons intact with dominating performances. The sectional meet is slated for next Saturday at Lyons.

In the girls meet, Downers Grove South claimed the regional title with 46 points to beat out rival Downers Grove North (48) and Hinsdale Central (70).

Downers Grove South girls cross country coach Doug Plunkett said it was a special day for his program, with several runners setting new personal bests.

“The girls did great,” he said. “It was a great course, set up well. It was flat, fast and the weather cooperated. We feel we had a very good day.

“Sophia led the way. We came in here expecting her to be in the hunt to win it, and she just took care of business. She’s been running with a lot of confidence, and it showed today. She was able to pull away from the rest of the lead pack in the second half of the race and finished strong."

McNerney said the layout of the course appealed to her running style, helping her beat second-place finisher, Hinsdale Central’s Catie McCabe, by nearly 20 seconds (17:43). Downers Grove North's Melissa Jachim placed third in a time of 17:57.

“I really liked this course a lot," McNerney said. "Most of the other courses we’ve been running on have been multi-loop courses, so it was really cool to do an out and back course. It made it go by a lot faster to not have to count the loops. 

“This is a big confidence booster for me. We came in knowing that I could maybe win, so it was cool to see what I could do against a lot more teams and good competition. Our team came together and worked hard.”

Neumann rode a strong start to keep his running season without a defeat. Downers Grove North had two runners in the top five, with Evan Cummins placing fourth (15:11) and Roy Llewellyn earning fifth (15:12), to pace the Trojans to the regional championship (35 points). Hinsdale Central snagged second (48) and Downers Grove South took third (101) in the boys race.

After joining the cross country team last season and helping the Mustangs place 21st at state, Neumann said he’s become a better, more experienced runner this fall.

“Last year I was new to the sport, and would run with the seniors because I loved running and they taught me a lot,” he said. “I would go head-first in a lot of my races. At state, I went out really fast and blew up in the last mile

“This season I don’t die out and am a lot more confident. My goal is to win everything. I was happy with my race today. Near the end, I kept looking back and saw the (Hinsdale Central) runner kept getting closer. It was scary. But this season I knew I was fit. I think I worked really hard, and knew if I worked hard, I could go undefeated.”

Downers Grove South boys cross country coach Brian Caldwell said Neumann showed his improvement from last season against a talented field of runners.

“Tim ran fantastic,” he said. “We knew he would have some really good competition today. Tim just was seeing how it went for the first 800 meters, then pulled away and just had enough because the the Hinsdale Central kid had another gear at the end. 

“To my knowledge, Tim is the first regional champ in school history. We’ve had a lot of good runners in our school history, but he’s at lest the first one to win at least in my 14 years.”

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