Will VanAlstine keeps up the pace to run at State

Will VanAlstine

Senior Will VanAlstine has been the top runner for Boy’s Cross Country throughout the 2018 season, according to head coach Jon Burnett. 

Despite missing the spring track season due to an injury, VanAlstine healed, trained and returned this season with high goals for himself. 

“He has rehabbed that injury and trained this summer and has taken a lot of the guys with him, Burnett said. “That has helped the team to get to the point that it’s at right now.” 

Burnett said that VanAlstine has shown to be a good leader of the varsity team. 

“The guys of the team respect his ability and they try to emulate the things he does in practice,” Burnett said. 

While VanAlstine plans on running in college, Burnett said that he has not yet decided on a school to attend. 

“There are schools looking at him but he hasn’t decided yet.”

Burnett said he would call the Boy’s Cross Country team an “over achieving group.” 

“We started the season with a goal to try to qualify for the state meet,” he said. 

Burnett said that in order to qualify for state, the team would need to place in the top five at the sectional meet.

“We were hoping to be the fifth team when the season began and as the season progressed, things have gotten better and this past weekend – in stead of placing fifth – we placed first at the sectional meet,” he said. “The guys ended up being sectional champions. This team has one goal and they overshot that goal and created higher goals for themselves.” 

Burnet said he has “no idea” how the state meet will go this upcoming weekend, and described it as an “insane” kind of event. 

“You take the 25 best teams in the state – you fire the gun and just watch them all go.”

Burnett described the team as a mix of nervous, excited and confident. 

“They are confident that they can go up and do well but nervous. You have to do this all in one day,” he said. “They are excited because the goal of every runner in the state is to get to this meet and compete and they get the opportunity, which is exciting.”

Burnett said that VanAlstine sets high standards for himself. 

“He sets the bar for himself and he goes after that,” Burnett said. “Sometimes he sets goals and I have to pull him back a little bit into reality – but that’s kind of the way he is. He dreams of these huge goals and goes and chases them.”

Panther Cross Country teams dominant at Granite City Invitational

Varsity Girls second place team members, from left: Sofia Parker, Kaitlyn Walker, Julia Monson, Emma Jordan, Kylie McElroy, and Abi Jackson.  (Photo by Darlene Tady)

By Darlene Tady

The O’Fallon Boys and Girls Cross Country teams were dominant in all six races at the Granite City Invitational this past Saturday.  

Competing in the 38 team field, the JV Girls, Boys Open, and Girls Open were all crowned team champions. The Varsity Girls placed second, while the Varsity Boys placed third only seven points behind first place team SLUH and two points behind Edwardsville. The JV Boys pulled together for a fifth place team finish.


JV Girls first Place team members, from left: Brianne Berres, Petyon Mutters, Kimberly Davenport, Maddy Vorce, Peyton Schieppe, and Olivia Anderson. (Photo by Darlene Tady)

Leading the JV Girls was freshman standout Peyton Schieppe, who was crowned individual champion with a time of 19:47 over three miles.  Sophomore Maddie Vorce, crossed the finish line in third place.  Also placing in the top ten for the JV Lady Panthers was Brianne Berres (8th), Peyton Mutters (9th), and Olivia Anderson (10th).  

In the Varsity Girls race freshman Julia Monson led all O’Fallon runners clocking 18:53 for her outstanding fifth place finish. Junior Emma Jordan placed eighth in 19:01, sophomore Sofia Parker was ninth in 19:12, and junior Kaitlyn Walker placed 12th with a 19:18 time.

On the boys side, in the varsity race, senior captain Will VanAlstine led the Panthers with a strong sixth place finish running 15:40 and on his heels was sophomore Nick Edwards who placed seventh in a time of 15:42. Senior Jacob Ramirez (23rd), junior Will Ray (24th) and senior Brendan Krell (25th) rounded out the top five.

In the JV boys race, sophomore Matt Ray paced his teammates with a 15th place finish with a time of 17:50 with sophomores Nico Parker and Nick Novy placing 23rd and 25th respectively.

Varsity Boys third place team members, from left: Will Ray, Jacob Ramirez, Nick Edwards, Brendan Krell, Will VanAlstine, and Tristen Fornes. (Photo by Darlene Tady)

O’Fallon Boys scored a dominating victory in the Open race by placing five runners in the top 17. Junior Chris Wichlac was crowned the individual champion running a time of 16:48 with junior David Tady crossing the line in second clocking 16:50. Junior Braden Gaab placed fifth, senior Kolson Mendelsohn placed sixth and senior Noah Decker rounded out the top five in 17th place. 

In the Girls Open race senior Taylor Peck placed second, with teammates Sam Suchanek (4th), Sofia LoBue (5th), Krissy Sharpe (6th), and Faye Swanson (9th) scoring for O’Fallon Lady Panthers.

The Panthers will travel to SIU-E to run in the Edwardsville Fall Classic on Wednesday, September 5, and to St. Louis to compete in the Forest Park Cross Country Festival on Saturday, September 8.

OTHS Boys Cross Country kick off their season

By Darlene Tady

The OTHS Boys Cross Country team opened their season on Saturday August 25, competing against area teams Belleville East, Edwardsville and host Belleville West.  No team scores were kept, but individuals were able to test their endurance against local rivals on the three mile course. 

The top seven O’Fallon runners pacing for the Panthers were: Matthew Ray, Brendan Krell, Tristen Fornes, David Tady, Chris Wichlac, Braden Gaab, and Nico Parker, all placing in the top 15 for a strong showing.

Jrs. Chris Wichlac and Braden Gaab make one more push toward the finish of the 3 mile course (Photo credits: Scott Gaab)

Junior Matthew Ray led the Panthers with a 6th place finish (Photo credits: Scott Gaab)


Senior Brendan Krell focuses intently on the finish line finishing in 7th place (Photo credits: Scott Gaab)


Sophomore Nico Parker challenges an Edwardsville runner (Photo credits: Scott Gaab)


Teammates David Tady and Tristen Fornes, both Juniors, pace each other through the hilly backwoods of the BW course (Photo credits: Scott Gaab)


Cross Country teams ready for 2017 season


Finishing a season within the state’s top 25 is a great accomplishment for most programs in Illinois.

At O’Fallon, it’s expected.

A year after finishing 21st at the Illinois High School Association State Finals, the O’Fallon Boys Cross Country team is looking to build with a strong group of senior runners expected to lead the way.

Despite losing star harrier Chris Conrad to graduation and the University of Missouri, the Panthers boast four key seniors and a star junior, enough to be ranked #21 in the state according to MileSplit.com’s preseason rankings.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of this week’s paper on newsstands now. Or, click here for the digital edition.

Panthers end their season with run in Detweiler Park

From left: Joey Black, Will VanAlstine, Hayden Ybarra, Lucas Capistrant, Matt Gilster, Garrett Blenkush and Chris Conrad.  (Submitted Photo)

From left: Joey Black, Will VanAlstine, Hayden Ybarra, Lucas Capistrant, Matt Gilster, Garrett Blenkush and Chris Conrad. 
(Submitted Photo)

The OTHS Cross Country program is used to running this late in the year, and Peoria’s Detweiller Park has become a familiar location for the Panther runners to end their season.

Both the Boys and the Girls teams managed 21st place finishes, capping off great seasons for the squads.

The Girls were led by junior star Brooke Witzel’s 27th place finish, the only O’Fallon placement in the top 75 on the day.

Kaitlyn Walker would cross the finish line second for the Panthers, finishing in 76th. Walker was followed by Sophie Wichlac in 118th. Emma Jordan (124) and Katie Mank (136) completed the O’Fallon five, while Madeline McKittrick (141) and Maddie Collins (167) also competed for the Blue and Gold.

O’Fallon managed a team score of 481, 17 points better than 22nd place Schaumburg. [Elmhurst] York finished 23rd, followed by Plainfield North and [Frankfort] Lincoln Way-East to round out the field.

Naperville North would capture the team crown, scoring a 111 to beat runner-up Yorkville by 19 points.

Edwardsville Sectional Champion Minooka would take third, followed by Downers Grove South and [Lagrange] Lyons to finish out the top five. Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville would finish 16th.

[Glen Ellyn] Glenbard West freshman Katelynne Hart would win the Individual State Title, followed by junior teammate Lindsey Payne in second. Minooka junior Emily Shelton finished in third, ahead of senior teammate Mackenzie Callahan. [Mount Prospect] Prospect senior Brooke Wilson finished fifth.

On the Boys side, the Panthers exacted a little Sectional revenge, topping Minooka by 25 points to secure a 21st place finish. 23rd place Highland Park finished ahead of Yorkville and Naperville North to round out the competition.

[Naperville] Neuqua Valley took home the State Championship, beating Downers Grove North by a dominating 33 points. Lake Zurich finished 3rd ahead of Lyons and [Chicago] Whitney Young.

Edwardsville would take home 19th, 29 points ahead of OTHS.

The Panthers were paced by Christopher Conrad’s 37th place finish, again the only finish in the top 75 for O’Fallon. Teammate Will Van Alstine would cross the finish line 76th overall.

Conrad’s run would be the best out of any competitor from the Metro East, as he finished 28 spots in front of Edwardsville’s top runner Franky Romano.

Joey Black finished three spots later in 79th, followed by Garrett Blenkush in 135th and Matthew Gilster two spots later.

Hayden Ybarra (144) and Lucas Capistrant (146) would also run for the Blue and Gold, although both would place out of the O’Fallon five.

Minooka’s Soren Knudsen capped off an incredible postseason and high school career with the Individual State Championship. Lyons junior Danny Kilrea would finish six seconds later for second place, followed by [Orland Park] Sandberg junior Dylan Jacobs. York junior Charlie Kern finished fourth, followed by Lake Zurich’s Brian Griffith.

This race marks the end of a two great O’Fallon Boys Cross Country careers, as senior duo Chris Conrad and Joey Black both will move on from OTHS next year.

The 2016 season helped add to the status quo that both Boys Head Coach Jon Burnett and Girls Head Coach Neil James have created for this O’Fallon program. November runs in Peoria have long become the expectation for those who put on the uniform.

Next up for both Panther teams will be an entire offseason to continue to train and improve, building on what was a successful 2016 campaign. They’ll be ready to make another run for Peoria in 2017.

Cross Country teams have a date with State

Joey Black pours it on to cross the finish line. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Jeff Egbert)

Joey Black pours it on to cross the finish line. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Jeff Egbert)

Running in November has become quite the norm for the O’Fallon Township High School Cross Country program.

The OTHS Boys Cross Country Team has made quite a habit out of shining on the IHSA stage over the past decade and a half, and now the Panthers are heading towards their 14th consecutive trip to the IHSA State Finals at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

O’Fallon would ride a pair of top ten finishes from seniors Chris Conrad and Joey Black en route to a second place finish behind Sectional champion Minooka, who boasted the meet winner when Soren Knudsen crossed the finish line a full 19 seconds ahead of second place Evan Mitchell of [New Lenox] Lincoln Way-West. Conrad finished in fifth while Black finished seventh.

The Panthers managed 96 points, safely placing the Blue and Gold in advancement position. Minooka would score an impressive 89, safely in first place with a healthy 22 second split from their second place runner to their fifth place runner. O’Fallon would feature a 39 second split.

Edwardsville would score 103, good for third place ahead of state qualifying Lincoln Way-East (111 points) and Yorkville (129 points).

Panther sophomore Will Van Alstine would cross the line in 26th, running a 16:54, one place and one second ahead of junior teammate Hayden Ybarra. Fellow junior Matthew Gilster would wrap up the Panther five, finishing 31st with a time of 16:56.

Up next for the OTHS boys harriers will be a 14th consecutive chance to bring home the school’s first ever team IHSA State Championship this Saturday in Peoria.

The Sectional success was not limited to the Boys side, however, as the Panther Girls also punched their ticket to Detweiller Park, placing fourth in the IHSA Girls Edwardsville Sectional.

The Lady Panthers were again led by rising junior star Brooke Witzel, who finished a team best 12th place with a time of 19:34.

Witzel would be followed by a pair of freshman teammates, as Kaitlyn Walker finished 21st with a time of 20:11 and Sophie Wichlac ran a 20:27, good for 25th.

Sophomore Katie Mank finished 31st, running a 20:34, ten seconds ahead of freshman Madeline McKittrick, who came in 35th.

The Panthers managed a team score of 124, placing them a comfortable 30 points ahead of fifth place Lincoln Way-East.

Minooka finished off the clean sweep of the Boys and Girls heats, winning the Sectional with a team score of 24, an impressive 12 points ahead of second place Yorkville. Edwardsville ran off a score of 100, good for third place.

Minooka senior Mackenzie Callahan ran a 17:55, leading the charge of four straight Indians runners to cross the finish line. Teammates Ashley Tutt, Emily Shelton, and Vivian Van Eck would combine to make up the top four.

Yorkville would then feature the next four runners, as Normal Community West’s Mara Smith would be the only runner in the top ten to come from a school other than Minooka or Yorkville when she placed ninth.

Up next for both teams is a date with the best teams from across Illinois when the Panthers collectively battle to bring home what would be an historic championship for O’Fallon Athletics. Neither team has ever produced a finish better than second in Peoria.

But the only history these teams are focused on is in the classroom, and these runners know that their biggest test of the year will take place in the future, not the past, and as true in any sport, the postseason offers a wild and unpredictable atmosphere full of memorable performances and unlikely heroes.

These Panthers are ready for the challenge.


Cross Country teams both head on to sectionals

The starting gun is fired signaling the start of the race at the Cross Country Regionals. (Photo by Monica Ybarra)

The starting gun is fired signaling the start of the race at the Cross Country Regionals. (Photo by Monica Ybarra)

The name of the game at this point in the season is survive and advance, and the O’Fallon Township High School Boys Cross Country team did just that on Saturday, finishing second in their IHSA Regional in Quincy.

The Panthers advance to compete in the IHSA Sectional hosted at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville on Saturday with a trip to the IHSA State Finals on the line.

O’Fallon finished with 70 points, well behind first place Edwardsville, who scored 19. The Panther advancement, however, wasn’t really in question as OTHS finished 29 points ahead of the third place Alton Redbirds.

“Edwardsville ran a great meet, all sorts of congratulations to them on their run,” Head Coach Jon Burnett said after the meet. “We’re excited to move on and compete for even bigger things.”

Junior Hayden Ybarra paced O’Fallon with a team-best 16:35:10, good for eighth place overall. Fellow junior Garrett Blenkush would also find the top 10, finishing the course with a time of 16:42:90.

Edwardsville’s Franky Ramano would win the day, producing the only time under 16 minutes on the day with a 15:52:10. Teammate Roland Prenzier would follow in second running an even 16:00:00.

Granite City senior Andrew O’Keefe came in third, a full six and a half seconds behind Prenzier.

Edwardsville would continue it’s dominance of the top five, placing freshman Jack Pifer and sophomore Dan Powell in fourth and fifth respectively.

Belleville West senior Brian Gichuru finished sixth and Edwardsville sophomore Max Hartman placed seventh.

Panther senior Zion Ward finished in twelfth place, running a 16:45:30. Classmate Johnathan Whitaker crept into the top 20, finishing in nineteenth with a 17:14:80.

Sophomore Ashton Hess continued a strong second season, placing 21st, two seconds ahead of senior teammate Aaron Reuter’s 17:26:40.

Andrew Joyce ran a 17:28:30 and came in 24th, wrapping up an impressive O’Fallon presence which featured six runners within the top 24.

Deep runs in the IHSA State Tournament have become the norm for a program rapidly becoming a staple on Illinois’ biggest stage, but the Panthers know that they can’t overlook any leg of competition if they want to contend in Peoria.

Up next for O’Fallon will be another match up with rival Edwardsville, a team they have had an up and down relationship with this season, at the IHSA Sectional. Advancement past the course at SIUE means a date with the IHSA State Finals in Peoria’s famous Detweiller Park.

“We’ve got out sights set on SIUE now,” Burnett added.

Girls Cross Country Sets Sights on Sectional

As many of us have watched over the recent weeks during the MLB Playoffs, great teams advance in October when their stars perform like stars. On Saturday in Quincy, O’Fallon’s star ran like one.

Much like Javier Baez of the NL Champion Cubs or Andrew Miller of the AL Champion Indians, Brooke Witzel rose to the top when her team needed her most, and the Blue and Gold are in large part still running this season because of the example set by this burgeoning young star.

The rest OTHS Girls Cross Country Team did its part as well in keeping their season alive over the weekend when the Panthers placed second in the IHSA Regional. O’Fallon will now compete in this weekend’s IHSA Sectional up north on the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Panther star junior Brooke Witzel would be crowned Regional Champion with a time of 18:32:20, roughly seven seconds faster than second place Melissa Spencer of Edwardsville, who was followed closely by teammate Jaycie Hudson.

OTHS would get one more top five representative, however, as freshman Kaitlyn Walker finished in fourth place with a time of 18:54:50.

Edwardsville’s Abby Schrobilgen would wrap up the top five with a time of 19:00:20.

O’Fallon freshman Sophie Wichlac continued to add to her impressive rookie campaign with an eighth place finish, running the course with a time of 19:22:40, while classmate Madeline McKittrick rounded out the top ten with a time of 19:25:20. Fellow freshman Emma Jordan would finish thirteenth, running it in 19:46:10.

Junior Kaileigh Perrier would finish in 15th, just under two seconds ahead of teammate Danna Jenkins, who placed right behind her in 16th.

“It was a great team performance, and it sets us up great for a chance to advance past next weekend,” Head Coach Neil James said after the showing.

It was an impressive outing for the Blue and Gold, as all seventh Panther runners finished in the top 16, but it was another big time performance from the Edwardsville Tigers that determined the team standings.

The Tigers featured their top five all within the top 11, while their entire roster placed within the top 14, a feat that would be tough to match by any team in the state.

Up next for the girls is another head to head match up with the rival Orange and Black when they travel to SIUE for the IHSA Sectional. Beyond that looms the IHSA State Finals in Peoria, but the Panthers know they need their best times to move on.

They’re ready for the challenge.

“Bring it on,” James added. “We want to ride this out and keep this going as long as we can.”

Boys Cross Country takes home eighth straight SWC crown

(Submitted Photo)

(Submitted Photo)

It is often said that the only thing harder than making a hit is to make a second. If that logic holds, what the O’Fallon Boys Cross Country program has done over the past eight years is borderline impossible.

The Panther runners’ feat was no easy task, as O’Fallon needed the favorable results of a tiebreaker to top rival Edwardsville to maintain their nearly decade-long stretch of dominance.

The Tigers and Panthers were locked at 36 points apiece before the tiebreak awarded O’Fallon the Southwestern Conference Championship for a remarkable eighth straight season. OTHS benefited in part by an average time of 16:05, two seconds better than Edwardsville. The Blue and Gold also had an edge at the time between the number one and number five runners, five seconds better than the Tigers.

Senior Joey Black secured O’Fallon’s best time at 15:42:60, just over two seconds behind first place Franky Ramano of Edwardsville. Granite City sophomore Andrew O’Keefe finished second.

OTHS senior Chris Conrad snuck into the top five with a 15:51:31, just edging out sophomore teammate Will Vanalstine, who finished sixth with a 15:52:03. Junior Lucas Capistrant rounded out the O’Fallon presence in the top ten, finishing ninth overall with a 16:24:60

Junior Matthew Gilster would finish out the OTHS top five, running a 16:36:80, good for 13th place. Other notable finishes were senior Zion Ward (15th) and junior Hayden Ybarra (17th).

O’Fallon will now set its sight on the IHSA Postseason, which starts with the Quincy Regional on Saturday. The Panthers will compete against SWC foes Alton, Belleville East, Belleville West, Collinsville, Granite City, Edwardsville and non conference host Quincy.

Advancing out of Quincy would lead to a Sectional meet in Edwardsville before the State Finals in Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

Athlete Spotlight – Joey Black runs towards impressive senior season on Cross Country team

Joey Black

Joey Black

Years of running and preparing for the big stage has shown for Joey Black, who has an athletic ability that has shown he is one of the best runners in Southern Illinois, according to his Coach, Jon Burnett. Black’s season began with a very promising start, winning the Fall Tiger Classic Invitational hosted by Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville.

Coach Burnett said, “Joey, on any given day, can be our number one runner.” Black finished first with a time of 17:12.17 at the Fall Tiger Classic Invite. Black repeatedly shows that he can be the number one guy.

Joey Black was one of the top finishers at last year’s State meet placing 84th in Class 3A, which was the best place by any runner in the Metro East area. He ran a time of 15:28 and he plans to get the Panthers back to compete at State again. They finished 21st overall at the state tournament. Black also finished third at the Southwestern Conference Meet.

Black has been running for the track team for three years in the Spring, and this could very well be a reason why he has had so much success in Cross Country as well.

Joey Black has always been a well­ known name, as he has been competing at a very high level since middle school. Black placed sixth at the 2012 Benton State Cross Country Meet as an eighth­-grader. Last season, Black led his team to a second place finish in Sectionals for Class 3A, and Black had the best finish with a time of 16:03 for 14th place.

Black has been one of the more premiere runners in the Southwestern Conference and the Metro East area this year, and has provided a spark to his team and acting as a great leader to his teammates. There are not many runners in the Southwestern Conference that have the athletic talents that Black poses. As a Senior, Joey has led his team and taken his younger teammates under his wing. When asked about his individual performance and his teammates performances, Black said, “Everything is going pretty well so far. We are all working our hardest even if we are having a good or bad race.”

Aside from Cross Country, Joey is also a member of the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in O’Fallon. Joey is the son of Ron and Sue Black. Joey plans on attending Kansas State University next fall, and studying to become a Mechanical Engineer. Joey plans on continuing to run at Kansas State, but says it will be more for fun, or he will be a part of a club.