ROCK FALLS – Megan Grady had never traversed the hot trail of Centennial Park before the Rocket Run on Tuesday.
The Amboy sophomore is also not used to starting the cross country season in late August, where temperatures can surpass 90 degrees. On this day, the young Clipper notched another feat in her high school career.
Grady finished the 2.95-mile course in first place, blazing through the 85-degree heat in 19 minutes, 44 seconds. She was among the top runners in the pack for the first mile, and gradually pulled out ahead of everyone else.
Along the way and mostly alone, Grady was not only battling the heat, but also trying to make sure she wasn't meandering well out of the way sideways.
"I just told myself that I have to do my best," Grady said. "I've never run here before. I tried to keep looking down at the line. It kept disappearing. It was a pretty good course."
By the final half-mile, Grady was nearly 150 feet ahead of runner-up Corrie Reiley of Erie-Prophetstown. At the finish line, she beat Reiley by 18 seconds, and paced through the nearby shade to cool off.
"It was really hot. It was my first meet, and I didn't really know what to expect," Grady said. "I haven't run in a long time. It was a really good meet. I felt okay, but it was really hot."
Reiley, a junior, had run in the meet before. Last year's event was cancelled because of extreme heat, but she knew what it was like to undertake the challenge of running against others in such circumstances.
"Today I drank four bottles of water, because I knew it was going to be extremely hot," Reiley said. "In gym class, I had personal fitness, so I just walked on the treadmill and stretched just to prepare for the meet."
But four bottles of water sometimes isn't enough.
"Even during my mile warmup, I was getting a real dry mouth," Reiley said. "It wasn't because I didn't drink enough, but because it was so hot out. My coach told me to put a piece of gum in my mouth to keep it not so dry."
Reiley led the Panthers to the team title with a score of 72 points. Teammate Olivia DeWitte also placed in the top 10, finishing in 22:09 for a 10th-place finish. Emily Hanover finished in 17th place with a time of 23:26 to contribute for the Panthers, followed by top-30 finishes by Mikayala Bolton (23rd), Chance Johnson (26th), and Heather Strike (28th).
DeWitte and Johnson are newcomers to the Panther program, trading the volleyball wood for the cross country grass.
"We're real excited to see some new faces, and hope they do well, having run track for us in distance, and they did exceptionally well," Erie-Prophetstown coach Liz Green said. "We're really happy that they decided to join us.
"They came in not sure what to expect. We tried to talk them through the race a little bit, told them to make sure to relax and enjoy the race as much as you can."
Newman finished in third place with 98 points, beating the host Rockets on a sixth-man tiebreaker. Teagan McKenna led the Comets with a eighth-place finish in 22:01. Kelsey Simpson (13th place) and Haley Simpson (15th) also placed in the top 30 for the Comets.
Rock Falls was led by the tandem of Makaley Velazquez and Bailie Smith, rounding out the meet's top five in fourth and fifth place.
Jennifer Popovich notched Amboy's second top-10 finish with a seventh-place showing in 21:57. The Clippers rounded out the top five in the team standings with 119 points. Orion was sixth with 121 points, followed by Eastland (135), Genoa-Kingston (189), Oregon (218), and Cambridge-AlWood (246).
Megan Schmeider was Eastland's top finisher with an 18th-place showing (23:36). Kelsey Handschuh led Oregon with a 15th-place effort (23:36).