WINNEBAGO – Bailee Fortney had plenty of motivation going into the Big Northern conference cross country meet. There was a chance to close out her senior year with an individual title. After she finished second to Natalia Martino of Winnebago last year, it was also the opportunity to avenge that loss.
But what may have mattered most was getting a rare hug from coach Mark Truesdell – and that’s what Fortney received after beating Martino 16:26 to 16:43 on the 2.85-mile course.
“I never get a hug,” Fortney said. “That was my incentive – to get a hug from ‘T.’”
Martino, who missed the Amboy Invite when No. 1-ranked Winnebago was edged by No. 2 Monticello, ran stride-for-stride with Fortney for nearly the entire race. With 800 meters left, Fortney made a move and Martino could not keep up.
“I couldn’t hear her breathing anymore and knew I had a lead on her,” Fortney said. “I have long legs and made a push on the last downhill.”
The Fuller Forest Preserve is different than most cross country courses, with its many loops and back-tracking.
“I’ve never run this course, and it’s pretty confusing,” Fortney said. “Right beforehand, I figured it out. What also helped was it being such a beautiful day and a flat course. My legs felt good.”
As a sophomore, Fortney was the 2017 BNC champ, and she was seventh as a freshman. She closes out her BNC career as one of the most decorated girls runners in league history.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Fortney said. “Going out with the guys at practice helps. They push me.”
Fellow Rock Falls senior Erin Porter placed seventh with a time of 17:35. Other Rocket scorers were Gracie Rippy (17:57), Calin Gaulrapp (17:58) and Bryahna Ganther (18:20).
Winnebago, with all seven of its runners in the top 15, scored 30 points to win. In a close battle for second, it was Dixon nipping Rock Falls, 46-48.
Winnebago has won 12 state titles, but is in a 10-year drought without any sort of hardware downstate. With a youth-laden squad, coach Joe Erb feels the Indians have the potential to be the best ever in 1A cross country.
“Obviously, Winnebago is very good,” Dixon coach Evan Thorpe said. “It’s a mixed bag for us with a couple healthy runners and a couple overcoming injuries. I told them to get out and run.”
Dixon juniors Paige Stees and Jade Miller were third and fourth with times of 17:06 and 17:07. Senior Nicquelette Fazekas, who has been hampered by injuries throughout her career at Dixon, took 10th in 17:55. Grace Johnson and Emily Conderman were 13th and 16th.
“With 2 weeks until our biggest meet [sectional] of the year, I like where we’re at,” Thorpe said. “We’re about the fifth-ranked team at the sectional, and the top five go downstate.”
Last year, Dixon took sixth place at the sectional, with Stees and Miller advancing as individuals.
Oregon’s top finish was a 25th by former state qualifier Leah Watters (19:00). The Hawks took a respectable fifth place in a meet with four state-ranked teams.
“What a great meet this year,” Hawk coach Tim Gipper. “I’ve never seen as many good girls teams.”