Cross Country: Hernandez defends title at Rochelle Invitational

Senior Luis Hernandez won the Rochelle Invitational at Skare Park on Thursday, leading the Hubs to a second-place team finish. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Hub senior wins Skare Park race for second straight season

ROCHELLE — Senior Luis Hernandez was motivated to defend his title as the Rochelle Hub and Lady Hub varsity cross country teams hosted the Rochelle Invitational at Skare Park.

With beautiful weather providing perfect running conditions Thursday, which featured DeKalb, Genoa-Kingston, Hinckley-Big Rock and Camanche, Hernandez toed the starting line with a second consecutive race win on his mind. The senior harrier was at the top of the pack for the first half of the race before hitting another gear over the second half, taking over the lead and ultimately winning with a final time of 18:23.31 to beat DeKalb’s Riley Collins by 16 seconds.

“It’s been a bumpy start to the season since I came back from the summer, so it feels good to win,” Hernandez said. “I had a hard summer because of an injury from the track season, but coming out and winning today felt really good. I’ve raced at this course since my sophomore year, so I knew how tough it was going to be and it felt good to race here one last time.”

Hernandez’s first-place finish propelled the Hubs to a second-place team finish on Thursday. Sophomore Declan McGee took third overall with a time of 19:24.63, while sophomore Elijah Mayen finished 11th out of 34 runners with a time of 21:10.24. Now healthy from his track injury, Hernandez said his goals for the rest of the season include qualifying for the state meet.

“I was about 30 seconds away from qualifying last year,” Hernandez said. “Making it to state is my biggest goal because it would be really awesome if I could do that. I also want to lead my team to sectionals. My shin feels healthy and I feel better than ever. I feel like our season has gone really well. We beat 10 teams at our last meet and I think we’re going to do really well.”

Sophomore Annaliese Koziol led the Lady Hubs on Thursday, finishing fourth out of 38 runners with a time of 23:37.06. Sophomores Rose Luxton and Mary Chadwick weren’t far behind, taking 15th and 17th with respective times of 27:04.40 and 27:13.73. Junior Brisa Zepeda crossed the finish line in 16th with a time of 27:08.25 to help the girls take third place.

“Annaliese is determined to do well and she trained a lot over the summer,” head coach Mark Zilis said. “She put in a ton of miles and she’s very confident when she steps up to the starting line. She wants to win and that’s a sign of a champion. I keep track of all of our times from year to year and every single one of our girls is 2-to-3 minutes faster than they were last season.”

Other notable finishers for the Hubs on Thursday include sophomore Levi Waddle and freshman Hadley Losoya, who placed 18th and 19th with respective times of 23:14.02 and 23:19.82. Junior Cash Budde took 25th with a time of 25:51.94 and junior Chris Beckman finished 28th with a time of 27:08.07.

Other notable finishers for the Lady Hubs on Thursday include freshman Vivian Worthington and junior Bridgett Ramirez, who placed 22nd and 24th with respective times of 28:54.68 and 30:01.50. Sophomore Isabella Biggs took 33rd with a time of 33:01.11.

“I know that our kids are improving and we’re hoping that we can make it to the sectional at the end of the season,” Zilis said. “We want to see continued improvement. We’ve pushed fairly hard in training, but I don’t want to see too many injuries. Our goals is to improve in every race.”

Rochelle will travel for the Larry Eddington Invitational at Kaneland High School on Saturday before hitting the road once again for the Byron Invitational on Wednesday, Sept. 20.