Cross Country: Rochelle runners building for the future

Josue Huerta is one of multiple seniors departing from the Rochelle Hub varsity cross country team this season. Huerta finished as the team's No. 2 varsity runner this fall. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Wanner, Ortiz headline top Hub and Lady Hub athletes eligible to return next season

ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Hub cross country team reached sectionals for the first time in a decade this season. Head coach Mark Zilis said he’d like to see the Hubs make the sectional meet on a regular basis moving forward. Zilis also said he and assistant coach Dale Bergeson are looking to grow the numbers on the Lady Hub cross country team in the future.

The cross country season concluded this past weekend, with the Hubs finishing 18th in the IHSA 2A Woodstock Sectional and junior Yuelma Ortiz representing the Lady Hubs as an individual. The Hubs placed eighth in the Interstate 8 Conference and sixth in the IHSA 2A Burlington Central Regional, while the Lady Hubs took sixth in the conference and ninth at the regional.

“The key to being a successful cross country team is having runners who’re willing to commit to running year round,” Zilis said. “It’s difficult to become a top-level team when runners come out without having much of a distance base. We have to encourage more kids to join the team and we need to encourage our returning kids to do more year-round training. We’re hoping that we’ll have a full summer where our kids can run between 400 and 500 miles next year.”

The Hubs will lose a handful of seniors from this season’s varsity roster including No. 2 runner Josue Huerta as well as Peter Forsberg, Luke Orkikowski, Max Orlikowski and Hayden Smith. Rochelle will return several underclassmen who stepped up for the varsity team including sophomores Parker Lenkaitis, Alex Burke, Luis Pizano and freshman Christopher Hickey. Junior David Wanner, Rochelle’s No. 1 varsity runner this season, will also be eligible to return.

“I think our kids learned what it takes to qualify for the sectional and I’d like that to become a regular thing,” Zilis said. “Next season looks very promising and I think we’ll have some kids coming in from the middle school and surrounding schools who’ll be a help to us. I want to see us move up in the ranks at future meets and we want to qualify for the state meet some day.”

The Lady Hubs fielded a small roster this season, with senior Sara Johnson and Ortiz routinely battling for the No. 1 and No. 2 varsity spots. Johnson, who qualified for sectionals last year, and Emily Garcia are the team’s two notable departing seniors, but there will be multiple girls eligible to come back including Ortiz as well as juniors Karina Lopez and Gisselle Robles.

“We were often short of having a full team at several meets, but I thought Sara and Yuelma were two top-level performers who ran very well this season,” Zilis said. “We need more girls and we need girls who’re willing to work hard and be fully committed to cross country.”