BENTON -- It's always nice when a plan comes together. It's even better when expectations are exceeded.
The Du Quoin High School girls cross country team accomplished both Saturday and the reward was winning the Benton 1A Sectional championship in dominant fashion.
"We have a couple girls that are peaking at the right time," said Du Quoin coach Eric Kirkpatrick. "All the girls did great. That was about as well as we could've run."
Benton's Amelia McLain won the race on her home course in record-breaking fashion, zooming to the finish in 17:14.30 for the course's fastest-ever time.
Du Quoin's Gabby Alongi was second in 18:06.03, smartly not trying to chase McLain down but easily taking the runner-up spot by over 16 seconds.
"Gabby ran a great race today," Kirkpatrick said. "She's so competitive and a great teammate. She ran a smart race because she had a big lead on third and just took the points where she could get them."
Olivia Phillips was eighth overall in 18:55.07 and Maddie Decker was 11th in 19:05.33. Both are just freshmen.
Phillips was expected to place high, but Decker's finish was a bit of a surprise, her coach admitted.
"She's been on a steady increase the last three or four weeks," Kirkpatrick said. "She's been impressive."
Grace Alongi was 18th in 19:25.73 and Alexis George was 34th in 20:03.03. Both are also freshmen.
Those five runners gave Du Quoin 63 team points to easily beat runner-up Freeburg (91) with Pinckneyville a distant third (109).
"We hung on at the end," Kirkpatrick said. "We just needed one of the other girls to have a good race and finish off that top five."
The team's lone senior, Chloe Hill, was 65th (21:10) and injured sophomore Jacqeline Crain still finished the course in 21:53. Not having Crain in the top five made the victory even more impressive.
Now the Lady Indians advance to the IHSA Class 1A State Meet at Peoria's Detweiller Park for the second straight year, although the only returning runners are Gabby Alongi, Hill and Crain.
"Our goal for years was just to get there," Kirkpatrick said. "And we were really happy with getting there. But this week we want to be in the top 15. That's going to be difficult to do because it's crazy how fast teams are up there. But that's our goal."
Pinckneyville's third-place finish also allows the Lady Panthers to run at state as a team.
Running for the Lady Panthers in the sectional were Dakota Krone (12th, 19:09), Taylor Kurtz (20th, 19:30), Cageny Kwiatowski (22nd, 19:34), Olivia Buza (30th, 19:54), Paige Epplin (38th, 20:11), Emma Francis (51st, 20:47) and Aubrey Bruns (74th, 21:24).
In the boys race, Pinckneyville's Liam Oliver was the only Perry County runner to advance. Oliver placed ninth in 15:31.48 and was among the top seven individuals to qualify from non-advancing teams.
Du Quoin's top finisher was senior Carson Davis, who placed 47th in 16:34.43.