Benton High School junior Mia McLain was the top female runner and the Rangers boys team had just enough in the tank to advance to state following Saturday's cross country sectional at Benton Community Park.
McLain separated herself from the rest of the field around the one-mile mark.
"I started pulling away around three-quarters of a mile. I tried to push away when we hit the two-mile," Mia explained. "Me and my dad (coach Brent McLain) have been focusing on pushing that second mile, break away from the group and go from there. The first mile was almost too easy and then I just had to go as hard as I could the second and third mile."
McLain's winning time of 17:14.3 is the best in the state to date. She beat Gabby Alongi of DuQuoin by more than a minute. Alongi was second at 18:06.03.
"I dropped a few seconds from our invitational when I ran 17:17, so it was a P.R. (personal record). The weather was perfect today. I couldn't have asked for a better day to run. The atmosphere and the course, it was all just perfect," McLain said.
Freshman teammate Hailey Wallace finished fourth in 18:30, also advancing to state. Mady McLain, Mia's twin sister, turned in a good run with a 29th place finish and a time of 19:53. Peyton Tieffel was 50th and Lacey Jerkins 122nd.
Benton's girls team barely missed advancing to state as a team. The Rangerettes placed seventh with a score of 181. Du Quoin won the girls race with 63 points, followed by Freeburg (91), Pinckneyville (109), Roxana (169) and Okawville (171). The top five teams advance.
Benton was without its number three runner, Addisyn Miller, who suffered a softball injury earlier in the week.
Looking ahead to the state meet, McLain has her sights set on a state title.
"I ran 17:36 at Peoria earlier this year and that's 20 seconds faster than anyone. The goal is to win it. I want to be up front for that first mile and then push the rest of the way. The goal is to finish first, that's always been the goal. It's very realistic this year."
"We got two girls out of the sectional and that ties for the most that Benton has ever got," said coach Brent McLain. "We had a great day and an unlucky injury. The girls ran their hearts out. Mia is super strong, fit and confident. She has an opportunity to do something special for Benton."
The Benton boys had an off day, but still managed to advance to state as a team. Freeburg won the boys meet with 68 points, followed by Father McGivney (80), Steeleville (95), Roxana (174) and the Rangers had 175.
Roxana's Cree Stumpf was the top individual runner with a winning time of 14:52. Isaac Sinn of Sparta was the only runner from the south advancing to state with a sixth place finish.
Benton freshman Chase Owens led the Rangers with a 14th place finish with a time of 15:44. Joey Sample was 26th in 16:05, followed by Brady Gischer in 33rd, Mason Wills 59th, Ethan Krieger 84th, Avery Potter 87th and Parker Sieveking 106th.
"The boys were a little flat today. We just weren't there. It will be better next week. You live to play another day and I'm sure that's what everybody on this Saturday no matter what sport you're in, is hoping for. That happened to us and we're very thankful," said coach McLain.