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A program on the rise: Illiana Christian girls capture Highland Invitational

HIGHLAND -- Many of the Region's top runners took Saturday off from competition.

Wheeler's Emma Hellwege wasn't one of them.

"I actually was (checking) at the beginning," Hellwege said. "They definitely would be a key sight to keep in line for pacing. The girls came filing in and I'm like, they're not there. It's the last race before the post-season, I'd rather give it all here. I'm glad I did."

Hellwege took the Highland Invitational in 18:34.2, winning by well over a minute, stashing the memory of last fall, when a low blood sugar/blood pressure issue caused her to collapse after the finish and receive emergency medical attention.

"It was one of my worst races. That was another motivator," she said. "I didn't want that to be my best time here, especially considering how badly I felt. The weather was immaculate. Going out the first mile, feeling as good as I did, I don't think I needed (the push). It wanted be 5:50. If I was, I knew I'd somewhere in the 18s. I was 4:45 going around the corner. I heard 5:48, 5:49, 5:50, I was like, all right, let's roll, I think I'm going to hit it."

Illiana Christian's Avery Olthof was the only other runner under 20 minutes at 19:51.4.

"I think training's really working for us," Olthof said. "When we settled into our places, I kind of peeked back, oh, there are Ella and Alex, we can do this. Our four and five were pushing, doing their best."

Olthof, Alex Vis and Ella Olthof went 2-3-4 to pace the Vikings to the team title, 50-56, over Lake Central, which only ran one varsity runner. Highland (99) was third.

"We've progressed so much this year," Avery Olthof said. "We've all gotten closer, which has helped us push each other more. Ella's been keeping up with us. It's really good to run with people at the same competitive status as you. It pushes you in practice. Even the newcomers are progressing so much. As a small school, it's really fun to see all of us get up there in the top 10s, top threes. Coach (Jorge) Ramos keeps telling us, we're coming."


Illiana coach Luke Fennema was happy with the win after finishing one point off the top spot last week at New Prairie.

"We were thrilled," Fennema said. "We always know the top three are going to be pretty close to each other. They really got after it. Over by the mile, I was checking my watch, thinking, ooh, they're 10, 15 seconds faster than they usually go out. I think they were just motivated and hungry to set a new personal-best time and maybe get a top placing. I think the top three were energized when they went out and realized, oh, we're in the top five. We didn't know what schools were resting what people."


Runner-up Avery Olthof helped Illliana

Christian to the team title in Saturday's

Highland Invitational.


Isabelle Martisek finished fifth and Rachel Narjes seventh for Lake Central with Wheeler's Elise Byers in between.


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