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On the rise: Improving Illiana Christian wins Bransford Invite; La Porte's Sobecki returning to form

La PORTE -- It was back during track season when Brenna Sobecki began to struggle with her running, an issue that she couldn't figure out.

"My closing time trial, I ran 5:53," she said. "(The coaches) were like, we don't understand how you even ran that. I got dizzy, my heart was all over the place. Walking up the stairs was tiring. Everything was always sore. I was at the state meet, talking to (Grand Valley State coach) Jerry Baltes, and he said it sounds like you're having a lot of fatigue problems, I think you should get your iron checked. I said I didn't think that was the problem, but I went and got it checked."

As it turned out, Baltes was spot on.

"It was 6.9, it should be 30 to 50," Sobecki said. "About this time last year, it was like 23, 25. I was taking supplements, but they were giving me really bad heartburn. I was drinking a lot of coffee and tea, which actually blocks the absorption of iron. I stopped, which is hard because I work at Starbucks. I stopped drinking milk because calcium blocks it as well. I took supplements for like three weeks and my iron was back to like 53. I focused on iron- fortified foods. Now I'm taking one (supplement) a day. I'm eating more pasta. The time trial, I ran 5:21 on own, so you can see how much that had changed."

Sobecki continued trending in the right direction in Saturday's Bransford Invitational at Kesling Park, clocking 19:06.92.

"We thought it was going to be a lot more long-term," La Porte coach Corbin Slater said. "Coming into the summer, there was a lot of hesitancy. It was a slow build-up, just trying to build some confidence. One week just stacked on the other. She's back better than ever. She looks great. You can just tell. it was a weight off her chest when her iron levels got back to normal. We're happy to have her back and she's rolling right now, fit and strong."

Having Sobecki back on stride is a needed boost for the Slicers with sophomore Lila Gillisse out indefinitely with a stress fracture.

"We're optimistic," Slater said. "She has another appointment in a couple days. It's going to be a process regardless. She's cross training like crazy. She's doing everything she can at this point so when she gets the opportunity to race, she'll be ready. She's such a competitor. When she's healthy, she's one of the top 10 in the state. Even if it's mid, late season, she can work her way back into shape. I'd be surprised not to see her up there pretty quickly. She's a tough girl. She is all in."

Illiana Christian edged La Porte for first as a team, 44-46, both teams placing four in the top 10 with a substantial gap to their No. 5s.

"I was not expecting us to win," Vikings coach Luke Fenneman said. "I guess I had lost count of how many La Portes had come through. Both of us have such a strong top four. I was sure their fifth was somewhere in the pack because we had to wait for a while."

Avery and Ella Olthof went three-four for Illiana in 20:38.77 and 20:42.24, respectively. Alex Vis was sixth (21:23.8), a stride ahead of Faith VanRyn (21:24.14). Alexa Mercuri, in her cross country debut, crossed 27th (24:46.89).

"I feel like we've been talking about that every season and at the school in general. Every single member of the team is important and today that showed," Fennema said. "Last year, (Mercuri) played volleyball. She did track. I think she will develop as the season goes on. She's just getting used to what it's like to run cross country."

The win was another stepping stone for the growing fifth-year school.

"Our seniors this year were the ones starting out when I started as coach," Fennema said. "It seems like things are just going upward. It's been our goal the last few years to prove, first, that we're a school of integrity, we're going to do our best every time, and be respectful of our competitors; then secondly, that we can be competitive with all of the other schools in the area, that we're a team to watch out for."

Illiana Christian's Alex Vis and Faith VanRyn reach the

finish line in close order at Saturday's Bransford Invitational.

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