Morton ninth in boys’ race

Brandon Schatsiek
From left, Morton boys cross country runners Luke Riffle, Grant Klobuchar and Walter Jankowski participate in Saturday’s Illinois High School Association Class 2A state final at Detweiller Park. In their first team berth since 1960, the Potters placed ninth.

The season for the Morton High School’s boys and girls cross country teams culminated in successful team and individual runs in the Illinois High School Association state finals at Detweiller Park in Peoria Saturday.

Morton’s sister duo of Caitlin and Ashley Pribble ended their season differently than they would have hoped, but were both excited just to be a part of the experience.

“There were a lot of expectations,” Caitlin said. “We were all hoping for top 25.”

Caitlin finished the three-mile course in 18:07, good enough for 30th place and less than 15 seconds from that 25th spot, an appearance on the medal podium and all-state distinction.

Caitlin said it was probably one of her worst times of the year. She said she and her sister battled sickness the week leading up to the race and still weren’t feeling well the morning of, but she wasn’t going to let that ruin her first state finals appearance.

“We didn’t run like we usually do, but that’s OK,” Caitlin said. “It was a tough race and I didn’t do quite as well as I wanted but it was fun.”

Ashley Pribble finished better than half of the field at 75th with a time of 18:50, but like her sister, Ashley said she was just happy to make it this far and looking forward to getting better and working toward next season.

“I just wanted to make the top 25,” Ashley said. “My previous times (earlier in the year) would have been there.”

Ashley said she hopes their experience this year will help them perform better next year in their senior season.

After reaching the state finals in track her freshman year, she was a lot more prepared and relaxed when she returned the following year.

“The bigger meets I get a little more worried and things,” Ashley said. “If I make it back next year I’ll be a lot more relaxed.”

Coach Joel Zehr said the girls put together a strong season and he was happy with the way things turned out especially in their first appearance in the state finals.

“They both ran a real strong race,” Zehr said. “I couldn’t be more proud. It was a wonderful season.”

For the first time in 50 years, the Morton boys cross country team ran in the state finals in large part due to the strong running of seniors Nick Piper and Joe Zeller throughout the season.

Out of the 20 teams that ran in the finals, the Morton boys finished ninth, thanks to top-50 finishes from Nick Piper (34th, 15:22) and Austin Bradford (41st, 15:28).

Also scoring points for Morton were Zeller (74th, 15:48), Nick Steffen (91st, 16:04), and Walter Jankowski (122nd, 16:30).

Zehr was ecstatic when he talked about how every runner worked hard all season long and ran well again at the state finals, which led to Morton’s best season in decades.

“I’m real proud,” Zehr said. “We have two seniors (Piper and Zeller) leading the pack and they are a strong reason we did so well. Any number of kids ran personal bests today.”

Piper said this team’s strong running is a by-product of hard work over the last few years.

While Piper is a senior and won’t be with the team next year, he said this year’s success is “momentum to carry on” next year.

Zeller said this was their goal since freshman year. He said they were so close to qualifying last year that they all used it as motivation to come together over the summer and work toward this year.

“It started last summer … All of us running together,” Zeller said. “We’ve had great chemistry all year. It hasn’t really sunk in yet what we just accomplished.”

With five of the seven runners on this Morton team returning next year, Zehr has a lot to look forward to next season.

“We have a number of kids coming back,” Zehr said. “This is just building excitement for this program.”