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PAXTON -- Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School's cross country program hosted a meet on some wet lands on Saturday.
Despite rain showers from the night prior -- which forced the PBL Youth Football team to postpone its games that same Saturday and the high school's band to cancel its performance at Friday night's varsity football game -- it was announced via PBL athletic director Brock Niebuhr's Twitter page that the meet was on as scheduled about four hours prior to the start of the varsity girls' race.
"I'm thankful that we got it in. The course looked outstanding at 5 a.m., and then it started to drizzle, and it went downhill a little bit. The conditions are the same for everyone in the race, and I'm thankful that everyone, for the most part, stayed upright and healthy," PBL head coach Dustin Franckey said. 
"We had a few kids go down, but that happens in races. Some of these rainy, muddy races are going to be some of these kids' most memorable races, and I'm thankful that we had it at home and got it out of the way early. Hopefully, we have perfect weather for the rest of the year."
PBL senior girls runner Evie Ellis said she was glad to get going at the scheduled 9 a.m. start.
"Running in this kind of weather is kind of tough to do, but it's really fun. It's a team-bonding moment. I just tell them to go out and have fun," Ellis said. "Last night, they were talking about canceling it if it got too bad overnight, so I was wondering if we were even going to have a meet when I woke up this morning. I was hoping we would. 
"These are the most memorable meets we have. Every meet can be 75 degrees and nice, but meets that are just gloomy and muddy – and everyone has mud running up and down their legs – are really fun to do. Even if you don't run your best time, cross country's all about having fun and running the best race you can, so I think this is a great race to actually see that happen."
The PBL varsity boys' team was one of three teams ranked in MileSplit's top-25 in Class 1A. 
The Panthers, who are ranked 13th finished second with a score of 99 while Clifton Central, which is ranked No. 1, won first place with a score of 44 and Herscher, which is ranked 14th, placed third with a score of 105.
The Panthers will face Clifton Central again in the Twin Valley Conference Meet, which will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Clifton Central High School.
"I'm happy with how we ran. Clifton Central's got a great team. I think, to run with them, we've got to get our pack a little closer to their Nos. 3 and 4 guys," Franckey said. "Our hard work is just now starting, so we'll see how the next month and a half works out. I think the guys will be trending in the right direction, but Clifton Central ran lights-out."
While Herscher's Drew Rogers finished first overall in the boys' race with a time of 16:15 and Clifton Central's Isaiah Ditta and Jeremy Snejberg placed second and third, respectively, with times of 16:16 and 16:22, PBL was led by freshman Ryder James, who finished seventh with a time of 16:42.
"It wasn't what I was hoping for, but it was in bad conditions, so I think that affected me," James said. "I prefer the track to be a little dry."
The previous week, James was named the top freshman male competitor of the Chrisman Cowchip Classic. At the Saber Corn Classic in Champaign held last August, he had a sixth-place finish. 
"It has been a solid season so far, but I'm trying to get my time down, and I'm just not really improving, so I'm just going to have to work harder," James said.
James is adjusting to three-mile trails after placing second in last October's IESA state meet, which is a two-mile meet.
"It's going pretty well. Three miles feels pretty good because I've run a lot of 5Ks," James said. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the season because we've got a pretty solid team, and we have a chance to do really well at state."
The Panthers had two more runners place in the top 25. 
PBL senior Jordan Giese finished 11th with a time of 17:08.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a little muddy, but we made the most of it. I think I (set a personal record), so I'm very excited about that in these conditions," Giese said.
The End of Season Meet, which will be held on Oct. 11, will be Giese's last regular-season home meet.
"I liked running here," Giese said. "I'm going to miss it next year. It's always a fun course to run on."
For now, Giese -- who was a part of last year's IHSA state-bound PBL team -- is liking his team's prospects as a state-ranked team.
"I'm excited for the team we have this year," Giese said. "It's going to be a fun season."
Junior Nik Schnabel also placed himself in the top 25 for PBL as he finished 21st with a time of 17:56.
Fellow junior Trevor Morse placed 30th with a time of 18:26 while freshman Jesse Barfield finished 35th with a time of 18:39 to round up the Panthers' team scoring.
Senior Erik Reck finished 37th with a time of 18:42 while freshman Keegan Busboom placed 42nd with a time of 18:46..
Ellis trotted through the water and mud en route to a 20th-place finish in the girls' race with a time of 21:08.
"It's not really what I was hoping for, but I wasn't really expecting to run in deep water and mud up and down the stretch of Interstate-57. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was good for how I raced," Ellis said. "I'm pretty happy with the way I went about it. I had a rough first two miles, but I think I really picked it up in the last mile and caught a few girls within the last 400 (meters), so I'm really happy about that."
As a team, the PBL girls placed 10th out of 12 teams with a score of 244 as they went into the varsity race with only six runners.
"We've got a few girls who are on the mend. With the conditions and their recovery, I just want them to have perfect conditions and give them one more week of training before we go and race them. I keep telling them that, in the grand scheme of things, this race doesn't mean a whole lot because we're shooting for conference, regionals, sectionals and state, and they know that," Franckey said. 
"They're training and doing what they can do, and the girls are thankfully picking up where we have some holes, so I'm very thankful that those girls are willing to do that."
Junior Gracie Smith finished 47th with a time of 24:08 while freshman Gina Galey placed 61st with a time of 25:30. Fellow freshmen Hope Johnson and Jordan Parrish finished 72nd and 74th, respectively, with times of 28:15 and 28:17 to round up the Panther girls' final score.
Sophomore Olivia Wilson finished 80th with a time of 28:23.
In the junior varsity race, Ashton Goss finished second on the boys' side with a time of 18:39 while Paul Cleary placed third with a time of 19:21, followed by Daniel Busby (fifth, 19:30), Tim Hewerdine (12th, 20:44), Jarrett Hazelwood (15th, 21:05), Zach Lundquist (31st, 23:08), Liam McMullin (42nd, 24:24), Cameron Grohler (44th, 24:43) and Seth Wolken (48th, 29:26).
On the girls' side, Yami Domingo finished 33rd with a time of 31:46, followed by Alexis Gray (34th, 32:05) and Reese San Diego (35th, 32:16).
The Panthers will run at the Tuscola Classic at 10 a.m. next Saturday.
"I really like the course," Ellis said. "I'm excited to see how I can perform there."
Last year, PBL opted to forego Tuscola's invitational and compete in the Richard Spring Invitational in Peoria, which contained more 2A and 3A schools.
"After not going (to Tuscola) last year and going to the big Peoria meet, I'm very thankful to go back to Tuscola. (Tuscola) coach (Dustin) Dees and their athletic director, coach (Ryan) Hornaday, do an outstanding job down there with that meet. It's a nice course. It's a regional course some years," Franckey said. 
"If we go north, we won't see that course again, but if we go south, it'll be a regional course sometimes. It's good for the kids to see it. They give out best per class (awards), and it'll be good to recognize some of the sophomores, juniors, freshman and seniors individually on top of how they place in the race. We're really looking forward to it. It'll be fun to see how they respond to this part of the training phase. It'll be fun."
At Paxton
Team scores
1. Clifton Central, 44; 2. Paxton-Buckley-Loda, 99; 3. Herscher, 105; 4. Tolono Unity, 106; 5. Tri-Valley, 159; 6. Heyworth, 175; 7. St. Joseph-Ogden, 180; 8. Iroquois West, 195; 9. Oakwood/Salt Fork, 212; 10. Peotone, 237; 11. Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin, 293; 12. Armstrong-Potomac, 300; 13. Kankakee Bishop McNamara, 328; 14. Manteno, 437.
Top individuals 
1. Drew Rogers (HER) 16:15; 2. Isaiah Ditta (CC) 16:16; 3. Jeremy Snejberg (CC) 16:22; 4. Layton Hall (ALAH) 16:27; 5. Isaiah McCune (SJO) 16:34; 6. Cameron Woodard (UNITY) 16:39; 7. Ryder James (PBL) 16:42; 8. Drew Guimond (TV) 16:43; 9. Trevor Swanson (CC) 17:05; 10. Jarrett Cox (UNITY) 17:06; 11. Jordan Giese (PBL) 17:08; 12. Austin Bridgman (AP) 17:15; 13. Gabe Martinez (BHRA) 17:16; 14. Jerod Snejberg (CC) 17:17; 15. Connor Price (IW) 17:25; 16. Dawson Rogers (OSF) 17:29; 17. Ben Morgan (HER) 17:33; 18. Max Grant (IW) 17:39; 19. Christian Ladehoff (CC) 17:41; 20. Cameron Helka (OSF) 17:43; 21. Nik Schnabel (PBL) 17:56; 22. Kamden Lockwood (HER) 18:04; 23. Caleb Chamness (CC) 18:04; 24. Devon Butler (HEY) 18:05; 25. Joey Uthe (PEO) 18:07.
PBL results -- 30. Trevor Morse, 18:26; 35. Jesse Barfield, 18:39; 37. Erik Reck, 18:42; 42. Keegan Busboom, 18:46.
Team scores
1. Tolono unity, 44; 2. Herscher, 62; 3. St. Joseph-Ogden, 69; 4. Kankakee Bishop McNamara, 147; 5. St. Thomas More, 158; 6. Peotone, 163; 7. Clifton Central, 181; 8. Tri-Valley, 182; 9. Oakwood-Salt Fork, 243; 10. Paxton-Buckley-Loda, 244; 11. Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin, 290; 12. Iroquois West, 311.
Top individuals
1. Fran Hedrickson (STM) 18:43; 2. Caroline Bachert (UNITY) 19:21; 3. Cassidy Bagby (SJO) 19:57; 4. Grace Battiato (SJO) 19:57; 5. Jillian Milton (HER) 20:00; 6. Josie Mendell (HER) 20:02; 7. Audrey Hancock (UNITY) 20:04; 8. Kylie Decker (UNITY) 20:09; 9. Natalie Garneau (TV) 20:10; 10. Molly Raymond (HER) 20:17; 11. Eden Rainbolt (MAC) 20:28; 12. Hannah Rajlich (SJO) 20:30; 13. Evy Atkins (UNITY) 20:35; 14. Taylor Joop (UNITY) 20:42; 15. Ally Monk (SJO) 20:48; 16. Malia Fairbanks (UNITY) 20:52; 17. Kylie Lockwood (HER) 20:55; 18. Hope Rajlich (SJO) 21:01; 19. Miranda Fairbanks (UNITY) 21:03; 20. Evie Ellis (PBL) 21:08; 21. Jillian Plotner (SJO) 21:09; 22. Kaleigh Ladehoff (CC) 21:18; 23. Anna Holland (HEY) 21:25; 24. Bella Ramshaw (STM) 21:29; 25. Natalie Rink (HER) 21:30.
PBL results -- 47. Gracie Smith, 24:08; 61. Gina Galey, 25:30; 72. Hope Johnson, 28:15; 74. Jordan Parrish, 28:17; 80. Olivia Wilson, 28:23.
PBL boys results -- 2. Ashton Goss, 18:39; 3. Paul Cleary, 19:21; 5. Daniel Busby, 19:30; 12. Tim Hewerdine, 20:44; 15. Jarrett Hazelwood, 21:05; 31. Zach Lundquist, 23:08; 42. Liam McMullin, 24:24; 44. Cameron Grohler, 24:43; 48. Seth Wolken, 29:26.
PBL girls results -- 33. Yami Domingo, 31:46; 34. Alexis Gray, 32:05; 35. Reese San Diego, 32:16.