Only a few girls cross country coaches in IHSA history can match Ron Piro's accomplishments and longevity.
Now in his 30th season at Wheaton North, Piro owns the state's all-time coaching records for most dual meet wins in a career, and most dual meet victories at one school.
But the Falcons have won more than just dual meets under Piro. Wheaton North has finished among the top 10 teams six times at the state meet over that span, including capturing the 2002 Class AA state championship. In addition, Wheaton North qualified for state as a team 10 straight seasons from 1997 to 2007.
This season, Piro has a stable of young runners, and the team is in somewhat of a rebuilding mode.
"When we look at the nature of success of our program, particularly over the last 15 to 17 years, it is (a) rebuilding (process this season) if you look at the history of our success," he said.
Nonetheless, Wheaton North turned in a solid effort during the 38th annual Lancer Invite Sept. 11, placing 10th out of 23 teams. Piro is keeping close watch on how the Falcons improve meet by meet.
"Overall the team performance was pretty much what we expected," Piro said. "Our varsity is young, which is often a good thing with girls, but we're also inexperienced, which is the whole process of watching them mature over the next several weeks.
"We went into it truly with one goal of just to see where we are with the young team."
Senior Karen Jensen finished 26th overall in a time of 18:34.19, which led all Wheaton North runners. Piro said that Jensen is "70 seconds better than last year at this time."
"Karen Jensen has been a definite trademark of our program," Piro said. "A young runner, as a 9th-grader, (she) just missed (making) our varsity squad. (Then) she broke in (to the Falcons lineup) as a sophomore and became one of our contending runners last year. That's a process we certainly advocate so that the kids are not burning out or peaking as 10th-graders."
The Falcons ran a tight pack with their younger runners as sophomore Ann Denz, freshman Katie Blume, sophomore Mary Rosenwinkle and sophomore Alyssa Berry grabbed 50th, 52nd, 53rd and 56th place, respectively. Senior Maggie Westwater was 65th.
"We pretty much performed where we expected at the varsity level (at the Lancer Invite)," Piro said. "We have real strong aspirations for the second half of the season. We are a second-half season performer, barring injury and illness."
Wheaton North's ace in the hole this season could be senior Alexa Reinecke, who placed 77th overall at Lake Park and 1:18 behind Jensen. However, Reinecke is only runner on the Falcons' roster who has state meet experience.
Reinecke punched her ticket to state individually in 2008, but missed qualifying last fall. Reinecke also is a multiple state qualifier in track and field. She's anchored the Falcons' 4 x 800-meter relay team, which made it to Charleston her freshman and junior years. She also qualified for state in the 800 run as a freshman.
"This year things are looking a lot better," she said. "I'm getting back to the top of my game, and our team is getting really strong. I hope that we qualify for the state meet (as a team) and that I run the best I can."
Piro is looking for leadership and solid times from his seniors this season.
"We always have high expectations of our senior runners, not only as leaders but also as performers," he said.
Referring to Reinecke, Piro said she's "been to the state meet in a variety of ways, in indoor and outdoor track, and cross country, so you've seen it all. You bring to the starting line something that should exude confidence and comfort for the younger runners. We look for that in her."