1996 Boys Cross CountryWinners of six regular season invitationals to go along with North Egypt Conference and Class AA regional and sectional championships,the 1996 Salem Wildcats cross country team put together one of the best seasons in school history.

Led by individual championships by Chris Owen, Salem kicked off its season by winning the Murphysboro and Granite City Invitationals. The Wildcats displayed their team depth when they won the Herrin Invitational with their junior varsity squad led by a fourth place finish by Willie Shuler. The Wildcats won their fourth straight race to start the season when they claimed the title at the Mt. Vernon Invitational, as Salem had the first or second place finisher in five of the seven flighted races.

Salem suffered its first setback of the season when it finished second to Naperville North at the Downers Grove Invitational, but the Wildcats still had three of the top ten runners led by a third place finish by Chris Owen.

Salem moved back into the winners circle when it won the Springfield Invitational followed by a runner-up spot at the Peoria Invitational. Salem added another first place finish to its resume when it won the Metamora Invitational and closed out the regular season with a fourth place finish at the Benton Invitational in a meet where its varsity members remained home.

Salem’s only home meet of the season was the NEC Meet at Bryan Park where the Wildcats turned in a perfect score of 15 points to take the crown. Chris Owen broke the course record set by former Carmi and University of Illinois runner Jason Zieren with a time of 16:16. The rest of the perfect score was compiled by Henry Alers in second place, Nathan Purcell in third,Shane Kelly in fourth and Shannon Owen in fifth. Salem’s NEC championship effort also included Charley Stanley in sixth and Jason Ryan in eighth.

The success the Wildcats compiled during the regular season carried over to the postseason, as Coach Kirby Phillips’ crew won the St. Jacob Triad Regional by a 40-point margin over second place Centralia. Chris Owen won the individual regional championship with a time of 15:47, while the other counter spots were Purcell in sixth, Alers in seventh,Shannon Owen in eighth and Stanley in 13th. Also running for Salem were Kelly in 18th place and Tommy Oliverio was 20th.

Salem won its second straight postseason race at the Centralia Sectional when it edged Belleville West by a mere point,102-103, for the top spot. Chris Owen led the championship run with a second place finish in a time of 15:48. The other counters were Purcell in 16th place, Alers in 21st,Shannon Owen in 28th and Stanley was 42nd. Also competing were Kelly in 49th place and Oliverio was 57th.

The Wildcats finished the season with a 17th place finish at the Class AA state meet held at Peoria’s Detweiller Park with a lineup that contained just one senior. Chris Owen closed out a stellar high school career with a team-best 52nd place mark in a time of 15:29. Purcell, a sophomore, ran No. 2 and was 76th overall at 15:45, while Stanley, another sophomore, ran No. 3 and was 149th at 16:15. Alers, a junior, was 159th at 16:20 and Shannon Owen, a junior, was the final team counter in 164th place at 16:25. Also running at state were Oliverio, a sophomore, in 167th place at 16:29 and Kelly, a sophomore, in 205th place at 17:04.