Cross Country

KirbyPhilllipsKirby Phillips had already enjoyed coaching success with the Salem Wildcats football underclassmen when he became the head coach of the boys track program in 1985. Two year later Phillips added head coach of the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats cross country teams to his duties. When Phillips stepped away from those positions after the 2001-02 school year, he had taken each of those programs to heights not previously achieved.

While his first Salem boys track team in 1985 came up short at the North Egypt Conference Meet, his squads came back to win the title in each of the next 16 seasons. Phillips’ greatest success with the Wildcats track program came in 1999 when Salem grabbed a share of the Class AA Murphysboro Sectional championship. That remains as the program’s only sectional title. That 1999 team later finished fourth at the state meet. During Phillips’ track tenure Salem qualified more than 30 individuals and 15 relay teams for the Class AA state meet in a two-class system.

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.

The 1997 Salem Wildcats boys cross country team was loaded and ready for the fall campaign with six of their top seven runners returning from a very successful ‘96 season. The question that remained was who would step up to fill the shoes of graduated number one, Chris Owen.
The Wildcats started the season by losing the Murphysboro Invitational on a tiebreaker to the Mt. Vernon Rams, with each team scoring 41 points. The highlight of the race was the emerging of junior Nathan Purcell as the number one runner for the Wildcats and the individual race winner, setting a new course record. Charlie Stanley, Shane Kelly, Tommy Oliverio and Aaron Duke rounded out the counters for the Cats in that first meet.

Heading west to the Granite City Invitational gave the Cats their revenge on Mt. Vernon by taking the team victory with a score of 51 to the Rams’ 56. Once again, the men were lead by Purcell, Tommy Oliverio stepped up to the number two spot with a time of 16:03. Following was the tight pack of Shane Kelly, Henry Alers and Charlie Stanley in times of 16:14, 16:16 and 16:19 respectfully. (more…)

Not only did Nathan Purcell achieve feats no Salem Community High School cross country runner had previously accomplished, but he helped lift the Wildcats program to unprecedented heights.

Purcell posted the highest finish by a Salem runner at the Class AA state meet during his junior season in 1997 when he finished seventh with a time of 14:36, as the Wildcats’ 13th place finish was their best as a team.

During his senior season in 1998 Purcell won individual regional and sectional championships followed by a ninth place finish at the state meet with a time of 14:44. That year the Wildcats climbed four more spots in the team standings with a ninth place finish.

When it came to participating in Class AA state meets, Chris Owen was a fixture during his four years in high school.

The 1997 Salem Community High School graduate qualified for state all four years in track and field as an individual, but he also was a part of four state-qualifying cross country teams.

Owen qualified for state in the 3200 meters in each of those years. As a freshman he advanced to state with a second place finish at the sectional meet with a time of 9:50.84 and was 12th in his heat at the state prelims at 10:04.06.

The 1998 Salem Wildcats cross country team earned the distinction of the best season in the program’s history at the time of their induction into the Salem High School Hall of Fame.

Salem won six invitational meets with first place finishes at Murphysboro, Granite City, Mt. Vernon, Peoria Notre Dame, Springfield and Metamora. Salem’s depth showed when it finished second at the Herrin Invitational without using its top seven runners. The Wildcats other regular season meet was a seventh place finish at the Crete Monee Invitational.

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