By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys and girls cross country programs continue to excel in the postseason. Fresh off strong regional showings, the Bulldogs' boys team finished first and the girls squad tied for first with the host Warriors at the Class 2A Wheaton Academy Sectional.
It's been a memorable season for both teams, who have collectively produced one of the best seasons in the history of RBHS cross country.
"Both teams cheer each other on and really are invested in the programs," RBHS boys coach Larry Forberg said. "The runners know exactly the hard work put in to be successful and want to celebrate each other's successes."
The impressive sectional results mirrored what RBHS accomplished at its own regional.
At the Wheaton Academy Sectional, the boys team excelled via its formidable depth in the lineup. Senior Jacob Wardzala led the way with a time of 16 minutes to finish fourth in the 3-mile race at Kress Creek Farms. Fellow seniors Connor O'Brien (9th place/16:14), Jack Sagan (11th/16:17), Jason Noel (16th/16:42) and Ryan Hahn (17th/16:44) also placed inside the Top 20. Juniors Chris Magno (53rd/17:41) and David Keen (63rd/17:56) contributed as well.
"They are hard workers," Forberg said. "They are successful because they come to practice focused each day. Their pack attack mentality certainly helps. The team's 1-5 split at sectionals was 44 seconds."
Wardzala and O'Brien earned All-Sectional recognition as the Bulldogs repeated as conference, regional and sectional champs this season.
"Our top runners are Jack Sagan, Jacob Wardzala and Connor O'Brien," Forberg said. "We might not have an All- State runner in the bunch but we have a solid pack. The last few races the team's 4 and 5 runners (Jason Noel and Ryan Hahn, respectively) have been the key.
"Our mantra is the top three will get in the top 10 at state, but our four/five get us in the top 5. We lost Mateo Nunez last year -he runs for Loyola now, but overall this is the strongest team in recent years. They won the conference, regional and sectional championship and are looking to place in the top 5 at state."
RBHS scored 57 points to earn the sectional championship and punch its ticket to the upcoming IHSA State Final Tournament.
"This group of runners has set a fine example for the following runners through their hard work, kindness and coachability," Forberg said. "Three of the top five started running with RB summer camp when they were in sixth grade and now they are seniors. It will be difficult to say goodbye to them."
The other advancing teams from the Wheaton Academy Sectional headed to Detweiler Park in Peoria on Saturday, Nov. 4 include Illiana Christian (112), St. Francis (124), Hinsdale South (162) and Marist (170).
Illiana Christian's Austin Ohm recorded a time of 15:30 to become the individual champion at the sectional.
The Bulldogs earned a share of the Wheaton Academy Sectional title with the host Warriors as both teams scored 77 points. RBHS placed three runners in the Top 5 to ensure a strong showing and IHSA State Final Tournament berth.
RBHS junior Nadia Kaczmarz came in second with a time of 19:21, followed by teammates Hailey Jurgens (19:32) and Tara Janney (19:33) who came in fourth and fifth, respectively. Other contributors included Cora Lutes (31st/20:31), Melissa Oliveira-Liz (35th/20:38), Niela Callanan (44th/21:13) and Tess Bruno (56th/21:39).
"The team has had a fantastic year," RBHS coach Blair Jensen said. "The team won a conference title, finished second at regionals, and tied for first at sectionals. The girls have gotten stronger as the year has moved forward."
The Bulldogs have flourished despite a few key injuries, too. Callanan and Emma Fortman were both running well before experiencing setbacks. While Callanan has returned to in the lineup, Fortman is out for the season.
"I've always felt if a runner gets through a season without an injury or sickness, that is a good season," Jensen said. "Niela is back running for us, but Emma is out for the season. Luckily, Emma will be back next year as a junior.
RBHS, which finished 12th at the state tourney last year, appears poised for another strong performance in 2017.
"There are a lot of variable that are our of their control," said Jensen, "but they are doing their best to give themselves the best chance at finishing in the Top 10 this year."
Regardless of what happens at state, Jensen has been impressed with the Bulldogs' work ethic and chemistry.
"The beauty of this team is that they undertsand working hard and training wisely pays off," Jensen said. "They do all seem to be on the same page with giving all they can to perform in the races. They learn from previous races and each other."
Along with Wheaton Academy and RBHS, Lemont (120), Glenbard South (140) and Rosary (146) qualified for the state final tourney.
Wheaton Academy senior Julia Robleski won the individual championship by recording a time of 19:20.