Riverside-Brookfield senior Mateo Nunez’s 2015 trip to the Class 2A boys cross country state meet felt incomplete.
“When you’re running with (teammates) and they’re not able to go downstate, it’s hard,” Nunez said. “I’m not going to lie. The bus ride home was less than satisfactory. It was bittersweet.”
That very well could change this year.
The Bulldogs continued to display their state-qualifying potential Saturday with a fifth-place finish in the 2A race at the First to the Finish Invitational at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, the annual 3.0-mile course for the state meet.
Nunez was an impressive 10th (16 minutes, 3.2 seconds) in muddy conditions against a field of 10 of the currently 17 top-ranked 2A teams.
Juniors Connor O’Brien (25th, 16:37.7), Jacob Wardzala (40th, 16:53.4) and Jack Sagan (41st, 16:53.4) also earned top-50 medals.
No. 10 RBHS (246 points) gained the last team plaque by four points over No. 8 Dixon.
“It was a tough race. It was sloppy and muddy,” RBHS coach Larry Forberg said. “I just said, ‘We’re not worried about times.’ We’re worried about hard work and this is part of the process. This is a nice step towards that.”
Nunez was 40th at state (15:26) and O’Brien, Wardzala, Sagan and senior Matt Zamudio also were top-six sectional team finishers. Juniors Jason Noel and Ryan Hahn, senior Nathan Palmer and sophomore David Keen are other lineup contenders.
The Bulldogs’ last state trip as a team was 2011.
“I think we have a great shot at making it downstate – and placing in the top 10,” O’Brien said. “All of us (watched Nunez at state). It was an exciting race. I did get to stay up all night, but I’d rather run at state.”
In the 2A girls race, the Bulldogs solid up front with sophomore medalists Tara Janney (34th, 19:52.4) and Nadia Kaczmarz (45th, 20:03.1) and junior Hailey Jurgens (67th, 20:20.1) and finished 16th (585).
“The goal is to have those three girls really run together for the majority of the race and then whoever’s feeling it at the end take it home,” RBHS coach Brennan Denny said.
Jurgens was an individual state qualifier in 2014. Last season, Jurgens was 26th at sectionals, two places and 6.5 seconds from the last individual state berth.
Seniors Natalie Cote, Rachel Magee and Lulu Kern also return from the 2015 sectional-qualifying lineup. Sophomores Cora Lutes and Melissa Oliviera Liz, freshmen Emma Fortman and Sophie Jebb and junior Emma Forberg add to the depth.
Kaczmarz and Janney finished 2-3 in the sophomore race at the LT Invite. On Saturday, Janney amazingly improved from 214th in 2015 and was the team’s top finisher for the first time.
“I feel like I have improved mentally,” Janney said. “I was a little upset because I didn’t beat my personal record because it was like a mud run. It was really slippery.”
“Definitely,” Kaczmarz added. “When you turn, the corners are very tight so you had to definitely put it for a little bit longer.
Lyons Township boys and girls
First-place senior Vince Zona and fourth-place junior Danny Kilrea led the Lions to second place in the 3A boys race (87).
Zona (14:59.8), who won by 1.9 seconds, and Kilrea (15:07.6) went against two other returning top-11 state finishers. Zona won the sprint to the finish initiated by a Kilrea surge for his first major victory since the 2015 LT Invite.
“I’ve been feeling really good in training and just excited to show what I could do,” Zona said. “I’m hoping that I can challenge for the state championship both individually and as a team.”
Senior Alex Pall was 16th (15:39.5) and senior Dan Palmer (32nd, 15:57.3), Graham Kutchek (34th, 15:58.9) and Alex Lynch (47th, 16:07.3) were top-50 medalists. First-place Downers Grove North (66) put seven among the top 31.
“We felt like we could have done better, but it’s still early in the season. That’s what Nov. 5 (at state) is for,” Zona said.
The 2015 Lions were second in state to Sandburg and third in 2014. Zona was sixth with the fastest course time in LTHS history (14:30) and Kilrea 10th (14:35). Pall (72nd) and senior Rollie VanTessel (171st) were the No. 5 and 7 state finishers.
Sophomore Colin Costello and seniors Tyler Morales and John Hagan and junior Patrick Kane are part of another deep roster.
In the 3A girls race, the LTHS girls were 14th (363). Sophomore Sarah Barcelona (27th, 18:50.7) and junior Cara Paliakas (49th, 19:28.0) both earned top-50 medals.
Last season, Barcelona was an all-state 18th with the program’s fastest state meet time (16:58). LT was seventh with sophomore Emily Henkel (73rd) and senior Megan Ng (173rd) its No. 3 and 6 finishers.
“Definitely all-state (is my goal),” Barcelona said. “I think we have a group of really good girls and some sophomores that are really stepping it up.”
Juniors Lily Kedzuch and Kirsten Meyer and seniors Bri Liddell and Tess Albertini have run varsity the first two invites.
Henkel won Saturday’s open girls race in 18:51.4. Sophomores Marta Kogucki, Nora Whelton and Amanda Kural and freshman Maddie Cranny also are off to strong starts.
Nazareth boys and girls
Nazareth was 43rd (1,130) in the 2A girls race. Seniors Maeve Roach, who was 213th (22:02.7), Jess Sullivan and injured Allison Kufta return from the sectional-qualifying lineup. Roach competed at 2A state with the 2014 team.
Junior Mia Longo, sophomore Maggie Degnan, seniors Erin Lorenzen and Clare Svoboda, sophomore Maggie Degnan and freshmen Ailee Hogan and Julia Olander should contribute. Three-time state competitor Claire Ramsey opted for club soccer.
The Nazareth boys were 51st in the 2A boys race (1,399) with Scott Sikorski (200th, 18:25.6) and Brian Metzger (230th, 18:33.5) their top finishers.
Seniors Christian Zarate, Alex Creevy, David Zavala and Spencer Wilson also return from the sectional-qualifying lineup. Others who could contribute include senior Jake Panek, sophomores Joshua Neumann, David Sullivan, Braden Schneider and Steven Staubus and freshman Connor Uphues.
The Blazers were 14th in the 2A girls race (572) with sophomore Bridget O’Bryan (69th, 20:21.3) and junior Hailey Hansen (83rd, 20:29.6) both under 21:00.
At 3A sectionals in 2015, Hansen was 24th — one place and 1.2 seconds from the last individual state-qualifying spot. In track, she was 2A all-state with fifth in the 3,200-meter run.
Junior Emma Creviston and sophomore Catherine Doyle also return from the sectional-qualifying lineup. Other key runners are juniors Alyssa Jimenez and Grace Brown and sophomore Hannah Roberts.