Even if Riverside-Brookfield junior Hailey Jurgens achieves her second Class 2A cross country state berth as an individual, she didn’t do it alone.
This season, Jurgens has been joined up front by sophomores Tara Janney and Nadia Kaczmarz as the Bulldogs appear in contention of qualifying for state a team.
“I always mentally prepare to have a good race, stick with the top group, but knowing there are other teammates with me in that top group is even more motivation for me to do well,” Jurgens said. “As a team, we definitely have a much stronger team this year. It increases the motivation we put into practice every day.”
The Bulldogs currently aren’t among the 25 ranked teams in 2A, but they are favored to achieve one of the five state team berths out of the Wheaton Academy Sectional Oct. 29, in which only No. 19 Lemont is rated. The top seven individuals not among the five qualifying teams also advance.
RBHS meets sectional contenders Wheaton Academy, Glenbard South and Aurora Central Catholic at the Metro Suburban Conference Meet Saturday at Plunkett Park in Elmhurst.
On Sept. 24, the Bulldogs won the Blue division at ACC’s Charger Invite with Janney and Jurgens fourth and fifth and Kaczmarz 12th.
“We’ve had some of our best team finishes that we’ve had in quite some time,” RBHS coach Brennan Denny said. “Having three girls up front in a lot of our races has been a huge factor. The second key factor is we’ve really started to get a push from our fourth, fifth and sixth edging closer to that top group.”
It’s a new lineup since the Bulldogs last reached state as a team in 2013 and foreign exchange student Mailin Struck was the 2A individual state champion.
Other key contributors have been freshman Emma Fortman, sophomores Cora Lutes and Melissa Oliveira Liz and senior co-captain Natalie Cote.
As a freshman, Jurgens was 38th at 2A state with a time of 18 minutes, 18 seconds. At last season’s Wheaton Academy Sectional, she was 26th (19:40.3), two places from advancing individually.
“I definitely gained the experience (from 2014 state),” Jurgens said. “I’ve been guiding the underclassmen, telling them how each race works and who to look out for, who to pace with. A lot of friends from the guys’ team have helped me with the leadership.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs were seventh at the Sterling Invite (200 points), two points ahead of Fenwick. Jurgens (18th, 19:06.0), Kaczmarz (25th, 19:26.5) and Janney (27th, 19:30.0) were followed by Fortman (56th), Oliveira Liz (79th) and Lutes (81st).
“It’s been really interesting every Saturday because there’s not necessarily a clear No. 1 on the team,” Denny said. “Hailey really sees the potential that running as a trifecta as opposed to her having to be the leader and way out front every time.”