In 2015, junior Jacob Wardzala and his Riverside-Brookfield High School teammates hoped to reach the Class 2A state meet with a top-five sectional finish.
The Bulldogs were seventh.
“I think as soon as our race was over and we learned we hadn’t qualified, we made that as our goal (for 2016) and even win sectionals, leave nothing up to chance,” Wardzala said.
The Bulldogs impressively won the Wheaton Academy Sectional with 76 points on Saturday.
Senior Mateo Nunez (3rd, 15 minutes, 31.7 seconds for 3.0 miles), Wardzala (8th, 16:10.3) and junior Connor O’Brien (9th, 16:14.2) were all-sectional medalists, followed by junior Jack Sagan (15th, 16:30.1), seniors Matt Zamudio (44th, 17:18.4) and Nick Allegretti (67th, 17:40.0) and junior Ryan Hahn (73rd, 17:49.5).
“They ran very well but we’re also pleased with there being room for growth at state,” RBHS coach Larry Forberg said. “These guys really are focused.”
Nunez was 40th at 2015 state. RBHS should challenge for its first top-10 state finish since taking second to York in 1973, also the year of their last sectional title.
“We knew we were going to be better because we had a strong group of juniors and sophomores, but I think it’s a little surprising how successful we are,” Wardzala said.
Riverside-Brookfield sophomore Melissa Oliveira Liz joined the girls cross country team this season after trying summer running.
“The weather was terrible and it was hard. I could barely run three miles at that time,” said Oliveira Liz, a track sprinter.
Now she and the Bulldogs are headed to the Class 2A state meet.
On Saturday, Oliveira Liz ran a personal record by 30 seconds and the Bulldogs were second at the Wheaton Academy Sectional.
Sophomore Tara Janney was an all-sectional eighth (19:18.4), followed by junior Hailey Jurgens (14th, 19:36.3), sophomore Nadia Kaczmarz (22nd, 19:57.2), Oliveira Liz (23rd, 19:57.7), freshman Emma Fortman (27th, 20:02.3), sophomore Cora Lutes (45th, 20:33.8) and junior Emma Forberg (50th, 20:46.9).
Jurgens ran at 2014 state as an individual qualifier (38th).
“Haley Jurgens really got into our heads and gave us positive thoughts,” Oliveira Liz said. “I was not expecting (a PR), though. The course was really hilly.”
After earning individual all-state track honors, senior Dan Palmer hopes the Lions can achieve a third straight top-three 3A state team trophy.
The Lions finished second at the Marist Sectional 54-80 to Downers Grove North, which with favored Neuqua Valley and Lake Zurich are the projected frontrunners.
“Cross country is more of our main focus or special to us (as a team) than if we get all-state in the (3,200-meter relay),” Palmer said. “We were a little bit disappointed today. We did have a few kids that had strong races and that’s promising for state.”
Junior Danny Kilrea (2nd, 14:26.25 for 3.0 miles) and seniors Vince Zona (4th, 15:00.25) and Alex Pall (9th, 15:14.78) were top 10 medalists, followed by Palmer (22nd, 15:40.55), junior Charles Harders (45th, 16:03.96), senior Roland Van Tassel (50th, 16:07.63) and sophomore Colin Costello (81st, 16:41.77).
At state last year, Zona (6th) and Kilrea (10th) were all-state and LTHS was second to Sandburg after being third in 2014.
Like Zona last year, Palmer is recovering from illness that contributed to a rough conference race.
“I can still feel it. Hopefully by state it’ll be gone,” Palmer said.
Although LTHS returns all-stater Sarah Barcelona and Emily Henkel from its 2015 3A state lineup, the rest of the Marist Sectional lineup was new.
That included Brookfield resident Brianna Liddell as the lone senior.
The Lions advanced by taking second at the Marist Sectional to Downers Grove South 69-101. Sophomores Barcelona (17:39.56 for 3.0 miles) and Henkel (17:41.81) finished 1-2, followed by juniors Cara Paliakas (20th, 18:26.18) and Lily Kedzuch (37th, 19:11.19), freshman Maddie Cranny (42nd, 19:22.61), junior Kirsten Meyer (46th, 19:28.33) and Liddell (56th, 19:35.38).
A 2015 state alternate, Liddell made her postseason debut at regionals.
“I’ve definitely progressed,” Liddell said. “I just have to remind myself that maybe (sectionals) wasn’t my best race but at least I was running it. Next week’s going to be all out, all guts.”
Even with the Fenwick boys now in 3A, senior Alex Marks qualified again for state at the Niles West Sectional.
Marks (17th, 15:37.29 for 3.0 miles) earned the sixth of seven individual berths for those not among the five advancing teams. The Friars (12th, 287) were fifth at 2015 2A state.
“It’s going to be weird because I went last time with my team,” Marks said. “It’s kind of like freshman year, where you go all out and don’t worry about the crazy strategy, and I managed to do it, which was really awesome.”
Fenwick senior Nicole Finn (17th, 18:39.63) advanced to her second state meet as the seventh individual qualifier. The Friars (259) were eighth.
Finn barely led the next individual candidate, Evanston’s Samantha Steman (19th, 18:43.28), entering the track with 300 meters left.
“(It’s) funny because Nicole isn’t the fastest in terms of short-term speed. She showed she really wanted it,” Fenwick coach Kevin Roche said. “I’m never nervous when Nicole hits the line. She’s one of those people that performs in high pressure situations.”
Sophomore Bridget O’Bryan certainly has improved from being Trinity’s No. 5 runner last season.
So have the Blazers, who qualified for 2A state with fourth at the Fenton Sectional.
Junior Haley Hansen (11th, 19:55.9 for 2.0 miles), O’Bryan (27th, 20:05.6), juniors Emma Creviston (25th, 20:31.7) and Alyssa Jimenez (33rd, 20:55.4), sophomore Hannah Roberts (46th, 21:25.0), junior Grace Brown (63rd, 22:18.0) and sophomore Catherine Doyle (66th, 22:25.1) comprised a non-senior lineup.
Trinity first reached state in 2013. These Blazers captured the program’s first regional title.
“It hasn’t really set in but it’s exciting because it’s the first time we’re all going down for state (cross country),” O’Bryan said. “I see my time, my place and if it’s good, it’s crazy to think about how much I’ve improved.