Riverside-Brookfield senior boys cross country runner Mateo Nunez accepted the torch as team leader from graduated Andrew LeMesurier.
Before the Class 2A state meet Saturday, Nunez even looked the part.
Building upon what LeMesurier started, Nunez and the Bulldogs’ lineup bleached their hair at the house of senior Nick Allegretti’s aunt just before sectionals.
“(LeMesurier) was like, ‘We’re starting to get better, get a little more success. You should bring some attention,’ ” Nunez said. “It’s kind of a nice conversation starter (in school). I’m OK with the blonde hair. I can live with it.”
The shade matches nicely with Nunez’s all-state medal for a top-25 finish.
Nunez was 16th at Peoria’s Detweiller Park in 14 minutes, 57 seconds for 3.0 miles, a personal-record time by about 30 seconds.
The Bulldogs finished 11th (293 points) in their first state team appearance since 2011. Their stellar showing followed the RBHS girls taking a program-best 12th. This is the first time both teams reached state the same year.
Junior Connor O’Brien (67th, 15:49) missed his PR by one second, followed by juniors Jacob Wardzala (93rd, 16:04) and Jack Sagan (117th, 16:18), senior Matt Zamudio (121st, 16:20), Allegretti (158th, 16:51) and junior Ryan Hahn (173rd, 17:02).
Nunez is the Bulldogs’ first all-stater since 1975. Last year, he was 40th as an individual qualifier (15:26), 17 seconds from 25th.
“I was 23rd, 25th the whole time. Something about this last stretch always gets me,” Nunez said. “This year, I just committed myself. I wanted top 10. I just did not want to give in and say I should have given it everything I had because I did.”
After missing 2015 state by two places at sectionals, the young Bulldogs were determined to improve. This is RBHS’s highest finish in four state appearances since taking second to York in 1973.
“I’m very happy for (Nunez), for all of the guys. They ran a good race. They ran a tough race,” RBHS coach Larry Forberg said. “What’s really nice is they’re coachable guys. They listen and they respond well.”
During her second state cross country race, RBHS junior Hailey Jurgens certainly didn’t feel alone.
Sophomore teammate Tara Janney was nearby.
“The first two miles I was just running for my team and I had a huge smile on my face. The last mile, when I saw Tara I was like, ‘We can do this. We can run together,’ ” Jurgens said.
They led the Bulldogs to their highest state finish (12th, 363) in the 2A girls final with no seniors.
Jurgens (48th, 18:21), Janney (57th, 18:31) and sophomore Nadia Kaczmarz (74th, 18:50) had a 29-second split, followed by freshman Emma Fortman (139th, 19:32), sophomores Melissa Oliveira Liz (168th, 20:03) and Cora Lutes (170th, 20:03) and junior Emma Forberg (195th, 20:35).
The Bulldogs had five personal-record times to surpass taking 18th in 2008, the first of their four state trips. Jurgens was 38th (18:18) as a 2014 individual qualifier.
“Having these ladies supporting me every single day, pushing me, it just felt amazing,” Jurgens said. “The whole experience (this year) is a lot more fun. My freshman year I just put so much pressure on myself. Now I get to share my previous knowledge.”