RBHS cross country runners Paul Proteau (left) and Cooper Marrs placed fifth and third, respectively, at the prestigious First to the Finish Invite in Peoria on Sept. 11, leading the Bulldogs to a fourth place overall finish. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Senior Paul Proteau and sophomore Cooper Marrs are just two reasons the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys cross country team has big-time goals.

That success will occur again in IHSA Class 2A.

Briefly during the preseason, the Bulldogs were listed as moving up to Class 3A for the largest enrollment schools. When the IHSA discovered an error involving some enrollment totals, RBHS returned to 2A.

“Honestly [after that], there was a little bit of motivation,” Marrs said. “Because we’re 2A, we really have an end-of-the-season goal that we want to achieve of at least [top-three] podium-ing in the state.”

The Bulldogs showed they’re among the contenders on Sept. 11 after finishing fourth in the Class 2A race at the First to the Finish Invitational at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, the annual site of the state meet.

Marrs (15:05.8) and Proteau (15:22.8) placed third and fifth, respectively, on the 3-mile course in a 55–team field with six of the top-seven ranked teams by MileSplit IL or ILXCTF.com. The websites rank RBHS No. 5 and 7, respectively. 

“This race we definitely paid a lot of attention to. We were just really looking forward to this and were ready to go,” Proteau said. “I think state at the 3A level would have been challenging but I have been in this for three years. I know we’re up for a challenge [in 2A].”

Thanks to each other, Marrs and Proteau have seen significant progress. They could give the Bulldogs multiple top-25, individual all-staters for the first time since 1973, when RBHS finished a program-best second in what was then a one-class state meet.

“Cooper challenges me a lot. He motivates and pushes me. He’s made me a better runner and he’s definitely made me a better teammate,” Proteau said.

“I couldn’t ask for a better right-hand man. We’ve had that quiet competition. We have ever since the first day of the 2020 season. He’s a very good person and a terrific athlete.”

Due to COVID-19, there was no 2020 IHSA-sanctioned state cross country meet. At the ShaZam Championships, an unofficial invite-only event with most of the state’s top-rated performers, Proteau was 10th and Marrs 23rd in Division II.

In June, both qualified for the IHSA Class 3A state track meet in the 1,600-meter run. Proteau (13th, 4:20.76) and Marrs (20th, 4:25.35) both posted personal bests.

“The mile times we put down in track really gave me some goals to look at,” said Marrs, who hopes to break 15 minutes by the state meet on Nov. 6.

“It’s been great to have Paul. I don’t think I’d be anywhere close to the times I have without training with him every day and racing against him,” Marrs said. “It’s just his dedication he puts in every single day. He’s probably the hardest worker. I can’t ask for a better teammate.”

Sophomore Jack O’Brien (19th, 16:03.1) also earned a top-50 medal in Peoria. RBHS’ No. 4 and 5 finishers were sophomores Hayden Marrs (59th, 16:35.4), Cooper’s brother, and William Kallas (135th, 17:31.3) in his varsity debut.

On Sept. 4, the Bulldogs were fifth as the best 2A finisher at Lyons Township’s Mike Kuharic Invite. Marrs (15:40.7) and Proteau (15:54.1) were fifth and 10th in the 5-kilometer race.

First-year head coach Jack Brady retired seven years ago after being Glenbard East’s head coach for 33 years. He was hired days before the official start of the season after Anthony Enright accepted a full-time teaching and coaching position closer to home at Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock. 

Brady was asked about coaching by O’Brien’s father, a longtime friend.

“It kind of moved pretty quickly,” Brady said. “They’re some really hard workers and there’s some talent involved as well. I would say the kids have pretty high expectations.” 

The RBHS boys and girls play host to their annual invitational Saturday. The girls team finished 20th in Peoria and 10th at the LTHS invite.

Junior Bryce Pacourek was sixth at LTHS and 26th in Peoria (19:13.0), followed by sophomores Lily Kocourek (107th, 20:45.5) and Maria Dalton (109th, 20:47.4).