Cooper Marrs (wearing the RB singlet) ran a personal-best 14:54.4 to win the Class 2A race at the First to the Finish Invite in Peoria on Sept. 10, as the Bulldogs also won the team title in that division. (Laura Duffy/Contributor)

Besides his different cross country racing strategy, Riverside-Brookfield High School junior Cooper Marrs wore eye black in the Bulldogs’ shade of blue and even on his hands for the First to the Finish Invitational on Sept 10.

“I found it around the house, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it,’” Marrs said. “I’m just trying to have fun out there. I just like the way it looks.” 

Marrs especially stood out by the end of the 3.0-mile race at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, annual site of the state meet.

Marrs’ personal-best 14 minutes, 54.4 seconds won the boys Class 2A boys race by 8.6 seconds and the Bulldogs (184 points) took the team title over Glenbard South (194) and Prairie Ridge (202). 

“As soon as I made my move and no one was really going with it, it just felt nice,” Marrs said. “In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to go sub-15 minutes, but that wasn’t a huge priority. The biggest priority was to place the highest place possible for the team.” 

Jack O’Brien

Junior Jack O’Brien (15th, 15:35.7), sophomore Brady Norman (35th, 16:09.9), senior Zack Gaynor (37th, 16:11.9) also earned top-50 medals. Junior Hayden Marrs (96th, 16:57.2) was the No. 5 team finisher, followed by junior Brennan Lester (118th, 17:11.5), sophomore Ava Kahle (191st, 17:59.3) and junior Evan McMullen (197th, 18:00.8).

“We’ve been thinking about it all week. That’s been the main goal, win the meet as a team,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are willing and able of pushing each other. The chemistry’s there and it looks good for the postseason here and being in contention for first place.” 

The Bulldogs, fifth in IHSA Class 2A state last year, are poised to acquire only the second top-three state trophy in program history. The team was second in the one-class meet of 1973.

They’re currently ranked No. 2 in 2A to Grayslake Central by The Bulldogs’ annual home invite is Sept. 17.

“The top four ran great. Our fifth man’s getting closer and closer every week,” RBHS coach Jack Brady said. 

LTHS boys 5th in 3A race in Peoria

Lyons Township High School junior Cillian Henning competed at the 2021 Class 3A boys cross country state meet despite being diagnosed earlier that week with a stress fracture in his pelvis.

“I figured I had to power through to the end of the season,” Henning said. 

In his return to Peoria’s Detweiller Park on Sept. 10, a healthy Henning had one of his best races ever, taking 10th in the Class 3A boys race at the First to the Finish Invitational.

Henning’s personal-best 15:02.2 for 3.0 miles beat his 2021 state time at Detweiller by 42 seconds and led the Lions to fifth (172 points). 

“That was much better than I was expecting, 15:10s, so I’m pretty happy with that,” Henning said. “It was definitely a confidence booster, knowing what we’re capable of and knowing how much time there is between now and state.”  

LTHS junior Nick Strayer (18th, 15:17.8), senior Aidan Collins (24th, 15:24.0) and sophomore Ben Wuggazer (38th, 15:42.3) also were top-50 medalists, followed by senior Ruben Guevara (83rd, 16:16.4), junior John Barrette (94th, 16:23.7) and Maksym Washchuk (111th, 16:37.5).

Strayer was coming off winning the LTHS Invite on Sept. 3 and was hoping to at least contend for top 10 in Peoria. He said a mental lapse made him lose contact during the second mile. At last year’s invite, Strayer ran 16:25.8.

“It’s definitely an improvement from where I was last year, but still all of the consistency needs to get better,” Strayer said. “It’s good not that my floor has been raised. So hopefully I can raise my ceiling, too.”