Jack O’Brien

Riverside-Brookfield High School junior boys cross country runner Jack O’Brien was 30th at the 2021 IHSA Class 2A state meet, just shy of top-25, all-state honors.

“Moving up five places is the goal,” O’Brien said. “All-state wouldn’t just help me but help the team out. There’s a win-win there.”

With many returnees from the state lineup, the Bulldogs’ overall aspirations are significantly higher. They added to them on Oct. 29 with a decent race that still won the Kaneland Sectional (97 points), their first sectional title since 2017, by 18 points.

Junior Cooper Marrs (3rd, 15 minutes, 4.60 seconds for 3.0 miles) and O’Brien (7th, 15:26.27) earned top-10, all-sectional honors, followed by juniors Will Kallas (27th, 15:58.92) and Brennan Lester (29th, 16:00.46), sophomore Brady Norman (36th, 16:14.37), senior Zack Gaynor (40th, 16:18.37) and junior Hayden Marrs (70th, 16:53.11). 

“Reading their body language afterwards, they weren’t real happy about the performance,” RBHS coach Jack Brady said.  “I think they feel there’s room for improvement.”  

The team seeks to excel at the IHSA Class 2A state finals on Nov. 5 at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. 

Last year’s team was fifth (235 points), 71 points from third and the final team trophy. Cooper Marrs (all-state 22nd), O’Brien, Hayden Marrs (139th), Kallas (142nd), Gaynor (158th) and Lester (195th) were part of that lineup. 

The Bulldogs have captured only one state trophy, taking second in 1973 when state was one class.

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” O’Brien said. “We’re hoping to contend for at least a trophy.”

Cooper Marrs can become the fourth multiple all-stater in program history. He was contending for the upper half of the all-staters last year when he was struck by exhaustion with about 100 meters left. He collapsed 10 meters from the finish but recovered in time to remain all-state.

“I’m just looking to run my race and see where I’ll finish,” Marrs said. “Everyone in our top seven was at least at the state meet last year, so we have that maturity and chemistry. It’s going to help us this weekend.”

Pacourek, Gelb advance to girls state finals

Bryce Pacourek

In the girls sectional race, RBHS senior Bryce Pacourek and sophomore Gianna Gelb fittingly ran together for the first time in an entire race this season.

They once again qualified for state individually after doing so also in 2021 and earned all-sectional honors. Pacourek (18:36.38) and Gelb (18:39.99) were ninth and 10th with personal-best times.

Pacourek and Gelb were 72nd and 151st at state last year. For Pacourek this is her fourth state meet, including the invite-only 2020 ShaZam Championships held in place of no IHSA state meet.

“I was really happy to make it again. I was really happy that Gianna was able to make it too because I feel like we were really able to work together this season,” Pacourek said. 

Gelb is running her best races after what she felt was a slow start to the season. While Pacourek starts out among frontrunners, Gelb works her way up and finishes with a strong third mile.

Last season, Pacourek reached state despite illness that forced her to miss races and training.

“I feel like I’m in a much better place than I’ve been the last couple of years fitness wise and just mentally,” Pacourek said. “I feel like my experience last year made me realize that even if I have a bad race, I can still come back.” 

The Bulldogs were among the top 10 individuals not among the seven advancing teams. RBHS was eighth at as team (228), 51 points from seventh-place Nazareth Academy.

Junior Lily Kocourek (64th, 20:18.82), senior Jojo Rodriguez (71st, 20:25.58), junior Maria Dalton (87th, 20:49.36), junior Maiana Nelson (109th, 21:29.06) and senior Mia Wagner (115th, 21:44.14) also raced for the Bulldogs. Nelson had a lifetime best, Rodriguez and Dalton had season bests and Kocourek just missed her season best.