After finishing 22nd in 2021, Cooper Marrs placed fifth overall at the IHSA Class 2A state cross country meet in Peoria on Nov. 5 to pace the Bulldogs on their way to the school's first-ever team state title. | Photo by Laura Duffy
Jack O’Brien (left) placed 16th overall for RBHS in the IHSA Class 2A state cross country finals on Nov. 5, earning all-state honors. | Photo by Laura Duffy

As Cooper Marrs and his Riverside-Brookfield High School boys cross country teammates rode the bus home after winning sectionals Oct. 29, head coach Jack Brady and assistant Arthur Stringham unveiled new uniforms for the IHSA Class 2A state meet.

Weeks earlier, the runners had selected black tops with “RBHS” in blue letters on a white sash. Stringham kept tabs that they’d arrive in time.

“Those are the coolest uniforms I’ve ever worn, and they look really clean,” Marrs, a junior, said.  

Besides a new look, six returnees from last year’s state lineup arrived at Peoria’s Detweiller Park for the state finals on Oct. 5 with a new mindset and energy.

They soon added a new accomplishment.

The Bulldogs became the school’s first state champion in any sport as their 131 points prevailed by 24 points over Belvidere North.

Marrs (5th, 15:27.46 for 3.0 miles) and junior Jack O’Brien (16th, 16:00.40) earned individual, top-25 all-state honors amid sloppy conditions from earlier rains, followed by junior Will Kallas (38th, 16:24.49), senior Zack Gaynor (56th, 16:39.84), sophomore Brady Norman (69th, 16:46.96) and juniors Brennan Lester (80th, 16:46.96) and Hayden Marrs (160th, 17:35.46).

RBHS junior Will Kallas improved 104 spots over his state meet finish in 2021, placing 38th overall at the IHSA Class 2A state meet on Nov. 5. He along with Zack Gaynor, who improved 102 places, went a long way to help the Bulldogs to the school’s first-ever state team championship. | Photo by John Keen

“It was just one of those feelings that I don’t think I’ll ever have again – that I probably won’t have in a long time, maybe,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been running since I was in first grade, so to spend pretty much more than half your life and to have it pay off like this, it’s an indescribable feeling.”   

The Bulldogs’ other top-three trophy was the second-place 1973 squad when the sport was one class. RBHS boys tennis has finished second and third, competitive cheerleading second and wrestling third.

“Cross country is a sport not too many people pay attention to, but the last couple of weeks RB’s been really coming together, paying attention to our results and congratulating us in the halls,” Cooper Marrs aid. 

“It was nice to see the whole RB community come together,” O’Brien said. “I felt like all of the teachers knew what we were doing throughout the postseason. I was really proud to be part of something like that.” 

It’s also a new feeling for Brady, who became head coach just before the 2021 season started. Brady previously coached 34 years at Glenbard East, taking fifth in 1988. He ran for Glenbard South against the 1973 Bulldogs.

“The kids stepped up, no doubt about it,” Brady said. “The weather didn’t matter. The wind didn’t matter. Actually, the whole season they’ve been pretty laser-focused on getting a trophy. It was just a matter of which one.” 

Members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys cross country team pose with their first-place trophy after winning the IHSA Class 2A state championships in Peoria on Nov. 5. | Photo by Bill Stone

The 2021 Bulldogs finished fifth overall (235) with graduated Paul Proteau taking third. 

Kallas (142nd) and Gaynor (158th) improved more than 100 places as key contributors to the Bulldogs’ victory. Gaynor’s vicious kick passed about 10 runners, and Kallas returned to compete in past six weeks despite a stress fracture in his left shin that hasn’t completely healed.

“I’ve gotten used to it to the point where the season’s over so I’m good now,” Kallas said.

Norman has recovered from RSV that sidelined him for conference and affected his regional and sectional races.

“I hung onto my boys. I didn’t take as many people as Zack did the last 100 [meters], but I gave everything I had,” Norman said.

O’Brien comfortably earned his first all-state honors after placing 30th in 2021. Marrs was an all-state 22nd last year, but he collapsed 10 meters from the finish before recovering. 

Marrs slightly eased his finish on Oct. 5 to ensure a good place and hopeful team victory. 

“That resulted in getting [passed] by two guys but that was totally fine by me. I just wanted to get as high a place as possible. And the top five, it’s great,” Marrs said. 

“I’m not sure it’s sunken in yet, but I’ve got some sort of high going on right now. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s awesome.”