Riverside-Brookfield High School junior Jack O’Brien often thinks about his anchor leg that just missed a 2022 IHSA Class 3A boys track and field state berth at sectionals with the 3,200-meter relay.
“Every day,” O’Brien said.
When O’Brien was anchor again at the Proviso East Sectional on May 17, the Bulldogs ran a season-best 8:01.73 for third place.
And they’re going to state.
O’Brien, senior Zack Gaynor, junior Hayden Marrs and sophomore Will Kallas qualified by beating the 8:04.23 state-qualifying standard.
The same four also qualified later in the 1,600 relay with a second-place season-best 3:24.93.
“I felt unnaturally calm. Compared to last year it just felt like another race to me,” O’Brien said. “I just felt really confident in what our team put out there.”
Top-two finishers and entries that beat state-qualifying standards at the meet advanced to state.
Sophomore Brady Norman also qualified for state with a sixth-place, personal-best 9:35.26 in a talented 3,200 field that edged the 9:35.94 state cut.
The 3,200 relay was as close to qualifying in 2022. Battling for the victory, anchor O’Brien collapsed from exhaustion about 10 meters from the finish. After he recovered, the Bulldogs finished eighth and did not advance.
Since then, O’Brien has improved significantly and helped the Bulldogs win the school’s first state championship with the Class 2A boys cross country title last November.
“The mind plays with you but you kind of just put it in the back of mind. For me, what it was that I felt I owed it to the two seniors that didn’t qualify last year [James Dalton and Paul Proteau]. I really owed it to them to run my best today and try to get the team down.”
Gaynor, Kallas and Marrs also were part of the cross country state championship lineup. Gaynor also was part of last year’s 3,200 sectional relay.
To help the 1,600 relay qualify, O’Brien scratched his 800. Anchoring again, O’Brien’s final push helped the Bulldogs pull out second by .04. Kallas provided a strong second leg that gave them the lead.
“It feels very good. I’m just really happy, a great squad that I’m happy to run with,” said Kallas, also a non-qualifying third in pole vault (personal-best 3.86 meters/12 feet, 8 inches).
To reach the 3,200 qualifying standard, Norman cut 10 seconds from his previous-best 9:45.98 in April. He made important strides on his sixth and seventh laps.
“I knew I had it in me. It sounds bad but it was the easiest race I’ve run — except the last two laps,” Norman said.