Last September, the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys cross country team took their first step toward winning the school’s first athletic state championship, winning the Class 2A boys race at Peoria High School’s First to the Finish Invitational at Detweiller Park, annual site of the state meet.
The Bulldogs caught a glimpse of more state success when they returned to Peoria last Saturday under much different circumstances.
Now competing against larger 3A schools this season, the No. 25 Bulldogs took eighth (309 points) behind schools currently ranked higher by ILXCTF.com.
“Last year, the expectation was to win here, which we did. This year, we’re just kind of sizing ourselves up against the competition,” RBHS junior Brady Norman said. “Everyone ran well when they needed to. We’ve got a lot of guys competing for the top five spots on our team, and I think that’s going to help us a lot.”
Senior Cooper Marrs, last year’s 2A invite champion (12th, 14:55.7 for 3 miles) and Norman (40th, 15:27.0) earned top-50 individual medals. Seniors Jack O’Brien (68th, 15:39.9), Will Kallas (96th, 15:56.0), Brennan Lester (113th, 16:06.5), and juniors Diego Lopez-Molina (153rd, 16:26.7) and Asa Kahle (194th, 16:45.8) rounded out their top seven.
“I thought we ran well. We certainly proved we belong in this class, eighth out of [41 teams],” RBHS coach Jack Brady said.
“It was definitely a new atmosphere, but there was nothing we can’t handle,” Marrs added. “I’m not sure we had any formed goals, but we definitely wanted to prove ourselves, get our foot in the door of this 3A competition and kind of make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to get after it, have some fun and see what kind of place we ended up.”
The seniors and Norman return from last year’s state lineup, along with senior Hayden Marrs, who is injured.
A two-time 2A all-stater, Cooper Marrs ran essentially the same time that won him last year’s 2A invite title (14:54.4) by 8.6 seconds. Saturday’s field had five of the 11 returning 2022 top-25 all-staters from 3A.
“[Saturday] felt nice, plenty of guys to run with, plenty of guys to pace with,” Marrs said.
“I was a lot more comfortable this year, with all of the guys to have running around us. I just kind of focused on going out smooth and seeing how many guys I can pick off in the last mile, mile and a half, so I was definitely happy with my performance.”
Norman, Lester and Lopez-Molina were among those who enjoyed personal bests Saturday. Norman was a 2022 invite medalist but much slower (35th, 16:09.9). Lester improved from 118th (17:11.9).
Norman also made strides from 15th at the Lyons Township Invitational Sept. 2 (16:29.3 for 3.11 miles).
“Class 3A has so much more depth than 2A does so it definitely feels good to finish there. I’m happy after really not a great race at LT,” said Norman, 3,200-meter state qualifier in track.
“I knew I was in a lot better fitness than that, after what I’ve done this summer and after how my track season went. Running that today and knowing I still have more to improve [I’m encouraged] but still getting a good benchmark in and feeling good about the race.”