RBHS girls cross-country team | Provided

Riverside Brookfield High School senior girls cross-country runners Lily Kocourek and Maria Dalton won’t soon forget their final Metro Suburban Conference Meet on Saturday. There was more than enough water and mud from rain throughout the Westmont High School 3.0-mile course.

But there were also smiles. Both earned their first all-conference honors, and the Bulldogs won their first conference title since 2017, Blair Jensen’s first season as head coach. 

The state-ranked RBHS boys, meanwhile, easily defended their title as their seven entries were the top-seven finishers. Senior Cooper Marrs won his third straight MSC individual title.

“It was awesome. I loved running it and all the mud,” Kocourek said. “There was no one around you so you were just doing it for yourself. It was fun.”

“Looking back, it was probably the most memorable race, but when you’re in the moment, it’s a little tough,” Dalton said. “I’m super-proud of myself and my team, of course, because this is a tough race. It’s a battle, mental game.”

RBHS boys cross-country team | Provided

Junior Gianna Gelb (21:10) was second to Westmont sophomore Kyla Babb (20:36) and Kocourek (22:01), Dalton (22:18), senior Maia Nelson (22:43) and sophomore Rebecca Dosek (22:48) were fourth through seventh for top-10 all-conference honors. Junior Jorie Eggers (23:57) and sophomore Mia Alcaraz (24:11) were 13th and 14th. 

As runners dodged puddles and avoided slipping, many spectators watched from their cars. Each lap and the finish were along the fence by the parking lot.

“It’s hard to run fast [in this]. You can’t go by times. But I would say probably one of our better [races],” Jensen said. “They kind of held their own place. [Our top five] was top seven. I would say it was a good race. You’re lucky to get through this, no one gets hurt.”

The final year for the Bulldogs (19 points) in the MSC was with second-place Elmwood Park (47), Ridgewood and Westmont. Last year’s MSC Blue Division had six teams, none of which the third-place Bulldogs competed against Saturday.

With fewer teams, top 10 was all-conference versus top-12 in 2022. Last season, Gelb was fourth with Kocourek (16th) and Dalton (19th) in the top 20 and Nelson 27th.

“I’ve been working toward [all-conference] since sophomore year so it’s great to actually do it and be top 10,” Kocourek said.

“It looked like Lily really found her game. She was sick for a while so she’s getting back,” Jensen said.

Gelb is a two-time individual state qualifier in Class 2A. This year the girls are in 3A as well as the boys, the defending 2A state champions.

The Bulldogs compete at the 3A regional Saturday at Lyons Township’s south campus. The girls race at 9 a.m. and the boys at 10 a.m.

On Saturday, Gelb was three seconds from third after two miles and finished 15 seconds ahead of third. 

“It was cold and so slippery. The first time running through, it was already muddy and then the second mile it was even worse. I couldn’t feel my hands the entire time,” Gelb said. “I was just focused on passing people wherever I was and I was happy with wherever I was going to finish because this race was hard. But I think my goal was to get maybe top three.” 

The boys race resembled a workout. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 16 in 3A by ILXCTF.com, remained a tight pack until the very end with the 6-foot-4 Marrs sporting an RBHS cross country knit hat for the first time in a race.

Marrs won in 17:16, followed by junior Brady Norman (17:20), senior Jack O’Brien (17:20), junior Asa Kahle (17:21), seniors Will Kallas (17:22) and Brennan Lester (17:23) and junior Diego Lopez-Molina (17:31).

“A nice, sloppy day. Just solid fun running cross country. Can’t have it better than this, really,” Marrs said.

“The other [titles] felt like I really stuck to the race plan. This one, just out here having fun running.”  

“The consensus was 2½, 2¾ (miles together) and then every man for himself,” RBHS coach Jack Brady added. “It was nice, 1 through 7. Everybody gets all-conference. Everybody’s cold but nobody’s gotten hurt.” 

O’Brien (2nd), Kallas (5th) and Lester (6th) also were all-conference in 2022. Kahle (14th) was 7.4 seconds from 12th and Norman missed the race because of illness.

“It was fun running in a group like that,” Lester said. “It was definitely one of those races where everybody’s happy. We’re in good, healthy shape right now and we’re all just glad we get to run together and nobody’s missing this year.”