Junior Grayden Rill and seniors Zac Daley, Lee O’Bryan and Carl Lukas were part of the Fenwick boys cross country team’s lineup at the last IHSA Class 2A state meet in 2019.
The Friars finished 26th — last place among the team qualifiers.
“We kept working,” Daley said. “You’ve got to get off the ground. When you’re that low, you’ve got to work your way up.”
The Friars enjoyed the ultimate reversal of fortune on Nov. 6. They won the IHSA Class 2A state championship at Peoria’s Detweiller Park for the program’s first top-three state trophy.
No. 2-ranked Fenwick (120 points) prevailed over Deerfield (141) and No. 1-ranked downstate Morton (164).
Rill (8th, 15:06.34 for 3.0 miles) and sophomore Nate McKillop (20th, 15:17.35) earned top-25, all-state honors. Sophomore Dean O’Bryan’s first sub-16 minute race of the season (33rd, 15:37.33), Daley (43rd, 15:44.54) and Lee O’Bryan (87th, 16:05.68) completed their top-five finishers, followed by Lukas (123rd, 16:21.04) and sophomore Christian Kline (205th, 17:07.96).
“A year ago, we would have never thought [state title], but after we started coming out of the gates strong, we realized we could do something,” Rill said. “We didn’t know if we could win or not, but we had intentions to be in the top five.”
The preseason Class 2A state polls by MileSplitIL and ILXCTF.com ranked Fenwick No. 8 and 10, respectively.
By late September, the Friars were the unanimous No. 1, but they fell to No. 2 after losing to Morton 77-79 for the Peoria Invite 2A-1A title on Oct. 2 at Detweiller Park.
“That day we realized this isn’t given just by the rankings. We really have to work super hard for this,” Lee O’Bryan said. “It was a good thing that we lost [that invite].”
Fenwick coach David Rill not only is Grayden’s father but also one of the program’s greatest runners, finishing second in AA in 1987.
“Awesome day. I like [coaching] it better, actually,” David Rill said. “Coaching my kid, being able to see him experience it, is awesome also. I think it’s just as sweet, if not better.”
Grayden Rill and McKillop are only the program’s third and fourth all-staters.
“I believe I have improved a lot and our team in general has improved a lot from last year,” McKillop said. “I feel we did a great job today.”
All-state finish for Bella Daley
In the girls Class 2A race, Fenwick junior Bella Daley (23rd, 18:07.24) became program’s fourth girls all-stater.
“I was hoping for top 15, maybe top 10, and I really wanted to run 17:30, but there’s always next year,” Daley said. “My biggest goal was all-state. I’m just happy that I could have that blessing of getting it.”
Fenwick junior Ava Martinez (180th, 20:03.57) made her state debut after her best race “effort-wise” at sectionals to qualify.
“I’m very thankful — and to do it with Bella so I was not alone,” Martinez said.