PRF runner Liam Newhart (left) battles Hinsdale Central junior Aden Bandukwala down the stretch during the IHSA Class 3A cross country state finals at Peoria’s Detweiller Park on Nov. 5. Newhart briefly led before finishing second overall to pace the Huskies, who placed fifth as a team. | Photo by Laura Duffy

Oak Park and River Forest High School boys cross country runner Liam Newhart set the tone for a great senior year by finishing 2021 with a then lifetime-best time at his first IHSA Class 3A state meet.

His significant improvement came within a second from becoming the Huskies’ first state champion on Nov. 5.

Newhart battled down the long final stretch at Peoria’s Detweiller Park and briefly led before finishing second to Hinsdale Central junior Aden Bandukwala (14:46.15 to 14:46.31 for 3.0 miles) in the closest Class 3A finish since 2013.

“I did put everything out there the entire race and I couldn’t have done anything more, so I’m very happy,” said Newhart, 45th in 2021 in 15:04.3. “If you asked me at the end of last year, I would not tell you top three, second place or possibly win. This season just really changed my perspective.”

The Huskies’ huge team gains for their first state berth since 2016 earned fifth place (233 points) to equal their second-best finish from 1980. The 1963 team was fourth.

“We had an amazing year. I’m really proud of what they did,” OPRF coach Chris Baldwin said.

Junior Michael Michelotti (36th, 15:40.72), seniors Nick Parrell (40th, 15:41.17) and Owen Augustine (102nd, 16:11.16), juniors Lewis O’Connor (111th, 16:13.83) and Daniel Johnson (148th, 16:25.15) and sophomore Andrew Harmon (207th, 16:54.51) made their state debuts.

“Heading into the season, we knew we had a special group,” Augustine said. “When we were freshmen, we had a great group of guys ahead of us. We definitely helped carry on that tradition, carry on that momentum.” 

Newhart equals the highest OPRF individual finish by 1980 junior Larry Head. 

Detweiller’s course was sloppy after steady rain during the day’s opening races, but Newhart still closed strong as he had when he won sectionals and regionals. Bandukwala won his first major race after finishing third at conference and fourth at regionals and sectionals.

Newhart caught Bandukwala with 400 meters left before the final push.

“I know Adam super well. I’m glad that I lost to somebody that I’m close with. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Newhart said.

In the Class 3A girls race, OPRF junior Lenny Sterritt was 111th (19:19.20), improving upon 2021 (200th, 19:28.34) when the team qualified.

In Class 2A, Fenwick High School senior Bella Daley (17th, 18:39.22) and junior Nate McKillop (18th, 16:01.37) repeated as all-state performers. The Fenwick boys were 10th (312) as a team.

Daley (23rd, 18:07.24 in 2021), joins Olivia Ryan (2011-14) as the girls program’s only multiple all-staters. Daley bested the all-state finish of sister Briana (22nd in 2011), who cheered her on Saturday.

“It may not have been the [better] time but it was the place,” Daley said. “I’m so happy that I could have finished my senior year standing on the (awards) podium. Finishing top 20 is even better.” 

McKillop improved from 20th in 2021 (15:17.35) to become the boys third multiple all-stater. 

“The conditions were definitely interesting,” McKillop said. “I was happy with [all-state]. You’ve got to take the little wins. It wasn’t as good as I was hoping to do but it’ll be a memorable one.”

Other Fenwick boys finishers were senior Grayden Rill (33rd, 16:22.28), junior Dean O’Bryan (59th, 16:41.88), sophomores Benicio Carideo (144th, 17:21.66) and Finn Munley (158th, 17:34.32) and seniors Chris Bajda (212th, 18:14.30) and Jake Leonardi (223rd, 18:34.98).

Rill and O’Bryan also were part of last year’s Class 2A state championship lineup. Rill, eighth in 2021, has recently battled illness that delayed his season debut to Sept. 24. 

Trinity freshman Molly McGreal (107th, 20:07.51) warmed up with seniors Amanda McGreal, her sister, and Ella Miller, her big sister teammate. 

As a state qualifier, McGreal shared the school’s traditional running through the halls the day before the state final race with Amanda.

“It was really fun, a really nice community to have support me,” McGreal said.

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