OPRF High School junior Liam O’Connor went from being an alternate for the 2022 Class 3A boys cross country state meet to an all-state 17th place, Saturday, at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
“It doesn’t feel real. It’s been a goal since the beginning of the season and then to finally achieve it, it’s a weird feeling,” O’Connor said.
State success with different runners is becoming common for the Huskies. This year, they finished sixth (258 points), 47 points shy of fifth place, after taking fifth in 2022 with four of the same runners.
O’Connor covered the 3.0 miles in 14:39.92, a personal-best time by 15 seconds for top-25 all-state honors. Senior Lewis O’Connor (46th, 15:04.08, not related to Liam) also was top 50, followed by seniors Daniel Johnson (68th, 15:10.95), Michael Michelotti (75th, 15:16.61) and Mariano Escobedo (131st, 15:36.93), and juniors Finn Kelly (179th, 15:58.19) and Andrew Harmon (194th, 16:05.24).
Liam O’Connor was the No. 2 state finisher from the Lake Park Sectional after finishing seventh there on Oct. 28.
“I just felt, going into [the state final], I was feeling really good and I thought I had a chance [at all-state],” he said. “I hope we become this team every year, become a team in the top 10. I hope we’re starting a culture that returns to Peoria every year.”
Not only was this the first time the Huskies qualified for state in consecutive seasons since 2009-10. These are the Huskies’ highest back-to-back state team finishes.
“Our whole top seven, really proud of the effort and what they put out there,” OPRF coach Chris Baldwin said. “We have a great group of kids and it was awesome to see Finn back here racing.”
Lewis O’Connor, Johnson, Michelotti and Harmon returned from the 2022 state lineup. Kelly rejoined the lineup at sectionals after not racing since the Huskies’ last race in Peoria Sept. 16.
Liam O’Connor said he also received help from the numerous teammates who lined the state course.
Baldwin said the Huskies first brought about 20 runners, including the state team and official alternates. Roughly another 35 came on a separate fan bus.
“Their love and support for each other is what’s made them successful runners. They have a whole team of 85 kids behind them,” Baldwin said. “It’s not about the No. 1 or 2 guy. It’s about the 80 guys.”
OPRF girls cross country
OPRF seniors Katie Stabb (36th, 17:48.64) and Lenny Sterritt (71st, 18:15.40) competed in the 3A girls race as individual qualifiers.
Stabb, 8.89 seconds from 25th, ran in her second state meet. She missed 2022 state after ferritin issues affected her sectional race and being able to qualify.
“I gave it 100 percent. I can’t do any more so I’m happy about that,” Stabb said. “Last year gave me a perspective on how this is a gift and an opportunity to get to do this, no matter what the outcome is.”
Stabb also worked her way back from a stress fracture that sidelined her for track. She didn’t return to competition until the conference meet, Oct. 14.
“I wanted her to finish proudly. For her to come back and still finish 36th is amazing,” OPRF coach Ashley Raymond said.
Sterritt ran at state four years, including the 2020 ShaZam Championships in place of an IHSA state meet, and last year as the Huskies’ lone representative.
This season was her best one, finally eclipsing her performances as a freshman.
“I’m really happy with what I did. I think I improved a lot and raced how I want to be racing,” Sterritt said. “I didn’t feel like I could really make a move, kind of felt lethargic, but raced hard.”
“I feel like this year is the reward for those seasons where she was pushing through [training] and her body wasn’t giving her the payoff. I’m proud of her for continuing to train and having this season,” Raymond said.