Trinity High School sophomore Molly McGreal hoped to improve significantly at the Class 2A girls cross country state meet Saturday after finishing 107th in 2022.
Fenwick freshman Juliana Gamboa simply wanted “to leave everything on the course.”
Just when the two weren’t sure what was going to happen during the 3.0 miles at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, they found each other. Then they worked together to earn top-25 all-state honors.
McGreal was eighth in a school-record 17:40.96 to become the first all-stater in Trinity history.
“We ran together the last 800 [meters] and really pulled each other along. That was probably my favorite part of the race, just running with her,” McGreal said. “I was just really hoping for all-state and that’s what I did. Best race ever. It’s amazing, so lucky.”
Gamboa was 14th (17:47.33) as the Friars’ fifth all-stater and only second with a top-15 state finish.
“It was a really good race. It was really fun. During the race [McGreal] really inspired me,” said Gamboa, who ran a personal best by 15 seconds.
“I was trying to stay calm, focus on my breathing, but her being there really helped me. The last mile was tough. I was exhausted and she was like, ‘You’ve got this.’”
Fenwick finished 25th (591 points) under first-year coach Latoya Zubowicz-Hill. Senior Anna Scholtens (100th, 19:09.13), freshmen Lily Kotynek (202nd, 20:56.88) and Allison Austin (206th, 21:01.02), sophomore Romy Bergetz (217th, 21:11.52) and juniors Kyra Miller (219th, 21:14.84) and Emma Brennan (234th, 22:12.63) also raced for the Friars.
Trinity junior Jade Morelli (165th, 20:10.19) was the Blazers’ other individual qualifier.
In 3A boys, Fenwick senior Nate McKillop was 193rd (16:04.78) after being an all-stater in 2A the past two seasons, including the Friars’ 2021 state championship season.
McGreal, who ran a then school-record 17:48.2 at regionals, took advantage of her state experience Saturday, particularly beforehand.
“I kept breathing and I did a lot of reflecting before the race, too,” McGreal said. “Pre-racing really helped me out. I did it a lot more today, especially on the long car ride.” She “felt comfortable” but worried about missing all-state, maybe even being 26th, when she was in the 40s early.
“I was like, ‘If Molly’s OK [in the 40s], I’m OK with it.’ She knows what she’s doing,” Gamboa said.
“Girls were falling off and I was just staying strong. I felt good and I was excited to do well,” McGreal said.
“[Gamboa and I] met each other [at sectionals] and we knew of each other. But it was really fun running with her and she’s a really good girl.”
McGreal moved from 35th after one mile to 25th (11:50.2) after two with Gamboa 30th (11:51.7). McGreal’s strong finish helped her pass another four or five runners in the final 400 meters.
“It was such a fun race to watch. She put herself in great spots at every mile,” Trinity coach Johann Gonzalez responded. “Her two biggest strengths this season was patiently working the middle of all her races and finishing with a strong kick. We felt as long as she didn’t get boxed in at the beginning, she would be in position to finish in the top 25. Finishing eighth was a pleasant surprise.”
Morelli just missed her goal of sub-20:00 at her first state meet.
“It went really well,” she said. “I think it was around early October when [Gonzalez] was like, ‘You can individually qualify.’ I was like, ‘Now I’ve got to really start focusing.’”
Another standout for the Friars was Scholtens, a transfer from OPRF who was integral in Fenwick, qualifying as a team for state for the fourth time and first since 2019.
“We could not have been more blessed to have her. She’s not a leader in a sense of being vocal. You just follow her lead,” Zubowicz-Hill said. “It was really a rallying cry to make sure she has the best memory possible.
“They’ve worked incredibly hard. They’ve adjusted to a new coach, a new culture. What I love about this team is [Scholtens] leads through her actions and a really strong group of freshmen who have bought into the culture of excellence and it shows.”