Girls cross country teams dominate at state finals

Fenwick finishes in top four

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

Every season, the goal for cross country teams in the area is to make the three-hour bus ride to Peoria, where the state finals are held, worth the drive. In the 2019 season, Fenwick, and Trinity high schools participated in the IHSA Class 2A state finals while Oak Park and River Forest High School battled in the Class 3A state finals.

Spoiler: every team did well in its own respect. Here are the storylines you need to know for how each school performed in Peoria.

 Fenwick takes fourth in state

By a narrow margin, the Friars' girls varsity team placed in the top-five in the state finals for the first time since 2011.

"We knew going in that there were 10 teams fighting for the top three spots," said head coach Kevin Roche.

"It seemed like Benet [Academy] was a lock, but anyone could have been in the top three. The girls were great and ran well as a pack, but we didn't know we were going to get fourth. I thought we would place seven or so, but there were a slew of teams bringing it. It was a fun way to end a season we were already really proud of."

Junior Maggie O'Malley finished 34th out of 209 runners who participated in the race and had the seventh-best time in school history. It was a memorable performance considering she couldn't run her freshman year. She sat out that season due to shin splints and runner's knee but attended practices to stay close to the group.

"She's progressed really well since her sophomore year and has bought into the process of getting better," said Roche. "She pushed really hard to get to this point, and we are proud of her."

Two OPRF runners in top 16

For the first time in school history, the Huskies had two runners qualify for all-state honors in the same year. Junior Nora Wollen and sophomore Josephine Welin placed 15th and 16th respectively.

According to IHSA's website, there have only been six OPRF runners who have garnered all-state status before Wollen and Welin:

Margaret Manion (1980)

Colleen Bolin (1994)

Kristen Barnes (1995)

Elaine Zelby (2004)

Katherine Rack (2006, 2007)

Mary Blankemeier (2013)

Wollen's 17:07:86 three-mile time was less than a second off of Blankemeier (17:07 three-mile time in 2013). However, the IHSA's records in 2013 do not include milliseconds.

As for the other members on the team, the five runners behind Wollen and Welin had times under 19:15. During sectionals the week before, the team had four runners who had times over 19:15.

Trinity is on the rise

After telling Wednesday Journal the day before the state finals that the team's goal was to place within the top 20, the Blazers just missed that mark, placing 22nd as a team. Even with falling short of that goal, the team saw freshman Delaney Burns improve her time from 20:21 during sectional round to 18:46 at the state finals.

Junior Kate Foley and Burns ran under 19 minutes for the first time in their careers.

"I don't know if I would say that I expected [Burns] to finish that high but she was certainly capable of it, for sure," said head coach Johann Gonzalez. "Her and Kate [Foley] going sub-19 was a big deal since we have only had a couple runners do that at state and they were seniors. Having a junior and freshman do it was a pleasant surprise."

Trinity will have nine of its 10 runners come back for the 2020 fall season. With all the experience they have accumulated over the last couple of weeks from the sectional and state rounds, the team has a shot at cracking the top-20 next season.

Going into this year, Gonzalez increased his team's offseason workload and saw the payoff from it this season.

"I knew the programs that we were going to be going up against in regionals and sectionals were bigger than us and have put in some miles," said Gonzalez. "I told the team, 'Girls, if you want to be competitive, [increasing the workload] is what we are going to have to do. We had to be smart about it, but I wasn't giving them enough credit for what they could do, and they responded really well."

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Tom Tarrant  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 4:54 AM

Congrats to the OPRF Cross Country Team. I believe it is the first time since the IHSA went to 3A that the Huskies have had back to back team appearances. Excellent job coaches and girls. Best of luck in the future! (Love the picture)

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