Cross country: Glenbard North's Schager wins state championship
The Class 3A state titles that Glenbard North's Grace Schager and Hinsdale Central's Aden Bandukwala won could not have been more different.
Schager ran away from the pack and won by a wide margin, as she has all season.
Bandukwala, in the final race of the IHSA Cross Country State Meet at Detweiller Park, won in what his sport would almost consider a photo finish, by .31 of a second over Oak Park-RIver Forest's Liam Newhart.
Bandukwala and teammate Dan Watcke, who was third, nearly led the Red Devils to the state team title with 89 points, but Plainfield South edged them out by a point. Downers Grove North was third with 150.
York's girls scored their lowest point total in school history at a state meet (58), but were kept from repeating as Class 3A team champs by Prospect with 39 points.
In Class 2A, Riverside-Brookfield's boys won the team championship with 131 points, ahead of Belvidere North (155) and Glenbard South (157). It is the Bulldogs' first team state title in any sport.
Glenbard North girls coach Eric Day had hoped that Schager could make a run at Naperville North's Judy Pendergast 15:54 state meet record set in 2015, but the wet weather did not cooperate.
Heavy rains over night and Saturday morning made the course muddy and slippery. Lead runners often moved to the left or right side of the path to avoid the mud in the middle.
Glenbrook North's Juliet Frum (17:16.66) was second to Schager, 36 seconds back, which Day said was her closest competitor all season.
"It's definitely awesome," said Schager, who can sign her National Letter of Intent Wednesday with Notre Dame. "If anything it goes back to the summer miles. My coach (Day) has been awesome. He's created an amazing training plan for me. Having that trust in him really paid off. I'm thankful for all he's been able to do and for the support of my team as well."
Day said Schager has performed well all season basically running by herself.
"It has been hard for her, you get to the mile mark and you're there by yourself," Day said. "She was state champion in 3,200 in track, but there she would sit with the pack and make a move with 800 to go. So this is new to be out running in front.
"Had it been a dry day with better conditions, she would have been able to go for that record, we've kind of been talking about that. We knew with the conditions we couldn't do that, so we said, 'Hey, put yourself in position to win. Put yourself in a clean spot. Get a lead and find dry ground wherever you can.' She did a great job."
York senior Bria Bennis took third in the 3A girls race and was thrilled by her team's finish, even though it was not another state title.
"We ran better than we had ever," Bennis said. "This is the lowest York girls scored in history, so we are the best York girls team in history. We all ran amazing. We had three girls in the top 10 and six in the top 28, it was really, really exciting."
Bandukwala, Newhart and Watcke took the top three spots in the West Suburban Conference Meet earlier, but Watcke was first, Newport was second and Bandukwala was third.
This time, Bankukwala and Newport were even in the final 20 meters and Bandukwala made just enough of a surge to win in 14:46.15. Newport finished in 14:46.46.
"I was just thinking back to the (West Suburban) conference meet and it was a similar race with Liam right on me," Bandukwala said. "I was so tired at the end. I thought Liam had me for a second, but I just gave it everything I had.
"It still hasn't set in. It's so surreal. I thought about it a couple days ago, what if I did win But to be honest about it, top 10 or top five was the goal."
Riverside-Brookfield's boys won the Kaneland Sectional last week, in which Belvidere North and Glenbard South also competed. But the Bulldogs did not particularly like the way they ran in that meet.
They had a different outlook on Saturday as Cooper Marrs took fifth and Jack O'Brien was 16th to lead the Bulldogs to the title.
"That sectional was a huge confidence booster," Marrs said. "We were all looking to run our best race and see where that put us. I couldn't be more thrilled with it. This is definitely a huge improvement from last week to this week. It's great to see everybody come together."
R-B's previous best state finish in cross country was a second place in 1973.
"You have a bunch of kids who really care and it showed up today," Bulldogs coach Jack Brady said. "They were good all summer about being here. The workouts were unbelievable. Not only do they care about how they run, they care about each other. That was the biggest thing.
"Last week the kids, to a man, didn't think they ran very well, and we won. So that kind of reinforced maybe there were bigger things ahead."
Glenbard South was led by All-Staters Ryan Chung (23rd) and Jaden Frederick (25th). Marmion's Connor Carlson (15th) and Fenwick's Nathaniel McKillop (18th) also earned All-State honors.
In the Class 2A girls race, Nazareth's Colette Kinsella (13th), Fenwick's Bella Daley (17th) and St. Francis' Margaret Andrzejewski (22nd) all earned All-State honors.
Crystal Lake South, with 155 points, took fourth as a team in the Class 2A girls race, missing a trophy for the second consecutive year by four points. Grayslake Central (106) repeated as champion, followed by Lakes (125) and Washington (151).
The top 25 runners in each race are awarded All-State status. South's Bella Gonzalez (20th) and Cary-Grove's Jocelyn Onstot (24th) also were Class 2A All-Staters. C-G's Ada Saletnik was 26th, missing by one spot.
In the Class 3A girls race, Huntley twins Breanna and Brittney Burak (12th and 21st) and McHenry's Danielle Jensen (14th) and Lynda Rotundo (25th) were All-Staters.
South girls coach Ken Greenfield got emotional about one mile into the race. The Gators ran the last few weeks without key contributor Colette Bacidore, who was out with leg injuries.
"I just saw them and we were running well and competing," Greenfield said. "I wanted to see us come out with no fear and go chase. And you could see right away, at a mile, that was happening. That's what I wanted to see."
South's Olivia Pinta was 37th, then the Gators' Abby Machesky, Victoria Pinta and Gianna Pinta came across in 47th through 49th.
"The last 300 I told Victoria to go," said Gianna Pinta, a senior sister of twins Olivia and Victoria. "That was really cool to finish like that."
South won three sectional titles in a row, but there was no state meet in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm so proud of our team," Gators senior Anna McDermott said. "We've been working so hard. Even though the conditions are what they are, we're just going to go out and do it. To see that it ended like this, I couldn't be happier. I'm so excited."
After finishing the Class 3A girls race, the Burak twins embraced in tears as they both were All-Staters.
"This is crazy to me because this has been my goal the whole season. I've been thinking about it a lot," Brittney Burak said. "It was exciting to see it all come together. I heard people shouting places as I was running and I almost didn't believe it."
Brittney Burak will sign with Indiana State on Wednesday, Breanna will sign with Illinois State.
"I always dreamed of this, to see my sister do it too with me is really big," said Breanna Burak, while shedding joyous tears. "We all came out here and knew conditions were going to be tough, but everyone's running in the same place. It's all about being mentally prepared for anything.
"Me not having a great race here last year really motivated me and helped me get my head in the right spot as far as what to expect and really believing in myself."
Jensen was thrilled with her finish after taking 50th as a sophomore last year.
"I am so shocked. I was hoping for All-State, but I really didn't think it was possible," Jensen said. "I'm really happy with how that ended. I'm so excited. In 3A, these girls are insane, they're so good. I'm so happy with it, all the work finally paid off.
"That was so exciting to see (Rotundo) get that in her senior year."