Glenbard West junior Madeline Perez had high expectations for the Class 3A state meet back on Sept. 15 after her race at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, the annual state course, in the Richard Spring Invitational.
Her 16:29 for 3.0 miles was second that day to Lake Park senior Kaylee Flanagan’s all-time girls course record of 16:21, yet Perez’s time was fast enough to win all but two state meets since their start in 1979.
The feeling of accomplishment quickly was overshadowed by illness.
“I literally got home from the invite and I just didn’t feel right,” Perez said. “I went to the doctor a couple of days later. I had a sinus, upper respiratory and ear infection, all in one. It literally knocked me out for about a month.”
Eight weeks later, after overcoming her illness and altered training, Perez returned to Detweiller Park Saturday for the 3A state meet feeling that she would be able to run her best.
She responded with the fastest girls time ever run on the course and the second-fastest reported time in the nation this season.
Perez became Glenbard West’s first state champion in the sport after she ran a blistering 16:02 to win the title by 13 seconds over York senior Emma Fisher (16:15), who also broke the previous course record. New Trier senior Courtney Ackerman (16:27) and Flanagan (16:39) were third and fourth.
“It meant the world to me. It was just so exciting. To finally see everything come together at the end of the season was just awesome,” Perez said. “It feels amazing. There have been so many great runners that have gone through the state of Illinois, it’s just an honor to be up there with all of the rest of them.
“(The illness) was really hard on me, but I just had so many great people around me, keeping me positive the entire time, just letting my body kind of build its way back. I knew it was only going to recover so fast. It all worked out well in the end, and I thank just all of those people around me to keep my mental attitude up that I could get back to where I was.”
There was even more to celebrate. The Hilltoppers also earned a team trophy by taking third with 138 points behind Naperville North (113) and Lake Park (133). It’s the third trophy for the program but the first since 1980.
Glenbard West sophomore Lisa Luczak also joined Perez in earning individual all-state, top-25 honors by taking sixth (16:45), followed by senior Emma Reifel (51st, 17:38), freshmen Grace Rogers (59th, 17:44) and Christina Sedall (78th, 17:55) and seniors Cynthia Mote (105th, 18:13) and Kate Majewski (143rd, 18:33). Other members of the state roster were sophomore Megan Ozog and freshmen Maddy Burt, Kate Dorsey, Caitlyn Reick and Abby Shaver.
With four runners also part of last year’s state lineup, the Hilltoppers were sixth in 2011 (221 points), 38 points from third, and ninth in 2010 (250).
Six Hilltoppers achieved personal-record times Saturday.
“The trophy’s awesome and great and it’s just kind of showing what they did, but, truly, just running well (at state), that’s the ultimate reward,” Glenbard West coach Paul Hass said.
“I didn’t share this with (Perez beforehand), but I thought she could break the course record – if the conditions were good. That she could run 16:02, that was beyond my expectations," he said. "I couldn’t be more proud of her. She works so hard. She does everything right and she brought it forward today to show how great of an athlete she is.”
Based on reported results to cross country websites, the only faster national girls high-school time this season than Perez's is 16:00 by Simi Valley (Calif.) junior Sarah Baxter at the 65th annual Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) Invitational Oct. 20, breaking the course record by 16 seconds.
Perez dusted the all-time state finals record time of 16:22 set by Woodstock’s Kayla Beattie in the 2010 2A race as well as the 3A finals record of 16:24 that gave graduated Amanda Fox of Naperville Central last year’s championship.
After the four frontrunners took out the first mile in 5:13 Saturday, Perez began to gain a slight lead during the second mile for a personal-best split of 10:36, 14 seconds faster than in September, to open a gap on the rest of the field.
“It was kind of hard to tell how far behind me everyone else was, but it felt good. My legs were feeling really good so I was just like, ‘All right, every step keep pushing, keep pushing. It’s only 3 miles,’ ” Perez said.
“When I was coming up the homestretch and I heard (the announcer) saying 15:57, 58, 59, I was like, ‘Holy cow. Oh my gosh. Whoa.’ I was definitely shooting for a (personal record) for sure. I was pretty confident on this fast course with all of the great competitors that it would turn out a good time. I was happy with it. I was a little shocked, actually, but in the end it was like, ‘All right. I did it,’ so it was pretty fun.”
Compared with her Detweiller race in September, Perez was one second behind that pace at the mile (5:13), but she picked up time with a strong second mile (5:23) that was 14 seconds faster. Her final mile was only slightly slower in 5:26.
“We talked about her running her race, everyone has to catch her, she’s the favorite and that was the best thing about it,” Hass said. “She was ready to run three days ago. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. She ran her race and if you get beat, you get beat.”
Perez becomes only the second multiple all-stater in Glenbard West history, joining Kyna Forkins, who was 23rd in 1997 and 14th in 1998 in Class AA. At state last year, Perez was 15th (17:15) behind nine underclassmen, including Ackerman and Flanagan, the top returnees in third and fourth. As a freshman, Perez was 29th (17:28), 13 seconds from 25th place.
Perez and the Hilltoppers realized quickly this could be a special season. In their first race Sept. 1, Perez won the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational by 14 seconds over Ackerman and Glenbard West captured the title 51-55 over New Trier, the defending state champions that finished fourth Saturday (147 points).
The top six state finishers competed against each other at the Niles West Sectional Oct. 27 and five of them, minus Ackerman, were at the Lake Park Regional Oct. 20. In the first two of five straight weeks racing against each other, Perez was second to Fisher in the team’s dual meet Oct. 4 by about 20 seconds and at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division Meet Oct. 13 by 9.1 seconds.
Then Perez won the regional by 20.5 seconds and the sectional by 23.23 seconds with Fisher second both times.
“Regionals was really good, kind of a step back (to form). I was really confident after that race,” Perez said. “I was kind of like, ‘All right. I feel better again. If I can just stay healthy and keep doing what I’ve been doing, I think state will be good.’ ”
“She felt rejuvenated,” Hass said. “It was like a second season. The Hornet-Red Devil was so awesome and Peoria was great and then it was just a matter of getting healthy again and coming back.”
Several Hilltoppers gave inspirational performances. While Perez flirted with breaking 16:00, the Hilltoppers also achieved their season goal of at least five girls under 18:00 and two under 17:00.
“We wanted to try and get two medals are Madeline’s and Lisa’s neck and we were able to do that, but the more important thing, and I mean this sincerely, is we ran well,” Hass said.
Luczak made huge strides from last year’s state meet, improving 47 places and 1:14, after battling anemia as a freshman. Third at regionals and sectionals, Luczak was slightly disappointed that Fenwick sophomore Olivia Ryan (16:43) edged her out for fifth place.
Luczak now has the Hilltoppers' fourth highest individual state finish. Farah Jadran was second in 2002 and Nell Shields was third in 1995, both in Class AA.
“I wasn’t too happy since I wanted to get top five, but I did my best so that was all I could ask for,” Luczak said.
“I couldn’t get all of the training (last season), but this year I think that really helped and I think just being older and a more mature runner. (Perez) helps a ton, not only supportively but also with her running standpoint. She’s just so fast and it’s great to have someone to look out for on the team. Since she’s in front of me, it’s nice to go off of her.”
Luczak also made probably the biggest improvement of anyone during the race. Hass said he saw her in 103rd place after one-half mile, yet by the 2-mile mark, she was in the top 15 with a tight pack of runners in fifth through 11th in contact.
Her comeback also occurred despite battling a tight hamstring that Luczak says loosens during her second and third miles.
“She did OK, but man she gave me a scare, too (early in the race),” Hass said. “I know she was disappointed in sixth. She wanted top five so that’s going to burn a fire in her for next year.”
In her third state meet, Reifel improved upon her best state race of 2011 by 31 places and 45 seconds. No. 4 runner Rogers made her varsity debut at sectionals, where she also was the team’s No. 4 finisher.
Mote also competed at state last year and Majewski in 2010. Mote, who improved upon her 2011 finish by 31 places and 38 seconds, would have easily given the Hilltoppers third place on a sixth-runner tiebreaker over any team behind them.
Hass estimated that Sedall, the Hilltoppers’ No. 5 finisher, passed about 15 runners in the final 300 meters. Sedall’s sister, Lauren, was the No. 3 state finisher (52nd, 17:48) for Glenbard West’s 2010 state team.
“(Lauren) just really said you’ve got to think about it like it’s just any other race,” Sedall said. “At the end, I really wanted to leave it out on the course. When you’re really struggling, you just think about how you really just want to do it for your team, even though you’re hurting.”
Glenbard West previously finished second to Downers Grove North at the 1980 state meet and was third at the first state meet in 1979.
Before, during and after Saturday's medal and trophy presentations, Perez received congratulations from Fisher, who has become a good friend, and other coaches and runners besides those among the Glenbard West family.
After the highs and lows of this season, Perez responded with her appreciation, especially for her parents, sister, brother and aunt, who also made the trip to Peoria.
“My family has got to be just the No. 1 supporters. They’ve been through this all with me and I just can’t thank them enough and my friends, my coaches, my teammates. They understood that I wasn’t feeling well and helped me get back to where I was,” Perez said.
“It was all around just a great season. It started out kind of high. I had that low point, but I think that mentally that was a really good push for me. I think the illness might have been a little bit (of a benefit), just to kind of work on my toughness and just to see if I can push myself to get back to where I was. I wasn’t willing to give up so easily.”
Glenbard West boys cross country
In the Class 3A boys cross country state race, Glenbard West finished 13th (334 points) in the program’s first state team appearance since 1978.
All seven Hilltoppers made their state debuts. Senior Brandon Bonifer was 33rd (14:54), six seconds shy of 25th, followed by senior Will Lindstrom (81st, 15:17), sophomores Chris Buechner (82nd, 15:18) and Paul Christian (117th, 15:30), freshman Eric Neumann (133rd, 15:36) and seniors Neel Patel (174th, 15:53) and Jack Prescott (178th, 15:56). Other members of the postseason roster were seniors Alec Larsen, junior Dan Harman and sophomores Nate Crail, Ben Hecht and Jake Jaskowiak.
The Hilltoppers, who qualified with the fifth and final spot from the Niles West Sectional Oct. 27, were No. 24 in the final 3A Dyetrack state rankings following regionals.