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NORMAL -- In their first trip to the state meet since 2010, the PBL Junior High School girls cross country team came home with a 22nd-place finish.

"That's fantastic for our first time in Class 2A," PBL head coach Rob Pacey said. "This is a special group of young ladies, and I'm really excited to see what the future holds for them."

Mackenzie Swan (13:34), Sydney Pickens (13:38), Jordyn Goss (13:41), and Josephine Royer (13:42) finished with the 16th-, 18th-, 21st-, and 22nd-best state meet times ever for PBL.

Tanner Graham (13:58) and Jordan Davis (14:28) also ran career bests for the Panthers.

"Tanner was actually leading for us at 1,000 meters. It took a lot of guts for her to do that, and it kept our pack together," Pacey said.

For Swan, it was a race of redemption, as she missed out on qualifying for the state meet as an individual by six seconds in 2018. Goss, who hadn't run cross country since sixth grade, stepped up as a reliable team scorer throughout the year, says Pacey.

"Jordyn always finds a way to be there in our top five," Pacey continued. "She's salty."

Royer and Davis, both first-year cross country runners, put together fantastic races at the right moment for the Panthers, says Pacey.

"Those two stepped way out of their comfort zone, and it was awesome to see them grow and gain confidence this year," Pacey continued.

Pickens, known as "Beast" by her teammates, according to Pacey, was one of the team's most consistent performers all season

"Sydney is the definition of reliable - always ready to race," said Pacey.

"A 24-second split from 1 to 5 is fantastic. The girls pushed each other the whole way. Our goal was to put the pack under 14 mintues and run our personal bests, and we accomplished that today," Pacey continued. "There's a lot of work behind the scenes that people don't see. Most of these girls played softball, basketball, or both in addition to running cross country.

"It takes a vision and a village to get the job done. Coach Pickens, Coach Johnson and I worked together to do what was best for these girls and what was best for PBL. It's a lot of morning practices, a lot of parent involvement, and a lot of sharing time to do what's right for our student-athletes. Today was a success story for the multisport athlete. This team is a blueprint for youth sports in our community. PBL is the priority, not any one program."

PBL brings back eight of its top ten runners next season, with only Swan and Goss graduating.

"I think five girls under 13:00 and a top-10 team finish is possible next year," Pacey said. "We're excited for the challenge."

On the boys' side, PBL eighth-grader Nicolas Varon wrapped up his debut season with a time of 12:30, finishing in 163rd place overall in the Class 2A boys race.

Not bad, Pacey said, for an athlete who had never run more than 400 meters in a race before August. Varon, a native of Columbia, was far more familiar with soccer than track and field when he arrived at PBL Junior High last winter.

After a successful spring - and a medal in the 2019 IESA state meet as an alternate on the seventh-grade 4 x 100 relay team - his mother convinced him to give cross country a try in the fall.

"The lesson here is that mom is always right," joked PBL head coach Rob Pacey. "We were in his driveway at the end of July talking about trying the first week with the team, and here we are in October at the state meet. If you put in the work, good things happen."

With each meet, Varon improved his fitness and his racing skills, says Pacey.

"I don't think he ever believed he could be our top runner until the last week of the season, but the sectional was a huge confidence boost for him." said Pacey.

Having teammates Landen Barfield and Isaiah Busby to train with during the state meet week was also key, says Pacey.

"Those guys deserve a lot of credit. It takes character to miss out on state then show up for a whole week to help out your teammate," noted Pacey.

Varon is one of several eighth-grade boys who will be joining a high school boys team that, accordng to Pacey, is on the rise. Coach Dustin Franckey's runners will be looking for their third straight trip to the IHSA State Finals this November.

"Those guys have set a great example for our younger kids to follow. Watch out for our boys team in the future, because they're ready to do big things," said Pacey. "We have the pieces, but we need to make sure we put in the work in the offseason."

IESA CLASS 2A STATE MEET

BOYS

Team scores

1. Tolono Unity, 135; 2. La Grange Gurrie, 136; 3. St. Joseph, 166; 4. Channahon, 176; 5. Monticello, 201; 6. Round Lake Park, 236; 7. Washington Central, 243; 8. El Paso-Gridley, 273; 9. Prospect Heights MacArthur, 279; 10. Eureka, 294; 11. River Forest Roosevelt, 335; 12. Robinson Nuttall, 389; 13. Quincy St. Peter, 404; 14. Willowbrook Westview Hills, 408; 15. Sandwich, 431; 16. Winnebago, 436; 17. Prophetstown PLT, 458; 18. Pontiac, 458; 19. Manhattan, 460; 20. Glenview Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 472; 21. Petersburg PORTA, 488; 22. Mokena, 495; 23. Bethalto Trimpe, 493; 24. Divernon Auburg, 503; 25. Herscher Limestone, 509; 26. Farmington Central, 528; 27. Rochester, 742.

Top indivduals

1. Isaac Crumrine (Riverton) 10:36.9; 2. Benjamin Gibson (Latin) 10:39.8; 3. Trey Sato (RLP) 10:41.5; 4. Sam Tellefson (WC) 10:11.1; 5. Tedros Berhorst (QSP) 10:50; 6. Vince Demma (Mokena) 10:51.2; 7. Carlo Lissuzzo (RFR) 10:51.6; 8. Haven Gronewold (PORTA) 10:51.7; 9. Jack Willenborg (PP) 10:51.1; 10. William Gelon (CLPG) 10:52.6.

PBL result -- 163. Nicolas Varon, 12:30.2.

GIRLS

Team scores

1. Tolono Unity, 50; 2. Chicago Latin School, 130; 3. Robinson Nuttall, 165; 4. East Peoria Central, 170; 5. Elmhurst Visitation, 219; 6. Washington Central, 231; 7. St. Joseph, 237; 8. River Forest Roosevelt, 254; 9. Channahon, 267; 10. Glenview Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 268; 11. Manhattan, 275; 12. Monticello, 326; 13. Washington, 250; 14. Johnsburg, 362; 15. Sandwich, 375; 16. Williamsville, 376; 17. Springfield St. Agnes, 427; 18. Round Lake Park, 449; 19. Bethalto Trimpe, 476; 20. Athens, 483; 21. Divernon Auburn, 548; 22. Paxton-Buckley-Loda, 563; 23. Beecher, 568; 24. Romeoville Lukancic, 588; 25. Canton Ingersoll, 625; 26. Prophetstown PLT, 643; 27. Rockton Stephen Mack, 645.

Top individuals

1. Bella Domier (RLP) 11:21.1; 2. Maria Polyakov (RFR) 11:26; 3. Erica Woodard (Unity) 11:49.7; 4. Raegen Stringer, 11:50; 5. Sophia Flowers (LUK) 11:52.3; 6. Mia Kotler (Latin) 11:54.3; 7. Katelyn Jones (Nuttall) 11:55.4; 8. Julia Mingus (EPC) 12:01.4; 9. Kiersten White (MANH) 12:04.8; 10. Emma Burke (OLPH) 12:06.1.

PBL results -- 131. Mackenzie Swan, 13:34.1; 139. Sydney Pickens, 13:38.1; 144. Jordyn Goss, 13:41.1; 146. Josephine Royer, 13:42.7; 164. Tanner Graham, 13:58.3; 199. Jordan Davis, 14:28.6.