Two season ago the Lake Zurich boys cross country team shocked just about everyone when it nearly won the Class 3A state meet.
Perennial power York nipped the Bears by 2 points for the championship of that classic state meet at Peoria's Dewtweiller Park.
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Saturday at 2 p.m., Lake Zurich hopes it can once again give the No. 1-ranked Dukes a scare at the 2012 state meet and potentially pull off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the 3-mile race.
After winning the powerful Schaumburg sectional last Saturday by a comfortable 104-136 count over runner-up Barrington, the Bears have definitely put themselves in contention for one of the top-three trophies.
But according to Lake Zurich coach J.B. Hanson, there is probably going to be a pretty large group of squad's who are also capable of taking home one of those trophies.
"There's going to be a lot of good teams at state and as many as 10 teams have a shot to get on the podium," said Hanson, who has already had a lot of success in his seven seasons as head coach. "We're going to just try to run competitively, move up in the middle miles, and we're just proud and privileged to get the opportunity."
For the most part, Lake Zurich has used the winning formula of great pack running en route to its fifth straight North Suburban Conference title, the Grant regional crown, and the sectional championship this fall.
Experience has also been their forte as seniors Trevor Kuehr, Alex Milner, Jon Ramirez, Jared Ripoli, and Rubin Riano were the Bears' top-five finishers at sectionals. Junior Will Llanos will be making his first appearance downstate for Lake Zurich along with senior teammate Bobby Klett.
"We're hoping to find a trophy at the end of the race and it won't be easy, but nothing easy is ever worth it," said Kuehr. "We need everybody to have their best race on the same day and try to have everybody stay together as much as possible because some team's have us beat with their front-runner, but I think we can beat them with our pack."
After placing 24th in Class 3A last year, Warren senior Martin Martinez hopes he can earn all-state (top 25) honors again Saturday afternoon.
"I feel like I'm in good condition, and I just want to go down there and run my race," said Martinez, who placed ninth at sectionals. "Last year I went in there not knowing what to expect so I think I can have a lot better race than I did last year."
Warren coach Bill Dawson is confident that Martinez can close out his high school career on a high note.
"His goal has been all-state all year, he's competitive, and he's been there before," Dawson said. "Knowing the routine down there helps, and we'll taper him next week so hopefully he can run with the same pack."
Libertyville senior Nick Korhumel will also be running as an at-large individual qualifier and he is the first Wildcats' runner to reach state since Ben Willgress was all-state in 1998.
"To be there makes me feel awesome, and being able to run at Detweiller for the first time is exciting itself," said Korhumel. "I will probably try to stay with Martin (Martinez), and hopefully if I stay with him that will get me to all-state."
All-state is a lofty goal for just about any runner, but Libertyville coach Mark Buesing will be proud of Korhumel regardless of the outcome.
"He's running great and there is no reason he can not run in the top quarter of that race," said Buesing. "All-state is a long shot, but he should set his sights on doing well down there."
The gun for the Class 2A state meet will sound at noon with the Lake County area sending four individual at-large qualifiers into the 3-mile race.
Three-time senior state qualifier Ryan Prais of Lakes will lead that group of runners into the big meet after placing eighth at the rugged Belvidere sectional.
Vernon Hills teammates Ben Mohrdieck and Kyle Whitney will get a taste of the big meet as juniors while Grayslake Central senior Kevin Boyle is also running in the pressure-packed meet.
"We're hoping he (Boyle) can get a personal best and it's a really strong year for Class 2A," said Grayslake Central coach Jim Centella. "He ran the best race of his career (at sectionals), and we're extremely proud of him."