The tortuous wait for Madeline Perez came to a close last weekend at the West Suburban Silver girls cross country championship.
The all-time state record-holder in the sport, Perez made her long-awaited season debut for Glenbard West.
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Perez, who also captured Class 3A championships at 1,600- and 3,200-meters last spring at the state track and field meet, finished runner-up to Hinsdale Central freshman Alexa Haff.
The Hilltoppers, who also feature returning all-state performers Lindsay Graham and Lisa Luczak, won their third consecutive conference championship behind its top-five runners finishing no worse than seventh.
"At the beginning of the season, I had some tightness in my calves," Perez said. "It took longer than I had hoped. The worst thing was I was not able to contribute to our team score. I just love to race."
Glenbard West, third last season at the 25-team state meet in Peoria, has grand designs on winning the first team state championship in program history.
The Hilltoppers begin their quest Saturday as the three-week state series commences at sites throughout the area.
"It's always good to have Madeline Perez back on the team," Glenbard West coach Paul Hass said of the reigning state champion. "Having Madeline come back is a huge boost to the team. We are anything but satisfied (after dominating the conference meet). The state is loaded with talent. Excellence is a moving target."
After ascending the mountaintop with her triple crown of distance racing last year, Perez has one imperative to her final cross country campaign. She wants to win a state title.
"Going into the season, it was my No. 1 goal," Perez said. "I would love more than anything for that to happen, to bring the state championship to Glenbard West."
Underclassmen Grace Rogers and Janie Nabholz provide yet more ammunition to the Hilltoppers' immense arsenal.
"(The conference championship) was not a perfect race," Hass said of the Hilltoppers' 43-point win over Hinsdale Central. "We still have some things to work on."
Perez, meanwhile, is in the midst of a crucial period.
"I have taken three official (college) visits," Perez said of one positive to being out of action. "It is such an important decision."
Just warming up:
Glenbard South senior John Wold is the other reigning individual state cross country champion from the area.
Wold also missed several prestigious invites during the regular season.
The Raiders' star, who begins his quest to defend all three boys Class 2A postseason races Saturday at Wheaton Academy, tuned up with a pair of recent victories, including the Metro Suburban Conference meet last weekend.
The Raiders finished second to consensus No. 1-ranked Illiana Christian in their league meet.
"(Our kids are) finally starting to get healthy," Glenbard South coach Doug Gorski said. "We're kind of getting ready for the regional and sectional. The goal is to be in the top five (at the sectional)."
Gorski will be without the services of all-state returnee Joe Singleton at the Wheaton Academy regional this weekend due to injury.
The Broncos are back:
The Montini girls program is another team coming back from a trophy-winning season from a year ago.
Brittany Fisher captured the Suburban Christian Conference championship with ease last Saturday at Marmion.
"We will be hard pressed to do what we did last year," Montini coach Pete Connelly said of his current squad. "We will concentrate on getting out of the regional. (Fisher) wasn't really pushed. She ran a really nice first mile. She won very comfortably."
Wheaton Academy edged Rosary for the SCC team championship behind the all-freshmen quintet of Gretchen Pearson, Anne Joy Setran, Sierra Stapleton, Rebecca Smith and Claire Casto.
St. Francis' Meghan McShea was runner-up to Fisher.
A familiar face:
Wheaton Academy has the distinction of having a three-time Olympian as its new coach for the boys and girls cross country programs.
Jim Spivey, the former state champion runner from Fenton, took over the reins this fall.
"They asked me if I would help out, and I said, 'sure,'" Spivey said.
Spivey represented the United States in the 1,500-meter run at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1992 Barcelona games; the 1978 Fenton alumnus ran the 5,000-meter run at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Spivey has three boys who either now or formerly attended the West Chicago high school.
"I don't know if (the Wheaton Academy girls) have ever won (a conference championship)," Spivey said. "We really thought the best we could do was finish third. It will be a challenge to get out of the regional."
Two-time defending champion Yorkville headlines the girls Class 2A field at Kress Creek.
Joe Newton shows no signs of retiring.
The beyond legendary coach at York began his unprecedented career at the Elmhurst high school when Dwight Eisenhower occupied the Oval Office.
Nearing an extraordinary 30 team state championships, the Dukes have yet to be defeated this year at a boys competition.
York won its 12th consecutive West Suburban Silver title last weekend.
Newton has won a hard-to-fathom 47 cross country conference championships since taking over the program in 1960.
York has been the No. 1-ranked Class 3A team all season.
"It was another titanic struggle (with second-rated Hinsdale Central)," Newton said of the latest conquest. "(The kids) have their eyes on the state meet. It has been a real good year for us so far. I am 84 years old. I'm getting pretty (darn) old. But if you are still having fun at what you're doing, why quit?"