There wasn't much wiggle room for area boys cross country teams and individuals hoping to earn a berth to the state meet Saturday morning at the Class 3A Schaumburg sectional.
Mid-Suburban League teams dominated the 19-team meet on the 3-mile Busse Woods course, with Hersey holding off rival squad Buffalo Grove 93-112 for the championship under the roughly 45-degree running conditions.
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Palatine took third place by a narrow 154-157 margin over perennial power Lake Zurich as the Bears will be making their sixth straight trip to Detweiller Park next Saturday under coach J.B. Hanson.
That left one final team berth to the state meet, but a 184-184 tie for fifth place meant that both Prospect and Conant will be heading to Peoria next weekend to compete in the storied 3-mile race.
Lake Zurich's push for fourth place was led by elite freshman Matt Pereira, who placed sixth in 15:30. The Bears' top-five pack also featured Will Llanos (24th), Dave Brown (26th), Austin Kuehr (40th), and Matt Reninger (64th).
"We ran awesome, the kids deserve all the credit, and they worked harder than any team we've had to get to this place," said Hanson, whose team placed fourth in Class 3A last year. "This is a case where hard work over time beat talent and we like to pride ourselves on our hard work."
After battling some pre-meet jitters, Pereira really shined as the Bears' top runner Saturday.
"Going into the race I was kind of nervous because there were going to be a lot of good runners, but then I felt a lot better once the race started," said Pereira. "I think our team really stepped up today, we stepped up to the challenge, and I'm really proud of our team."
It is never easy to get out of the Schaumburg sectional as a team or an individual, but there were two Lake County individuals who refused to be denied earning their trip to the state meet Saturday.
Libertyville senior Pat Humen got the job done in the pressure-packed meet as Humen placed 10th in 15:37 to earn the fifth of seven at-large berths to Peoria. Humen is a first-year cross country runner and the second Wildcat in a row (Nick Korhumel) to qualify for state.
"It's a great feeling that all of the work I did this season and over the summer paid off in this race," said Humen, who collapsed following the race in exhaustion before eventually getting to his feet. "I tried to stay in the top 10 the whole race and I think I was dehydrated at the end of the race."
Libertyville assistant coach Ben Zollo could not have been happier with Humen's consistent performance from start to finish Saturday.
"He ran his guts out, he knew he had to be in the top 10, and he did exactly what he had to do," said Zollo, who has been filling in for head coach Mark Buesing. "His top spot was ninth, his lowest was 11th or 12th so he was locked into that place for the whole race."
While Humen's performance was a mild surprise to some people, Warren sophomore Dustin Macuiba's 12th-place finish had to be quite a shocker to many onlookers.
Despite being spiked on the outside of his left foot at the start of the race Macuiba stayed strong the whole way to earn the seventh and final berth downstate.
Warren's Martin Martinez was an all-state runner the past two seasons for the Blue Devils.
"I'm really happy with the race and I went out a little slower which helped me make it through the race," said Macuiba, who finished in 15:40. "Coming into the race I thought we had a really good chance to make it as a team and making it as an individual was in my mind."
The eighth-place Blue Devils (206 points) did make a push for one of the top-five places to earn their first trip downstate in school history. But they finished just short of the mark behind seventh-place Fremd (195 points) and the two fifth-place squads.
"We ran the best race we've run all year and if you're going to do it, this is the place to do it," said Warren coach Bill Dawson. "Being a sophomore he (Macuiba) always stayed back and tried to catch up and this was the first race he went out at the beginning and he put himself in a position to compete with everybody else."
Besides Macuiba, Warren's pack was led by Jakob Martinez (34th), Adam Shurson (50th), Marcus Shamberg (54th), and Pat Kreis (59th).
Grant senior Dalyn Romig was definitely the hard-luck runner of the day. Romig placed 13th in 15:43, but he still missed the state meet cut-off by just one place behind Macuiba.
Stevenson sophomore Jared Borowsky put together a late surge to lead the Patriots in 20th place while junior teammate Sam Oh struggled to a 41st-place finish.