PEORIA -- Conant junior Zach Dale and Palatine junior Graham Brown came into the season with high expectations.
The two didn't disappoint on a picture perfect fall afternoon on Saturday in the Class 3A boys cross country state meet at Detweiller Park.
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Dale had recently finished first at the Mid Suburban League meet and Hoffman Estates regional before taking second at the Schaumburg sectional. The Cougars junior kept climbing on Saturday, finishing fourth in 14:31 to cap a remarkable season.
"This is exactly what I wanted," said Dale, who emerged in fourth place at the 2-mile mark and didn't blink in the final mile. "I have been planning this race over and over in my head."
The Cougars junior was able to cling to a blistering opening pace and wasn't overwhelmed in his first appearance at the state meet.
"Outstanding," said Conant coach John Powers of Dale's performance. "On some levels it's a relief because we felt he belonged here, and he showed it today."
Dale shifted gears in the final mile and used a final burst to hold off a late charge by York senior Nathan Mroz (14:33) and Maine South senior Jack Carpenter (14:33) in nailing down the fourth place.
"I felt I had to turn it on at the 2-mile mark," Dale said. "I knew I had been training for this all year and I had to make it work."
Brown also made it work. The Pirates junior moved up smoothly throughout the race, inching into the top 12 at the mile mark. He then ran a strong final 2 miles and held off Hinsdale Central senior Billy Magnesen (14:41) at the finish to nail down eighth place.
"Best close I had all year," said Brown, who kicked impressively with 1,200 meters remaining. "I have been working on my confidence all year, and today I just wanted to run confidently, with no regrets."
Brown had a sensational end-of-season run, taking second in the MSL and regional meets and placing fourth at the Schaumburg sectional.
"He ran an incredible race today," said Palatine coach Chris Quick. "He had nothing left in his tank. I couldn't be prouder."
Hinsdale Central placed five runners in the top 43 to win the Class 3A team title with 99 points, led by Magnesen's ninth-place finish.
Senior Zach Smith (14:23) and junior Ryan Clevenger (14:38) finished third and seventh in leading Downers Grove North to second place with 144 points.
O'Fallon senior Patrick Perrier won the individual title in 14:21, holding off McHenry junior Jesse Reiser (14:23) and Smith at the finish to help O'Fallon to the third-place trophy.
Lyons Township (190) and defending Class 3A state champion York (196 points) rounded out the top five.
Hersey had high hopes of securing its first state trophy since 1972 coming into the race, but the Huskies had a rough day, finishing 11th with 298 points.
"They gave it their all, but obviously it was a disappointing day for us," said Hersey coach Jay Renaud whose team won its first MSL title since 1972 and also added its first sectional title. "It seems that they got out a little too fast, they were so amped up and ready to go."
But the Huskies did have some bright spots as junior David Rodriguez (14:58) and senior Andy Philipose (15:00) were able to secure state medals finishing in 18th and 22nd place for the Huskies.
"It was a little disappointing on how we did as a team," said Rodriguez. "Individually I'm happy, but I could have done better. The race did go out fast, and the wind was really a killer."
"I'm glad I got the state medal, I've wanted to be up on that state stage," said Philipose. "But as a team our pack needed to be more together. The entire ride was fun, and we couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished."
Buffalo Grove had a rocky ride this season. The Bison took a hit when senior Steven Salvano, who finished ninth last year in Class 3A, couldn't shake a midseason virus. Then BG had a coaching change, with Zach Crandall taking over the controls. But sophomore Kevin Salvano (14:59) rose to the challenge and concluded his season with a 20th-place finish and state medal, leading BG to 13th place with 339 points.
"I gained confidence all season and believed I could get all-state," said Salvano. "Someone had to step up and I guess I was that guy."
Palatine was in a transition year, but Brown helped power the Pirates to a 14th-place finish with 359 points.
"We're headed in the right direction," said Quick. "It was kind of a down year, but the guys did a great job today. We're looking to come back stronger next year."
Prospect capped a strong conclusion to its season with a 19th-place finish. Junior Mike Anderson (15:20) secured 56th place in pacing the Knights.
"We followed the plan and did our best," said Prospect coach Mike Stokes. "I am really proud of them; they hung in there and battled all season."
Conant finished 21st with 507 points, and with Dale coming back the Cougars seem to be in great position.
"It's huge for the team," said Powers of the experienced gained by the Cougars. "With Zach (Dale) out in front, who knows what we can do? To be a part of this is big."
Hoffman Estates senior Billy Thomas didn't even know if he would finish the season when he was sidelined with a mid-September shin injury. But he bounced back in time to cap his fall with a 21st-place finish, crossing the line in 15:00.
"It's really big to me," said Thomas of his state medal performance. "It is probably the best race I ever had. It's big for the team too. It was a big journey to go through."
Fremd senior Harry Winter (15:11) capped his senior season by taking 39th place and teammate Nick Vucovich (15:32) made a big jump late in the season on his way to 86th.
• St. Viator senior Nick Brey (15:21) used a fast start to earn a 20th-place finish and a state medal in Class 2A. Brey used the experience he gained at the Wheaton Academy sectional and regional to push himself on Saturday.
The Lions junior went up against Glenbard South's John Wold, who won the Class 2A title in 14:38, and Yorkville seniors Jake Hoffert (14:40) and Luke Hoffert (14:43), who went 3-4 in Class 3A at the regional and sectional meet.
That experience paid off at the state meet for Brey, who earned St. Viator's first state medal since Tim Phillips took 25th in 1983.
"Most of the season I was running alone," said Brey, who also won the East Suburban Catholic Conference title. "Regionals and sectionals prepared me for getting out fast and being able to run with people. This is really exciting."
"He really worked hard this year," said St. Viator coach Wayne Edelman. "He became a racer instead of a runner this year."