'I will never forget this experience': PBL boys cross country runs at IHSA Class 1A state meet

PEORIA -- Before each race this season, Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School boys cross country team member Adam McMullin led his team in a cheer.
McMullin's chant would have him screaming, “PBL. Can do. Will do. All for one. One for all. I believe. I believe. I believe, with his team repeating each phrase back to McMullin.
“We stole it from the football team," McMullin said.
Until Saturday, such huddles did not exist for PBL, as it was making its first state appearance since 2007.
“I'm very thankful that we were able to get to state. I think it's the shot in the arm that we need as a program to get us over the hump and start snowballing to where we're expected to come here every year," PBL head coach Dustin Franckey said. “Punching our ticket is the first step. We're looking to make waves at the state level. The first part's done, and we're going to continue to build on this.”
The Panthers earned the trip to state with a third-place finish in the Lisle Sectional the previous Saturday.
“The guys had a great two weeks of practice," Franckey said. "They bought into exactly what we're wanting to do as a program this year, as well as the next two or three years.”
For at least a majority of the Panther runners, it was not their first state meet as they qualified for the IESA state meet as PBL Junior High School runners.
"In eighth grade, I thought (the IESA state meet) was a big state meet, but this is way bigger," said junior Alec St. Julien, who finished 39th in the IESA state meet in 2014. “I would say the experience was very stunning. Running up the hill in the last 400 meters and seeing all the people was crazy. I couldn't run with a better group of people than this no matter what. These are my brothers, pretty much. We're a family."
“The experience was life-remembering. I will never forget this experience, just seeing the crowds go back and forth and seeing everyone's face after the race," PBL senior Brady Barfield added. "It was incredible. I wouldn't have wanted to run with any other guys.”
Since 2007, a year in which two Panthers -- Nick Brehm and Tom Pacey -- also claimed state medals, the PBL boys had two individual state qualifiers.
Pacey returned to state in 2009 and earned a sixth-place medal. Six years later, Nick Porter finished 32nd at the state meet.
Porter returned to Detwiller Park on Saturday to see the Panthers run. It was not too far of a drive for him, as he now runs cross country and track and field for Bradley University, but Franckey said he has made plenty of two-hour trips to Paxton since his graduation in the spring of 2016.
“Nick has been a great guy for these guys to talk to," Franckey said. "He still comes and visits every once in a while. He's still super-close with a lot of the guys in the top seven.”
PBL junior girls runner Evie Ellis, who qualified for the state meet individually last year, was one of a few girls who practiced with the team during the week leading up to Saturday's state meet, even though the girls' season ended at the previous Saturday's Lisle Sectional.  
“She was there every day, even after sectionals, still practicing and going through the motions," Franckey said. Having her here was very helpful.”
Audrey Bloomquist, a fellow 2016 PBL graduate along with Porter, showed up to watch PBL run at state as well. “It was great seeing her here to cheer on the guys," Franckey said. "When the alumni keep coming back, that's exactly what the program needs – the alumni to stay active with the current high school programs, and our high schoolers are staying active with our junior high program.”
PBL volunteer coach Mike Tipsord -- who is another alum as he graduated from Paxton High School more than 40 years ago -- is “here without fail," Franckey said. "He's an awesome rock for this team. His knowledge and wisdom is worth its weight in gold. I can't thank him enough for being there every single day for morning practices."
Tipsord has helped PBL out with many little things, including making sure the runners had all their equipment for Saturday.
“We had some kids forget some stuff the last couple of weeks. He would just harp on it," Franckey said. "He takes a look at all of our stats and kind of picks them apart and spends all weekend looking at it, and comes up with some great data to poll in our No. 6 or No. 7 boys and girls and say, 'Your spots matter, even though (they don't count as part of) a team score.' The little things that he brings to the table is just awesome because it just gets everybody psyched and ready to kick tail.”
PBL sets personal records en route to 20th-place finish
According to Franckey, each of his seven runners set at least a grass-course personal record. He estimates that six of them set lifetime personal records.
“That's awesome. That's exactly what we need at this time of the year," Franckey said. “I'm very happy with how the guys performed today.”
With a time of 16:01, which was good enough for 53rd overall, senior Kody Harrison went out on a high note as he set his grass-surface personal record.
“It felt pretty cool. I've been training for this for the past four years," Harrison said. "To finally go to high school state, it was an amazing experience. I think the team did pretty well. It was fun."
Harrison and Barfield were the only seniors running for the Panthers, while McMullin served as an alternate. Barfield finished his career with a personal record with a time of 18:11, which was good enough for 195th overall.
“It was great to see them end on a high note," Franckey said. "Kody possibly breaking 16 minutes here on a mediocre day, weather-wise, and Brady running a lifetime personal record is awesome. That's the way to go out as a senior on Detweiller Park.”
“It was great to get up here, even though I'm just an alternate, to watch these seven run," McMullin added. "I worked with them all year, and it was great to finally watch them succeed. Watch them come back next year with a faster team.”
“I'm glad I got here with my team. I was so excited and glad that Kody, Brady and Adam got here before they graduated," Reck added.
St. Julien finished 116th with a time of 16:48.
"I destroyed my personal record, and I love it," St. Julien said. "We all ran well.”
Sophomore Trevor Morse finished 145th with a time of 17:05.
“It was a fun experience. I'm just glad I got to run with the PBL team," Morse said.
Junior Erik Reck placed 151st with a time of 17:11.
“I can't wait until next year to see what this team can do, especially with new people coming in," Reck said. "I think we'll have a great pack and a great season.”
Fellow junior Jordan Giese finished 153rd with a time of 17:12.
“It was fun. I would do it again if I could next year," Giese said.
Nik Schnabel, who joins Morse in PBL's sophomore class, finished 154th with a time of 17:13.
“It was quite an experience. We got a lot of experience out of it because it's a big meet," Schnabel said. "We'll come back next year even stronger and with a lot of experience.”
“Those guys ran outstanding today. They ran lights-out. Trevor Morse ran a huge race. Erik Reck was a little banged up today, but ran out of his mind. This is the time of the year that you do it, and the guys rose to the occasion and executed the race plan perfectly," Franckey added. 
"Those guys who are returning are going to bode well. The Nos. 2-5 guys have all been a part of this program and have seen what Porter, Lester Sander, Corbin Riecks and Audrey Bloomquist started – the foundation of this program – and that's coming to work every single day. What started with them paid off today, with them running lifetime bests and being the first time in the last 10 years to qualify out.”
As a team, PBL placed 20th with a score of 456. Elmwood won the state championship with a score of 150 while Rockford Christian placed second with a score of 164 and Elgin Harvest Christian Academy took the third-place trophy with a score of 170.
“I'm happy with how they ran individually, so that's all I can ask," Franckey said.
Braving the weather
With early-morning rain, temperatures in the 40-50 degree range and occasional drizzles, the PBL cross country team ran through less-than-ideal weather.
"It was colder than last week, it felt like, because of the mist and stuff, but I think since we ran on this course before, and it was lot more muddy and rainy, it felt natural," Harrison said. "It felt pretty nice.”
“I like running in the rain," Morse added. "It's a lot better than the previous races.”
“We've definitely raced in worse weather than this, and I think we were all prepared," St. Julien added. "I knew we all get  pumped when it rains. We want it to be muddy because we just go for places and try to hawk as many people down as we can.”
The previous Saturday, the Panthers ran in Lisle weather that included temperatures in the 30-degree range.
“I think we've had only had one or two races this year where it was actually good weather, so everyone was definitely prepared for this type of thing. We've done it before. Even at sectionals last week, it was hailing, snowing, raining – just about everything – so we were all ready," McMullin said. "We weren't phased by it, and they pushed through it.”
“The weather was a lot better than last time, which was exciting, and it made for some quick times," Giese added.
The Panthers raced at Detweiller Park for the third time of the season on Saturday. They ran at the Peoria Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 16 as well as the Patriot Invite on Oct. 14.
“The first time, it was super-hot. The second time, it was pouring right before our race, and it was extremely muddy," Barfield said Saturday. "Today, it was still rainy, but it felt a lot better, especially on the turns, and I felt like it was faster than any other race we had this year.”
“We've run a lot of muddy races here, and just in general, I think we were prepared," Reck added. "Just the adrenaline of everyone here and all the people who weren't running cheering me on was just great to see.”
“It's a really fun course. It's a great course for the state meet," Schnabel added. "You've just got to have fun.”
With PBL's familiarity with both less-than-ideal weather and the Detweiller Park course, Franckey said there were no major changes to his team's game plan from previous weeks.
"The only different thing we did this week is discuss a number of different turns and how to attack it a turn or two beforehand so that you're not in the slop in a pack," Franckey said. "The only difference was attacking the course a little differently navigation-wise.
“There weren't any huge differences. I asked them to go out a little conservatively because I didn't want them to go out and get caught up in a mad dash through the first mile and just being dead for the rest of the race. That's been our mantra the last four weeks – to go out under control at a specific race pace that will get you in the neighborhood of a lifetime personal record. The guys executed that really well." 
Looking forward to the future
At Saturday's state meet, 17 of the top 25 individual finishers were seniors, including the top four placers -- Wyatt McIntyre of Athens (14:25), Logan Hall of Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond (14:30), Jack McNambola of Chicago F.W. Parker (14:41) and Alex Helmuth of Monticello (15:02).
Along with a few other factors, the fact that five of PBL's state runners are non-seniors has the team excited about next year.
“This was like an appetizer," Giese said. "Now, we're all hungry for the main course next year.”
“The future looks very bright, and the guys are extremely stoked about where we plan on going," Franckey added.
During the regular season, McMullin ran open races with younger runners, including freshmen Ashton Goss and Paul Cleary, who finished 27th and 36th, respectively, in the open race at the Patriot Invite with times of 20:10.1 and 20:33.7.
“I can't wait to see what the program does in the future. We've got a lot of strong guys coming up and get faster every year," McMullin said.
“I liked being able to lead the younger guys – just giving him a good example, making them work and push and telling them that next year, to be on the top seven, it's not going to be easy. They're not just going to walk up. They're really going to have to fight for it. With each of them fighting for a spot on the top seven, they're going to get faster. With our Nos. 1-5, we're going to have a great pack, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see our top five on the top-seven team next year.”
The Panthers will also welcome a freshman class that had seven eighth-graders who helped the PBL Junior High School cross country team finish eighth at last October's IESA Class 2A state meet. The eighth-grade class includes Ryder James, who finished second individually at the IESA state meet.
“I think with all of these younger kids coming up, we're not going to make it easy for them to get on the top seven," St. Julien said. "We're all going to work really hard. We're definitely hungry for next year. I'm trying to get a medal, and they are, too.”
“I can't wait for next year," Morse added.
“We're all going to train in the offseason because we're all really into it now and we're all super-excited with our results," Schnabel added. "We're all going to come back and train even harder and see what we can do.”
“The coach told us before the race that this is the start of a new state run, and I really believe that, with these guys and the new guys coming up, it's going to be crazy. Watch out for PBL next year at state," Barfield added. "It's going to be awesome.”
“I feel like it's going to start something great for this program, and I'm glad I could be a part of the start of it, and I'm sure these guys are going to keep it going," Harrison added. "I'm excited to see what they can do in the future.”
PBL's winter running club starts Monday. The junior high kids will start its winter running club that week as well, and a mile time trail will also be held.
“It'll be fun. We're trying to pay it forward so we can reap the benefits later, and that's exactly what Nick Porter's doing," Franckey said. "That's what Audrey Bloomquist is doing. That's what Evie Ellis is doing. It's awesome.”
After the winter running club, Franckey will serve his duties as head coach for the PBL High School track and field team. Before then, he -- and his wife, Faith -- are looking forward to some free time during the winter. 
“My wife's a track widow in the springtime and a cross country widow in the fall and all summer, so she gets me three weeks a year," Franckey said. "She's really looking forward to getting me back.”
At Detweiller Park, Peoria
1. Elmwood, 150; 2. Rockford Christian, 164; 3. Elgin Harvest Christian Academy, 170; 4. Monticello, 194; 5. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, 197; 6. St. Joseph-Ogden, 204; 7. Athens, 218; 8. Urbana University, 274; 9. Freeburg, 282; 10. Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central, 318; 11. Clifton Central, 322; 12. Sterling Newman Central Catholic, 338; 13. El Paso-Gridley, 340; 14. Carlinville, 352; 15. Robinson, 353; 16. Breese Mater Dei, 369; 17. Seneca, 389; 18. Lawrenceville, 433; 19. Pinckneyville, 442; 20. Paxton-Buckley-Loda, 456; 21. Elmhurst Timothy Christian, 462; 22. Benton, 478; 23. Columbia, 511; 24. Herscher, 512; 25. Marengo, 519.
1. Wyatt McIntyre (Athens) 14:25; 2. Logan Hall (Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond) 14:30; 3. Jack McNabola (Chicago F.W. Parker) 14:41; 4. Alex Helmuth (Monticello) 15:02; 5. Riley Wells (Rockford Christian) 15:05; 6. Justin Mumford (Trenton Wesclin) 15:06; 7. Charlie Parrish (Freeburg) 15:08; 8. Jacob Bryan (Carthage Illini West) 15:08; 9. Luke Goebel (Breese Mater Dei) 15:09; 10. Christopher Collet (Seneca) 15:12; 11. Garrett Dixon (Monticello) 15:12; 12. Jackson Stewart (Decatur St. Teresa) 15:16; 13. Tim Bertulis (Johnsburg) 15:17; 14. Owen Habeger (Chillicothe IVC) 15:17; 15. Dawson Smith (Rock Falls) 15:17; 16. Trey Houmes (Hoopeston Area) 15:19; 17. Cooper Hoffmann (Elmwood) 15:21; 18. Eli Ten Eyck (Pittsfield) 15:22; 19. Brandon Schnitker (Nashville) 15:23; 20. Leland Sumer (Tremont) 15:23; 21. Wyatt Wolfersberger (St. Joseph-Ogden) 15:23; 22. Spencer Mauch (Sterling Newman Central Catholic) 15:24; 23. Trevor Dunkel (Elmwood) 15:25; 24. Ryan Skowronski (Shelbyville) 15:28; 25. Andrew Dobrescu (Elgin HCA) 15:30.
53. Kody Harrison, 16:01; 116. Alec St. Julien, 16:48; 145. Trevor Morse, 17:05; 151. Erik Reck, 17:11; 153. Jordan Giese, 17:12; 154. Nikolas Schnabel, 17:13; 195. Brady Barfield, 18:11.


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