Less than five seconds separated Jacob Barraza from a medal at the state tournament last year. The near-miss resulted in a lot of feelings the DeKalb junior said he didn’t want to relive.
This year, Barraza smashed his personal best time at the Class 3A state meet and finished 11th, capping off a strong season that featured five top-five finishes and a state medal.
“That was a long drive home,” Barraza said of missing the medal in 2022. “Coming into this race I really wanted to go after it. I wanted to race against top competition and thought why couldn’t it be me? I went out there and raced my heart out. Getting up there, getting my first medal, I had a really big smile on my face, that’s for sure.”
Barraza was also named the Daily Chronicle 2023 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Barraza battled through both a respiratory issue and a minor knee injury earlier in the year and had to miss some races or not go at full speed. He was out of the top 10 and over 16 minutes in his first race at Plainfield Central, then was 59th, although at 15:37.7, at First to the Finish in Peoria the next week.
“It’s kind of a bummer because you see all these other guys run fast, you see your teammates run fast and you want to be right with them,” Barraza said. “But I knew that with all the workouts I was doing and runs that it’d be OK at the end of the day.”
He followed that up with a 15:20.5 to take fifth at Kaneland, then won in Bartlett to kick off a string of five straight top-five finishes, culminating in a 14:59 at the Lake Park Sectional. It was the first time he broke 15 minutes in the high school season.
DeKalb coach Mike Wolf said the last half of the year was a revenge tour of sorts for Barraza.
“Later in the season we had the theme of beating guys who beat him earlier in the season,” Wolf said. “I think that was motivating. We would have loved to have him earlier in the season but I’m pleased with the way he ended the season.”
Barraza said the early part of the season was definitely a challenge.
“Learning how to be patient was kind of difficult,” Barraza said. “But a lot of prayer, a lot of talking to my family, coaches, telling me it’s going to be OK. Stay in your lane - you know where you want to be at the end of the year and you don’t want to mess that up.”
Wolf said he was impressed with how positive Barraza remained, and in the end it paid off with him taking home a medal for the first time.
Barraza said he felt like the season was a success and has even higher expectations for his senior year.
“Next year I think I can go for the win,” Barraza said. “I know it’s a pretty big goal, but I can go after it. Having coaches like coach [Max] Crowninfield and coach Wolf pushing me to my limits with my teammates right there, I think that’s a good goal to shoot for. I think we can make it happen.”