Girls Cross Country: Bria Bennis, York have sights set on a repeat state title – and possibly more

Bria Bennis has contributed to two state championship lineups for the York girls cross country program, including last season’s second IHSA title and first since 2000.

On Feb. 13, the York senior continued another successful run as co-organizer of the second annual No Frills Kids Run in Elmhurst.

“Honestly, they’re so similar in the fact that they’re joyful moments,” Bennis said. “You don’t think about all of the work you put in, all of the times you didn’t want to train or run or you didn’t want to drive across town to get materials [for the Kids Run]. In the end, it’s so rewarding.”

Bennis could experience both great feelings again.

The Dukes return three all-staters and five runners from the state championship lineup. They’re the overwhelming No. 1 preseason 3A favorite by ILXCTF and MileSplitIL. Junior Katherine Klimek (seventh at state last year), Bennis (19th) and senior Brooke Berger (21st) achieved top-25, IHSA all-state cross country honors for the first time. Junior Michaela Quinn (27th) was two spots away. Junior Maggie Owens was 41st.

“I guess the biggest motivation is to repeat what we did last year with our training and staying dedicated and hopefully, maybe coming away with another state trophy,” Bennis said. “We aren’t blind to the fact that we have a bull’s-eye on our back just from last year.”

The 2021 Dukes had extra motivation after no 2020 IHSA state championships under COVID-19 restrictions. York won the Division III ShaZam Championships over practically all top-rated 3A teams, but even the Dukes regarded the triumph as “fake state.”

After winning IHSA state with 62 points last season, York hopes to challenge the 3A record of 51 set in 2008 by Geneva. The all-time state finals record is 46 by 1A champion St. Teresa in 2011. There’s also qualifying for the Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 3 in Portland, Oregon, the annual event not held since 2019. Last season, York runners qualified for the Garmin RunningLane National Championships on Dec. 4 in Huntsville, Alabama, and took fourth in the Gold division, one point from third.

“There’s a lot of people that were surprised and I think the girls were surprised with their fourth-place national finish. Seeing that, they have their eyes set on even doing better beyond the state series,” York coach Lauren DeAngelis said. “They are hungry for another state title. No doubt that is their goal. They want to take it further.”

Owens is recovering from a stress reaction diagnosed soon after track. DeAngelis said Owens may not compete until the West Suburban Conference Silver Meet, where York will try to win the state’s strongest conference for the third straight season. Key York newcomers include senior Lily Beerhalter, junior Anna McGrail, sophomore Sofia Stoddard and freshmen Maggie Quinn, Lily Bianchi and Sophia Galiano-Sanchez. About a dozen freshmen are in the top training group.

“We’re determined to finally get [to Nike Cross Nationals] and show the nation how good we are,” said Berger, York’s lone fourth-year varsity runner. “Now the majority of us are upperclassmen. Now we have experience under our belts. Now we know how to race. And we have a good amount of freshmen that hopefully will fill some spots.”

The No Frills Kids Run returns on a date to be announced but near the 13th annual No Frills Fun Run on Feb. 26. Both events raise money for Elmhurst families in need. Through a family friend, Bennis connected with Kai MacNicol, who worked with the adult event and wanted to create an event intended for kids.

After last year’s race raised $7,085, Bennis received an Exemplary Youth Service Award from the Elmhurst City Council on April 28.

“We raised so much money. And the kids were so happy and it sparks running for them,” Bennis said. “I didn’t even know there was [that award]. That was pretty cool.”

Despite chilly temperatures, numerous York girls cross country and track teammates and York boys runners cheered, helped along the course and distributed post-race items, such as Chicago Marathon T-shirts. DeAngelis’ daughter was among the runners.

“It’s such a great event. They’re all so happy. It shows how big running is in the community,” Berger said. “They were super happy to get the hot chocolate at the end.”