Suburban Life Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year: York senior Bria Bennis took third at state, led team to best state score

Bria Bennis of York at the Lake Park Harvey Braus Invitational Saturday September 10, 2022 in Roselle.

York senior Bria Bennis spent her earlier sports days as a competitive gymnast. Injuries to both elbows in seventh grade required career-ending surgery and reaching out for foot-oriented sports.

She switched to soccer and running.

“Then I quit [club] soccer at the end of my freshman year and just fell in love with running,” Bennis said.

Bennis is the 2022 Suburban Life Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Bennis finished third at the Class 3A state meet and helped the Dukes finish second with their lowest team score ever; York won the 2021 state championship with a higher team score. Top-10 juniors Michaela Quinn (seventh) and Katherine Klimek (ninth) also earned top-25 All-State honors. Senior Brooke Berger was 26th.

A four-time runner at state meets, Bennis was 107th as a freshman.

“I was really happy about this whole season with my individual accomplishments and with the team. Obviously we were going for the state title but our team is just the best it’s ever been,” Bennis said. “Even in middle school, I didn’t even run. I barely even knew it was a sport. To tell my younger self that I would place third in the state is just unreal.”

Finishing 19th at state in 2021, Bennis is among eight multiple all-staters in program history. She’ll continue running at Vanderbilt.

“I hope that I’ve just contributed by showing kind of what hard work and dedication can pay off toward,” Bennis said.

“[Bennis has] been a great leader, a great mentor for the younger athletes,” York coach Lauren DeAngelis said. “She speaks well, can motivate well and also leads by example. Teammates look up to her and see the hard work pays off. That’s the best motivation.”

Everything culminated in 2021 with the state championship – York’s second and first since 2000 – with Klimek (seventh), Berger (21st) and graduated Katelyn Winton (23rd) also all-state for the Dukes (62 points).

“[My greatest moment] is hands down winning state my junior year – the official IHSA state title,” Bennis said. “It was an unreal feeling and day. Literally all day from the minute we all crossed the line, we were hugging and crying together. We partied the rest of the night and celebrated.”

York (58 points) actually scored lower at state Nov. 5 than it did in winning the title in 2021, but the Dukes were second to Prospect (39) with the lowest score ever since the IHSA state finals began in 1979. York had the third-lowest 3A total since the sport became three classes in 2008.

“When we first heard the news that we got second, we were a little bit sad. But pretty quick after that we realized just how well we ran,” Bennis said.

With Bennis and Berger in 2019, York made its sixth straight state appearance and finished top 20 for the second straight year.

“We went in talking about a top-10 finish,” DeAngelis said. “When we got 18th, it was kind of a shock. It was like, ‘We want to do better.’”

As the Dukes focused on improvement the following season, the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic made training an even more anticipated ritual.

“That was kind of the one time during the day where we would all see our other friends,” Bennis said. “I think that really made the difference. I don’t think we realized just how good we actually were.”

Now the whole nation gets to see. On Nov. 13, the KROY team consisting of York runners automatically qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 3 in Portland, Oregon, by finishing second (73) to Prospect’s lineup (52) at the NXN Regionals in Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s the first time the York girls have qualified for NXN Nationals, which has not been held the past two seasons.

“It’s cool to see how we’ve improved as a team from last year,” Klimek said. “Bria really pushes everyone to be the best version of themselves. She kind of inspires everyone and is a positive leader not just during workouts but also encourages us to do the little things outside of practice.”

Girls cross country All-Area team

Louisa Diamond, senior, Benet; Lily Eddington, freshman, Downers Grove North; Claire Pyne, senior, Downers Grove North; Bella Daley, senior, Fenwick; Maggie Hibbard, junior, Glenbard West; Sarah Fischer, senior, Hinsdale Central; Catie McCabe, senior, Hinsdale Central; Charlotte Lange, senior, Lyons Township; Catherine Sommerfeld, senior, Lyons Township; Colette Kinsella, senior, Nazareth; Margaret Andrzejewski, freshman, St. Francis; Janna Postma, senior, Wheaton North; Nicole Poglitsch, sophomore, Wheaton Warrenville South; Lily Beerhalter, senior, York; Bria Bennis, senior, York; Lilly Bianchi, freshman, York; Brooke Berger, senior, York; Katherine Klimek, junior, York; Maggie Quinn, freshman, York; Michaela Quinn, junior, York