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Never been done before.
Those are heavy words, but completely true in moments like these.
Take a stroll by the cases filled with trophies in Monticello High School and four state honors will be standing proud: three representing cross-country accomplishments, one for track and field.
But not one of those trophies reads higher than a third-place finish.
State runner-up: meet your older brothers and sisters.
The Monticello girls’ cross-country team ran without a senior member at the state meet Saturday and pulled out the highest feat to ever be accomplished in the history of Sages sports, finishing second in Class 1A.
Junior Hannah Houska led a pack of underclassmen at Detweiller Park in Peoria, placing 20th out of 210 runners and garnering All-State honors for Monticello. Senior Andrew Hanselman was also an All-State finisher, crossing the line in the final spot to qualify (25th) and leading the Monticello boys’ team to 11th place.
“That’s quite an accomplishment for any athlete in high school,” coach Jeff Butler said. “It’s so much different in cross-country than it is in other sports. All the other sports, you’re claimed to be an All-Stater by what you did throughout the season and then somebody votes on it.
“In cross-country, it has nothing to do with what you’ve done all season. 365 days, you pick out that day, those 20 minutes and you have to be at your absolute best. It’s a lot more difficult to be an All-Stater (in cross-country).”
Houska finished the three-mile course in 18 minutes, 15 seconds. Emily Foley (30th) was just a mere five spots from All-State status, while Maggie Utgaard (49th), Madison Tutich (50th) and Audrey Duncan (53rd) rounded out the Sages’ team score of 114.
“Hannah was our leading runner all year, and everybody knew that and she was supposed to be,” Butler said. “The weight on her shoulders going into every meet was to be our No. 1 runner. In every meet that we went into, she knew she’d have to be at the front against all the other best runners.
“That’s not easy. Every meet you have that pressure on you, and to come through in those circumstances meet after meet after meet, we really appreciate that from Hannah.”
Monticello finished behind three-time consecutive state champs St. Teresa and ahead of third-place Rochester.
“Emily had a really good race. She’s kind of our steadying influence,” Butler said. “Very calm and gets the job done.”
Utgaard and Tutich finished next to each other like they did so many times this season. Earlier in the race, however, something happened that might have prevented that from happening: Utgaard fell.
It didn’t faze her one bit, Butler said, she jumped up just as quickly as she tumbled and on she went.
“We talked on Friday night in our team meeting: don’t expect everything to go perfect,” Butler said. “We knew what we wanted to accomplish. We had a race plan. But we talked about how it probably wasn’t going to go like we think it will go. Any time that there’s something out of the ordinary, you’re going to have to adjust and do the best you can under the circumstances.
“Maggie refocused and got right back up with the pack and finished as our third runner. She did exactly what she had to.”
Duncan crossed the finish line as the fifth Monticello qualifier in 18:55, a full two minutes faster than her time last year. The Sages needed every second to hold off third-place Rochester 114-125.
“We’ve been to the state meet a lot of times. We’ve had a lot of runners on that course. I’ve seen a lot of good races there, but to be honest with you, Audrey’s may have been the best individual race I’ve ever seen there from our runners,” Butler said. “She was incredible. She broke into the 19th minute and she’s never been there before. That just shot us into second place. If she would have run a regular race for her, we probably would have had third.
“She won her race within the race. She was a champion just as much as the person who crossed the finish line first as far as we’re concerned.”
Norvell, Furcich impress
With Hanselman leading the way in 15:27, the boys' team came through with strong races from a few surprising sources.
Butler said he wasn't sure if Hanselman earned All-State honors when he saw him cross the line. Butler counted the runners as they crossed the line and pegged Hanselman for 28th or 29th.
Lucky for him, he was wrong.
"For any athlete I've ever had, I don't think I could have been any more happy when we found out that he got 25th," Butler said.
Hanselman, the only Monticello runner to ever race at state all four years of high school, turned in his best time ever at the Peoria course.
Matt Norvell placed 56th, Jesse Galaway 82nd, Justin Furcich 109th and Will Montgomery 163rd out of 210 runners.
"He's just a huge success story," Butler said of Norvell. "Justin ended up running 16:31 and PR'd by a ton. Cole Cary (174th) had a real good race. He had a huge PR, too."