There’s a list of names that come to mind when discussing the Monticello cross-country program. IHSA state standouts Steve Schroeder and Hannah Houska are perhaps at the top of the list.
And that list is growing.
Monticello’s Mabry Bruhn, Rachel Koon and Luke Sokolowski all earned all-state honors after leading the Sages to a one-two finish in the boys’ and girls’ state cross-country meet Saturday in Peoria.
“I was hoping we’d bring two trophies home this year and we did,” Sokolowski said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
The boys’ team etched its place in Monticello running history, joining the 2014 squad as Sages state champions.
That team and the overall successful tradition of the program didn’t put any additional pressure on this season’s group.
“We’re confident in our coach and what he can do. At the end of the day, it doesn’t ever bear pressure on us,” Sokolowski said. “We usually keep that off of us. Coach (Dave Remmert) will always be like ‘Remember that team in 2014 that won state? It’s going to be us this year. We’re going to do it.’”
And they did, completing the memorable day with a police escort in town and a community celebration in Miller Gym with friends and family.
“It was really fun. To come back and hang out of the bus windows, that was really cool,” Bruhn said.
Bruhn broke the girls’ school record time, set by Houska, with a finishing time of 17:47.98 good for 13th individually – as a freshman.
“At the beginning of the season we all went on a campout to help us bond. At the camp out we set a few season goals and my season goals were to get all-state and to get a 17:30,” Bruhn said. “So throughout the entire season I’ve worked to accomplish those goals, as well as everyone else on the team made their own goals and they worked to accomplish them.”
That work took the girls’ team all the way from the 13th-place team-finish in 2018 to runners-up in 2019, including all-state honors for Koon, who came in 19th in 17:51.42.
Part of that success stemmed from an offseason trip to the mountains of Colorado for high-altitude training – a staple of the top cross-country programs in the state of Illinois.
Monticello took two Sage buses and stayed at Remmert’s family cabin. That meant a lot of hours together in confined spaces for the Sages.
“It was really cool. The cabin’s really cool. We all stayed together,” Sokolowski said. “We all slept in the same room. We got to bond a little. I thought it brought our team together a little bit.
“This is the closest I’ve ever felt to a team before. Just being together more and bonding that much, you want to fight for each other in races.”
That bond helped Monticello edge out Harvest Christian by six points to win the Class 1A team championship.
“We were a little nervous because we didn’t exactly know if we did or not,” Sokolowski said. “We were pretty sure we did, but we didn’t know. We were just talking trying to relax. It was a good time. It was like what we’re always like (post-race).”
The boys were ecstatic to see the girls climb all the way to second place as well.
“We usually clash a little bit just for the heck of it,” Sokolowski said of the two teams’ relationship. “We always see who can get the most points or beat each other out. In the end, we’re all friends and it’s fun to hang out with everyone.”
Bruhn was witness to that even if she couldn’t go to Colorado with the returning varsity members as a freshman.
Still, Bruhn and the rest of the Sages – 13 of the 14 runners at state will return next season – have set themselves up for future success as well.
“I really hope (we win a state championship),” she said. “I think if we continue to work as hard as we have been, I think we might have a shot.”