There have been times Ivy Handley has wished she could be St. Teresa’s No. 1 runner.
But Handley also acknowledges had she been the No. 1 on a lesser team, she probably wouldn’t have become the runner she is today.
And Handley definitely wouldn’t have been on a team that will go for its third straight Class 1A State Championship on Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria. She’s been the one constant during the Bulldogs’ run. She was their No. 3 runner as a freshman to help lead them to a second-place finish, and was the No. 3 runner the last two years as the Bulldogs took home state titles.
“She’s a gamer — she comes through biggest at the big meets,” St. Teresa coach Todd Vohland said of Handley. “But it’s more than that. It’s her attitude, her enthusiasm, her leadership … how she embraces the team element. She’s a big reason for our success.”
Handley was a decent junior high runner, but neither Handley nor Vohland expected she’d become a top-20 runner in the state as a freshman. But the strength of the high school team kept bringing Handley further and further toward the top. She was 17th at state as a freshman, 11th as a sophomore and 10th as a junior — despite never finishing better than third on her own team.
“It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s also helped me,” Handley said. “Obviously, it would be nice to be the star runner. But without someone running in front of me, I wouldn’t have been pushed. I would have been lazier. It helps to have someone to chase. And it’s also been nice to be on a team that’s done as well as we have.”
Handley said she and her teammates enjoy their fierce competition with each other.
“It’s fun to have that competition, but still be best friends,” Handley said. “We all get along so well. No matter what happens in the race, we still hang out with each other afterwards.”
Handley, who is looking at several colleges including Eastern Illinois, Indiana State, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Lewis and Lindenwood, is shooting for a top-three finish individually. Team-wise, though this year’s Bulldogs aren’t quite as dominant as last year’s team that won state by 128 points or the 2010 team that won by 79, they’re still a heavy favorite. Their main competition will be Rochester, Monticello and Breese Mater Dei. St. Teresa has beaten all three teams at meets this season, but only Monticello recently.
“You never know going in,” Vohland said. “Monticello has a lot of experience — they’re outstanding. And we’ve also known Rochester was going to be good from the beginning.”
While the Bulldogs are focused on winning state, they’ve tried to avoid talk of the “three-peat.”
“I’m sure it’s been mentioned here or there, and I’m sure they see it here or there, but we really don’t talk about it,” Vohland said.
Handley said the girls on the team try not to talk about results until after a meet is over.
“It’s best just to concentrate on what you have to do individually, because that’s all you have control over,” Handley said. “Coach talks a lot to us about not expecting to win when you show up. Obviously, we have a good chance. But it’s important to stay focused on what we need to do first.”
The only other Class A or 1A team to win state three times in a row is Winnebago, which won in 1993, ’94 and ’95, and then won five in a row from 2005-09 — a streak stopped by St. Teresa in 2010.
“I’m not going to lie and say it wouldn’t be great to win three in a row — we’d be in pretty heady company,” Vohland said. “But for four of our seven, they’re going for one in a row. For me, the best thing is seeing a new group experience it, because I know what a thrill it is.”
McInerney, Brown going for individual titles
Charleston senior Riley McInerney was glad his teammates will be joining him at the Class 2A state meet, but he also has his own glory in mind.
“Yeah, it’s the ultimate goal to win state,” McInerney said. “Even as a freshman I thought it would be cool to be a state champ. I didn’t think I could then. Now I really think I have a shot.”
McInereney — the son of former Eastern Illinois University NCAA Division II All-American John McInereney — finished 81st as a freshman, 18th as a sophomore and third as a junior. With two-time defending state champion Michael Clevenger of MacArthur graduated, McInereney’s main competition will be Belvidere North’s Garett Lee and Tyler Yunk, Crystal Lake Central’s Alex Baker and Glenbard South’s John Wold.
“I just can’t make any mental mistakes,” said McInereney, who hasn’t lost a race this year. “I feel I know the course like the back of my hand. I know where to make surges and where I need to run strong.”
In Class 1A, Mount Zion’s Jake Brown is among the favorites to win the individual title. Brown finished third last year behind Monticello’s Steve Schroeder and Beecher’s Grant Nykaza. Nykaza is back this year. Brown’s Mount Zion team is shooting for its second straight state title but will have stiff competition from Champaign St. Thomas More, which beat Mount Zion at sectionals.