BEECHER | Tired of not being on the guest list, Larissa Swanson and her Beecher teammates invited themselves to the year's biggest cross country event.
They did so by matching the fourth-place finish the Bobcats boys managed at last weekend's Class 1A Lisle Sectional. While that showing meant the guys could plan a road trip to Peoria for an eighth consecutive season, it signaled the end of a three-year absence from the state meet for Beecher's girls, who'll join the boys today at Detweiller Park.
That dry spell just happened to coincide with Swanson's first three years in high school. Twice during that span, the female Bobcats missed out on team advancement by one position.
"It's a big deal for us to make it," said Swanson, who completed her sectional race in 20 minutes, 10 seconds, and has been Beecher's leader all season. "My freshman year, we missed (going to state) by 12 points.
"This year, we were pretty motivated to go. We were all in the right mindset. We definitely have a team that's made up of girls that, when we're told to put it down for that race, we put it down, and we race."
According to assistant coach Ted Deery, the plan all along was to return the Bobcats to Peoria. To facilitate that, Deery and his wife, Beecher head coach Pam, decided to tinker with the team's practice routine.
"We ran harder on hard days, easier on easy days, but ultimately we ran more miles," Ted Deery said. "There was a lot of doubt and people questioning our approach. They expected it to be like the last few years, but we needed to have that extra step to get us out of sectionals.
"It's nice to have a plan work. We gave up some early success for this, and it has worked out fabulously well."
Swanson insisted there was never any jealousy aimed at the boys for their string of state qualifiers, but she admitted the ongoing achievements fueled the girls' desire to break through in 2011. In Deery's opinion, one other factor came into play.
"As a team, I've never really witnessed people pulling together like this," he said. "There's no real superstar, and they're all worried about everybody else."
Swanson said she's "hoping this kind of brings back things the way they were" prior to 2008, when Beecher's girls also enjoyed a few Peoria-qualifying seasons. If so, Deery wouldn't be shocked because, he says, the school name already carries weight in cross country circles.
"Eight years ago, everybody said, 'Who's Beecher? Where's Beecher?'" he said. "And now they say, 'Oh no, Beecher just got off the bus.' We've hopefully become a staple."