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PEORIA — After crossing the finish line sixth individually at Saturday's Class 1A boys' cross-country state meet, Tuscola senior Will Foltz met up with his younger sister, sophomore Kate Foltz, who finished third in the girls' meet just an hour prior.
The topic of possible bragging rights for Kate was brought up, and Will couldn't help but laugh.
Kate just smiled and said, "I don't know," dragging out the last word and looking up at her brother like he still had her beat.
The truth is he did. While Will did place three spots lower than Kate, he had just accomplished something she didn't. Helping the Tuscola boys' cross-country program win a 1A state championship.
"It's crazy," Will Foltz said while getting choked up. "Our team has worked so hard, and it's so good to see the results pay off. Definitely emotional right now."
This was the expectation all season for the Warriors. They placed 12th as a team at last year's state meet, the first time Tuscola had ever qualified for state, and just about everyone was returning for this season.
They got a taste of the highest level of high school cross-country, and they immediately got to work.
The Warriors ran extra during the summer, they stayed late after fall practices, and it all led to winning every single meet of the 2023 season and squeaking out their first state championship in program history, with their 97 team points just seven points ahead of runner-up Benton.
"They definitely have a lot of desire, and they're willing to do the work to back up their desire," Tuscola coach Neal Garrison said. "There were a lot of times in workouts where they would have preferred to take the easier route, but they wanted it bad enough to know they couldn't do that. They barely won, so all those little moments of not giving up every practice made the difference."
Foltz and fellow seniors Jackson Barrett and Josiah Hortin cemented themselves in the front of the field at Detweiller Park from the sound of the starting gun. Barrett was the first Warrior to finish, placing third with a time of 14 minutes, 40.55 seconds, only behind the top two finishers from last year's championship. Foltz's sixth-place run was in 14:51.24, and Hortin capped off having three Warriors in the top 10 with a 10th-place finish of 15:08.18.
Garrison said he'll miss the seniors, both for their athletic ability and their leadership, but he's confident he'll see their names in headlines soon enough when they "change the world wherever they go."
"They're the ones who had to come from scratch when the program wasn't getting the victories that made you want to train harder," Garrison said. "Football is a very respected sport in our town, and they went against the grain and picked a sport that didn't get the glory. They took this program to a super high level. I'm proud of them and extremely grateful for the work they've put in."
Sophomore Blake McLeese and junior Xander Neamtu also contributed to Tuscola's final score on Saturday, McLeese placing 30th in 15:38.14 and Neamtu 74th in 16:07.84. The Warriors' last two runners were junior David Hornaday in 146th (16:50.22) and senior Lucas Coll Rubio in 220th (17:43.54).
The emotions still hitting him as more and more supporters came rushing up to offer their congratulations, Foltz started to get sentimental.
"They're all my best friends," Foltz said of his teammates. "We run together all the time and push each other in practice. It's a special feeling. This was always the goal, to win it all, but it's even crazier when it actually happens."
Garrison completely understood. The former Mahomet-Seymour coach who guided the Bulldogs to Class 2A state titles in 2014 and 2015 knew that everything his runners went through to historically get to the top of the podium was about more than just the accomplishment itself.
"It's one of those special moments for these guys," Garrison said. "They have their struggles in life, but it's nice for something like this to come together at this point in their life. The friendships they've gotten from this is probably worth more than the trophy. A lot of them made so many sacrifices for each other, and for all those sacrifices to pay off is good."