Payton boys cross-country makes history at state meet

Photo provided by Daniel Dziubski

By Mike Clark

Daniel Dziubski was looking for a cross-country program of his own to run when the Payton boys job opened up during the pandemic.

The Chicago firefighter, who had been a volunteer assistant at Taft, did a Zoom interview and got the job.

“To be honest, I think I’m the only guy who applied for it,” Dziubski said.

Four years later, Dziubski and assistant Adam Palumbo — who both ran at York under legendary coach Joe Newton — have guided the Grizzlies to new heights.

Despite a couple of mishaps, Payton took third in Class 2A during last Saturday’s state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. The Grizzlies finished with 200 points, behind Marion (112) and Glenbard South (173), winning the school’s first state trophy in a boys sport. Payton’s girls volleyball team won three state trophies from 2008 to ’13.

After graduating their No. 1 runner from the 2022 team but returning almost everyone else, Dziubski was expecting big things this fall.

“It was pretty wide open,” he said. “There were five teams that could have won it.”

The plan going in was for senior Gavin Lee and junior Gabriel Cooper, Payton’s top two runners, to go out fast and hopefully finish in the top 25 to make all-state.

Cooper had a rough day, getting spiked and losing a shoe in the first 100 meters.

“He ran the whole race with, like, a flat tire,” Dziubski said.

Still, Cooper gutted his way to 81st place at 15:43.81 to finish as Payton’s No. 5 runner.

Lee fell in the last 200 meters, but recovered to earn all-state honors, taking 23rd in 15:07.93.

Also scoring for the Grizzlies were sophomore Tra’Monti Williams (39th, 15:19.15), junior Preston Ellis (46th, 15:24.76) and sophomore Declan Slavin (49th, 15:26.47).

“At first, when we saw (the team scores), they were a little let down,” Dziubski said. “They had higher goals.”

But the Grizzlies were at or close to the pace their coaches had been looking for, and they came around to the idea of embracing their achievement.

It’s the first boys cross-country state trophy for the Public League since Jones won 2A in 2012.

The Grizzlies will be setting their sights high again next year when 13 of their top 15 will return.

“Definitely a strong group coming back,” Dziubski said. “We’re getting them to buy in and build their own culture.”

In Class 3A, Lane’s boys finished 11th with 340 points, the program’s best finish since the 1970s.

Senior Will Kozlowski became the Champions’ second all-stater in two years, finishing 20th in 14:41.41 and missing the program record by one second.

Rounding out Lane’s top five were senior Brendan Bradish (44th, 15:03.67), senior Paul Neely (83rd, 15:19.15), senior Anan Bauman (110th, 15:30.29) and sophomore Tristan Wong (174th, 15:56.62).

Lane coach Kris Roof was looking for big things from this group “just because of the summer of running that they did. The consistency was there and the necessary dedication was there.”

Though the Champions were senior-dominated, Roof sees more good times ahead.

“Our sophomore class is really good,” he said. “We’re really excited. We think in two years we could be battling for a trophy.”

Elsewhere at state:

  • Other notable individual performers included Mather seniors Mohammed Abdullahi (35th, 14:55.27) and Hirsi Hirsi (79th, 15:17.93) and Jones senior Sam Berlinghof (76th, 15:16.96) in 3A boys; and Lake View junior Jibril Lesman (42nd, 15:23.94) in 2A boys.
  • Payton’s girls, the Public League’s other team qualifier, finished 27th in 2A girls. Junior Isabella McCarthy paced the Grizzlies, running 101st in 19:09.35. Junior Dominique Bennett was next in 157th at 19:58.33.
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