CHARLESTON – If Chicago Bears radio announcer and Wheaton resident Jeff Joniak was to watch her run, it would not doubt invoke his signature phrase: Madeline Perez, you are ridiculous.
Six months ago, the Glenbard West distance phenom won the Class 3A cross country title in a state record time. On Saturday, Perez finished her junior campaign with a pair of track state championships at Eastern Illinois University.
Pulling off the rare double, Perez won the 3,200-meter race in a time of 10:22.29, just one second off her personal best. She then came back and outkicked Courtney Ackerman of New Trier down the stretch in the 1,600, capturing that event in 4:52.24. Perez had posted a personal record of 4:52.21 in Friday’s prelims.
The last to accomplish such a feat was York’s Maria Cicero in 2001. Likewise, Cicero also won a cross country title that school year.
“It was a pretty awesome day, I have to admit,” Perez said. “After the 3,200, I went back to the team area and laid down, put my legs up and ate and drank a ton. I had a whole lot more time to rest than I usually do. The last 400 meters in the 1,600, I knew everyone was tired. The adrenaline of the crowd and knowing it was the last lap helped me get through it.”
Perez’s first-place finishes produced 20 of the team’s 31 points, good for third place and the Hilltoppers’ first state trophy in program history. West Aurora and Homewood-Flossmoor both finished with 30 points.
“I was in the field house and the girls came running in and said we got called down to the field,” Perez said. “We all sprinted over there and the coaches were so excited.
“We got third by one point and the thing that is cool about that, if anyone did less than what they did, we wouldn’t have gotten it. I’m so proud of how our team did.”
That team-first attitude comes as no surprise to her coach.
“Madeline works so hard and she deserves any accolades she gets,” said Glenbard West coach Kelly Hass. “As a coach, one thing you can struggle with is how to treat an elite athlete without looking like you are playing favorites. But she makes it easy. ... She has taught us that you can have both; you can have the elite status and still be all about the team.”
The only question now is what she can do for an encore during her senior year, but don’t expect Perez to put any added pressure on herself.
“This was a really great year but next year will be a new one,” she said. “I’ll set new goals for myself and focus on those and hopefully they all fall into place again. I just know that I’m going to work my hardest and whatever happens, happens.”