Now that we have some history under our belts, it's time to calculate when Bloomington-Normal high school boys cross country attained its greatest glory.  

Was it 1994 when University High won the Class A state crown while Bloomington finished ninth and Normal Community 22nd in Class AA?

Or how about right now?

We have the giddy fact three teams — U High, BHS and Normal West — are all ranked in Class 2A's top 13 for the first time heading into Saturday's 72nd annual state meet at Peoria's Detweiller Park. 

If you think of B-N as one city, the only other burg with three 2A qualifiers was Chicago with Marist, Mather and Payton.  

"I think that's a phenomenal achievement," said Lester Hampton, in his 30th year of coaching at No. 1-ranked U High. 

BHS, under the direction of 36th-year coach John Szabo, is ranked eighth while second-year coach Chad Aubin has West at No. 13. The Purple Raiders have never finished higher than 1994's ninth while the Wildcats' best was 17th in 2010.

"I was impressed with Bloomington all year," Hampton said. "John has done a phenomenal job of getting that program back to where we were accustomed to it being. Their consistency has been amazing.

"I actually enjoy all the talent that is in Bloomington-Normal and how it came to the forefront and how well all these teams are doing."

This is only the fourth time three Intercity teams have qualified for state at the same time. Besides 1994, three also made it in 2003 and 2005.

In 1994, U High's five scorers had a combined time of 80 minutes, 15 seconds on the 3-mile course followed by BHS (80:38) and NCHS (83:03). At this fall's Peoria Invite, U High clocked 76:51, BHS 78:56 and West 79:02.

"With cross country, there is a rich tradition here of quality runners and teams," Szabo said. "I think it pushes each other to bring out the best in the other teams."

Just to win the Intercity Meet, a squad must have state-qualifying potential. In fact, every Intercity boys champion since 2001 has advanced to state.

Talent levels have risen with roster sizes even though only five men count in varsity scoring. This year's six Intercity teams have a combined 173 runners. Coaches credit strong junior high programs for cultivating talent. 

"We are fortunate we have some really good quality coaches," Szabo said. "They're not only good people that know their stuff, but I think they truly care about their athletes. I think that's evident by the numbers they are able to get out.

"Just like the runners bring out the best in each other, I think it makes the coaches push themselves as well to get their teams ready to compete against the other teams in our Intercity."

Szabo, Hampton and Aubin also coach track, a sport in which U High shared the Class 2A state title last spring while BHS was third in 3A. The state-qualifying cross country teams each have followed a signature path. 

The Central State Eight Conference champion Pioneers, led by returning all-stater Jared Schuckman, have as many interchangeable athletes as they ever have.    

"Outside of Jared, we've probably had about every kid be at least as high as third or fourth for us and all the way down to sixth or seventh," Hampton said. "When they're all on a pretty high level, that's a great luxury to have."

Big 12 Conference champion BHS has thrived with a tight pack led by Nick Doud and Austin Bicknell. 

"Our pack is what's been really incredible," Szabo said. "When we look at our times that we ran last year to this year, they've really improved a lot as a group. If somebody has an off day, it seems like every meet we have somebody else that's there to pick that person up."

West, which last qualified for state in 2010, also has a strong pack behind its one-two punch of Charlie Wetzel and Tyler Dunn. Beginning with last year's seniors, the Wildcats seemed to instantly buy into Aubin's coaching philosophy.

"I think we were lucky to have a group of kids who wanted to be successful," he said. "We told the kids when we got there that we were going to have high expectations and if you're at practice, you should be wanting to improve. They buy into that and then all of a sudden everybody wants to improve."

Aubin believes the credit for taking Intercity cross country to new heights should go to the athletes.

"I think any time you have a team that's going to state, obviously you have talented kids and those kids have worked hard," he said. "Every time we were out (training) with our kids over the summer for our contact days on the (Constitution) Trail, we saw Bloomington on the Trail."

Now they'll see each other and U High at Detweiller Park.

Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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