Glenbard South’s Madlyn Morreale crossed the finish line first at the 1979 IHSA Girls Cross Country State Finals with a time of 11:34.9. A historical feat in its own right, Madlyn’s performance that day was made even more memorable because it was the first-ever IHSA girl’s state meet and she, the first-ever individual state champion. After winning the ’79 title as a sophomore, she followed with a second-place finish as a senior in 1981, helping Glenbard South place eighth as a team. After high school, she went on to run cross country and track & field at the University of North Carolina. She remains in the Chapel Hill area today where she works as an attorney. She reflected on her performance in the fall of ’79 with IHSAState, discussing the feat that means more to her than the individual title and her gratitude for her high school coach.
Q: Do you recall what the feeling was like when you heard IHSA would contest a Cross Country State Finals during your sophomore year?
: I remember it being very exciting and knowing that I was a part of something special. When I was 10 years old, they first allowed girls to play Little League. When I was in middle school, they first allowed girls to compete in interscholastic sports. The year that I graduated from college, the NCAA first began to govern college sports for women. It felt like the doors were swinging wide open for girls’ sports. We knew we were a part of history that day. I was asked before the state meet ‘what it would be like to win’. I remember answering that it would be special whether it was the first time or not.
Q: Did you compete during your freshman season?
: Another female runner (Mary Serafin) and I ran with the boys’ team during my freshman year. There was a sort of “mock state meet” that year, and that was the first race I competed in against other girls. I believe it was in Crystal Lake and I think I finished second to Connie Frank from Rock Falls.
Q: Based on that “mock state meet” you obviously knew you were talented. Did you know what to expect from a true state meet, given that you were competing mostly against runners in Chicagoland?
: I was very interested in what was going on around the state and was what you would call a dweeb (laughs). I use to take the results that were published in the Chicago Tribune and other papers and would calculate paces to try and figure out where I stacked up against other runners. I had also run in the state track meet as a freshman the previous spring, so I felt like I had a pretty good idea of who the top runners were in the state.
Q: What do you remember from the day of the state race?
: I vividly remember the race and the days leading up to it. I was someone who never got sick and never missed school, but I was actually really sick with the flu that week. No one knew except my parents and my coach. When we went to run the course as a team the day before the state meet, I was too ill to finish. I didn’t tell anyone else. I didn’t want to make any excuses.
As a runner, I didn’t have a lot of leg speed, so my strategy in the state race was pretty typical of what I tried to do in most races, I wanted to take it out hard and then hold the field off by gutting it out. I held back the first mile and just tried to stay with the leaders. I wanted to be near the leaders at the bottom of the hill and then make my move, try to stretch a lead and hold everyone off down the stretch.
I will never forget looking up at the hill as I ran toward it. It was so crowded with people screaming and cheering. It was an amazing, beautiful sight. Becky (Cotta of Wheaton North, 2nd, 11:37.4) and Karen (Campbell of Downers Grove North, 3rd, 11:39.0) were closing fast on me and if the race was 10 yards longer, I wouldn’t have won. There were several really, really talented runners in the race that could have won on any given day. It just happened to be my day.
Q: What does your accomplishment mean to you now?
: My feelings are more about the sport than about the results of any particular race. I am 49 years old and still, every fall Saturday, think about cross country. It is just a fantastic sport, everyone who competes can improve and challenge themselves.
I am actually more proud of our eighth-place team finish (in 1981). We were a real ragtag group. My twin sister was on the team, and only two years earlier, we were literally pulling girls out of the hallway to have enough girls to field a team. We had several injuries that year and we pulled one another along. It was a team effort, not an individual effort, and I remember everything I went through with those teammates far more than I do standing on the podium (in 1979).
I am also so appreciative of my high school coach Hank Haake. He cared about us as individuals. He wanted to develop our talents as runners, but he also wanted to develop us as leaders and citizens. He took interest in us and helped us believe in ourselves. I will always be grateful for what he did for us both on and off the course.
A copy of the original results and a preview of the meet from the state final program are below: