CHARLESTON – A bad handoff usually spells doom for a track and field relay team. Do it at the IHSA boys state track and field championships and you can usually forget any sort of perch on the multi-level medal stand. You’ll be lucky to be on the medal stand at all.
That didn’t bother Kaneland’s 4x800 relay team of Conor Johnson, Kyle Carter, Luis Acosta and Nathaniel Kucera at Saturday's IHSA Class 2A state championships. In fact, it seemed to invigorate them.
Johnson’s passing of the baton to Carter was flubbed after Johnson had to evade falling bodies at the transfer spot. No worries, though. Carter, who had to completely stop to get the baton, just turned in one of his all-time splits.
“I don’t know, really, how I did it,” Carter said. “I guess the adrenaline and knowing that you have to make that time up really pumped me up.”
Carter handed off to Acosta with no trouble, Acosta ran a great split as well and then it was up to the anchor, Kucera, to hold off any threats. He did, winning by more than a second over second-place Normal University.
“We expected this all year. Coach has been telling us all season if we just do what we can do, and do things right, we’ll be good,” Kucera said. “He was right.”
Things didn’t go quite as planned for Kucera in the open 400. Rain shortened the day, forcing officials to snap events off one after another instead of allotting a certain amount of time for rest between races. It flustered Kucera.
“I just wasn’t ready for the individual 400,” he said. “I didn’t really feel tired but …”
He finished ninth in the open 400, an event he had qualified fifth in, just a tenth of a second off the third fastest time.
But that saved kick came in handy in the 1,600 relay. Kucera said there was talk of dropping him completely from the metric mile event, but instead, they switched up Dylan Nauert to Kucera’s anchor. Kucera then ran a wicked third leg to get the Knights the lead. Nauert couldn’t hold off the kick of East St. Louis’ Marcus Greer, but no one probably could have.
“That was an impressive finish for that kid from East St.Louis,” Carter said. “Just impressive.”
Still, the Knights finish in sixth place as a team, and just a few points out of fourth.
“We did pretty well,” said Johnson, who started off both relays for the Knights. “We had a lot of kids qualify and it was close to being a perfect Saturday for us in the relays. That's pretty hard to beat.”
Kaneland’s Tanner Andrews was sixth in the triple jump (44-1.5) and Nate Dyer was ninth in the shot put (51-10), while Kory Harner (pole vault) and Marshall Farthing (high jump) both qualified but did not place.
Aurora Central Catholic’s Patrick Lefevre was fifth in the110 hurdles (14.97) and Matt Meyers finished seventh in the 1,600 (4:24.95).
Burlington Central’s Ryan Olsen was oh-so-close in the 400, finishing just .09 behind winner Marlin Brady of Cahokia at 49.39. Lucas Ege was fourth in the 300 hurdles at 39.22.
Marmion Academy’s Kevin Grahovec thought he had a chance to win the Class 3A 800 meter race on Saturday. He had qualified ninth on Friday but felt his kick was a little late and he could have been higher. Boxed in a huge pack on Saturday, he couldn’t find room to make a move until late in the race.
“I couldn’t get anything going because there were guys all around me,” he said. “That’s just a testament to how many really good runners there were.”
Still, Grahovec’s time of 1:54.77 is right at his fastest, and that speed bodes well for the junior’s future.
”I improved tremendously this spring,” he said. “We have a new coach and he has been trying a lot of new things. It’s worked.”
The Cadets’ Jake Ruddy finished ninth in the long jump, but that’s just icing on the cake. Ruddy broke both wrists after falling awkwardly while dunking a basketball in gym class. His doctor reluctantly released him justlast week to begin jumping. Still wearing a cast on one arm, Ruddy popped a qualifying mark on his first attempt at sectionals – the first time he’d jumped in competition this year – taking all the pressure off.
“That was big for me,” he said. “It was surprising.”
His jump during qualifying of 22-4.75 carried over as his best at Charleston.
“It was awesome just to get here,” he said. “Jumping just seven times this year, I couldn’t have asked for more. This is a pretty good gig right now.”
Tyler Maryanski qualified in the high jump but did not place.
St. Charles North’s Erik Miller was fourth in the high jump, clearing 6-8.
Batavia’s R.J. Viereckl did not place in the pole vault, while Geneva’s Tim Guthrie was seventh in the pole vault, clearing 14-9.
In Class 1A, Aurora Christian’s Jake Gehman was second int he 800 (1:56.79), while the 800 relay team of Gehman, Josh Schein, Grant Schweisthal and Johnathan Harrell was fifth at 1:31.47, as was the 1,600 relay team of GehmanAidan Flanagan, Schweisthal and Harrell. The Eagles' Jonah Walker was seventh in the discus at 147-10. Josh Schein qualified for the pole vault but did not place.
Meanwhile, Mooseheart's Wal Khat ran the 800 meters faster than he ever had on Saturday in the IHSA Class 1A track finals – and it earned the Mooseheart junior a second-place finish.
Then Khat returned to the track in rainy Charleston an hour later and finished eighth in the 1,600 meters, providing a successful finish to his first state meet experience.
“It’s good,” Khat said. “I know everyone’s working hard to get a good place. I didn’t make it, but I have another year.”
• Moose International communications contributed to this report.