CHARLESTON – High hopes followed the St. Charles North boys track and field team to this weekend’s IHSA state finals at Eastern Illinois’ O’Brien Stadium.
The North Stars qualified five individuals and three relay teams for the championships and motivated themselves all season with the knowledge of coach Don Spencer’s impending retirement. On Friday, during the qualifying day of the championships, a near-perfect storm of nagging injuries, flu and miscues weathered the team to leave just high jumper Erik Miller standing for today’s finals.
“It’s really disappointing, especially because we were hoping to send coach out on a good note,” said senior Connor Larson. “We had some sickness, some injuries and some mistakes, and it cost us. But we did our best and that’s what coach always tells us to do. Just do our best, and it will be fine.”
North had expected to score points on all three relay teams, but baton handoffs in two of the events were mucked up, leaving the North Stars nearly completely in the cold.
Add that Zach Kirby and Jack Feeney both spent time in the emergency room this week with flu (Kirby hasn’t been able to keep food down for four days) and things were going to be tough. The bug was still apparent in Kirby as he tried valiantly to run the 400 meters for which he had hopes to qualify.
“I didn’t have much before the race, but I left it all out there,” Kirby said just after falling through the finish line. “I didn’t do at all what I wanted this weekend. It wasn’t an ideal situation but you can’t run away from it. As sick as I am, I just wanted to finish, and I did.”
Geneva’s Tim Guthrie flung himself over 14 feet even to qualify for today’s pole vault finals. Guthrie bettered his personal record at last week’s sectionals with a vault of 14-11, five inches higher than his previous best. To have a shot at winning, Guthrie will likely have to bump that up a little more. Three of his competitors have gone over 15 feet.
“I don’t want to say anything for sure, but I think I can go higher,” Guthrie said. “It’s just a matter of doing it. I’ve made big leaps a couple of times this year already. We’ll just have to see.”
Batavia’s R.J. Viereckl also cleared 14 feet in the pole vault and will vie for a medal stand spot today.
Marmion’s Jake Ruddy, who broke both wrists just a few months ago, qualified for state on his first jump after being cleared to rejoin the team. Friday, he hopped 22-41/4 to land a spot in today’s finals. Teammate Tyler Maryanski made the high jump qualifying height of 6-4 to join Ruddy. And junior Kevin Grahovec was third in the day’s fastest Class 3A 800 heat. Grahovec thought he could have won it.
“I started my kick just a little late,” he said. “If I would have had 10 more meters, I think I would have got them both.
“[Today], I will know better. The pack is going to get out there so fast, I will be forced to stay with them, and I will start my kick a little earlier and a little harder.”
Grahovec did set the school record, running the event in 1:54.59.
Kaneland made good use of the 23 kids they brought south, and consequently has a shot at some team hardware.
The Knights landed spots in seven events today. Kory Harner qualified in the pole vault, Marshall Farthing in the high jump, Nate Dyer sits in eighth place after a toss of 51-10 in the shot put, Tanner Andrews unspooled a leap of 44-1 in the triple jump (sixth), Nathaniel Kucera had the third-best time in the 400 at 50.01 and the 4x800 and 4x400 relay teams both won their heats but were fourth overall in times at 8 minutes, 6.45 seconds and 3:23.22, respectively.
“It would be great to bring home a trophy, but whatever we do, if we do our best, it will be all right,” said Kucera, who anchored both of the qualifying relays. “We just wanted to get into the finals. [Today] will be where we leave it out there.”
Burlington Central’s Ryan Olsen was second overall in the 400 qualifying, running 49.66 seconds.
“You had to really dig through that wind, but with the weather we faced this year, it’s beautiful down here,” he said. “I’m happy with the way things went, and tomorrow should be even faster.”
Burlington Central’s Lucas Ege is alive in the 300 hurdles after a 39.31 clocking. It’s his personal best so he seems to be peaking at the right time.
“I always have more at the end so today I decided to sprint the whole way,” he said. “That will for sure motivate me. I think I can take a half second off [today].”
That would put him right at the school record of 38.7 seconds.