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Druley: Kucera runs down Stanford dream

Kaneland track star shifts focus to upcoming season

Nathaniel Kucera applied to Stanford in the fall without a safety school in his back pocket.

Even as other universities coveted the Kaneland track standout, he kept a distance because he pined for the palm trees of Palo Alto, Calif.

That’s the quiet confidence in Kucera, whose ascent with the Knights hit its most recent high when he anchored Kaneland’s Class 2A state champion 4x800-meter relay last spring.

Two weeks later, Kucera dazzled with the top individual 800 at the Midwest Distance Gala, appearing on Stanford’s radar and setting off a recruitment that culminated with his humbling acceptance earlier this week.

“It was a huge shock, a huge relief and a wave of excitement to know I could get into such a school with that academic regard and be able to run,” Kucera said.

And run he will, just not before he does a few more things for the Knights. Or lobbies to.

Kucera approached Kaneland coach Eric Baron shortly after his 1:51.33 won the 800 at the Midwest Distance Gala at Benedictine in June. Kucera came with his customary thank-yous, as well as some urgency.

If need be, the middle distance maven offered his services in the shot put, the 3,200 – whatever might land the Knights a team trophy in 2014. The 4x800 title and a runner-up turn in the 4x400 still pointed Kaneland to sixth.

“That goes a long way to what kind of member he’s gong to be at Stanford for that team,” said Baron, who also coached Kucera as Chad Clarey’s cross country assistant. “Just talking with him, it’s totally evident that team comes before himself. Those are things we as coaches always try to get in our athletes, and it’s always fulfilling to see it happen.”

Kucera ranks 18th in his class of 340 with a 4.04 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. The prospective business student flexed his verbal skills en route to earning admittance to Stanford, writing three entrance essays. Themes included a letter to his future roommate and a life event that motivated or helped him intellectually.

Give him a pen or a laptop right now and Kucera could produce volumes about the ongoing support from the Kaneland community through the years. As Baron noted, “this is a pretty big day for us as a school, too.”

“I’m just really excited and blessed to be able to have this opportunity,” Kucera said. “I started track in eighth grade and had a huge spark my freshman year, and I want to thank everyone who has helped me.”

Stanford distance coach John Oliver called Kucera regarding his acceptance earlier this week.

Kucera still had been casually considering other schools that showed recruiting interest – namely Penn State, Kentucky and Wisconsin – as he awaited word.

With the Cardinal competing at an indoor meet in Seattle this weekend, Kucera must wait a few days before conferring with coaches about the final specifics of his scholarship.

What is clear: His commitment adds to an impressive list of Knights collegians under Baron, including classmate Kyle Carter (Southern Illinois) and recent graduates Taylor Andrews (Army), Miki Marin (Eastern Illinois), Logan Markuson (Minnesota) and Tommy Whittaker (Saint Louis).

“I was given this opportunity,” Kucera said, “and I jumped on this.”

Family affair at SCST event: If there’s one rinse and repeat element to this weekend’s St. Charles Swim Team Arena Chicagoland Championships, it’s the surnames that appear throughout program pages and reverberate off pool walls.

Several staples of the eighth annual event had siblings who competed before them.

“It’s really a very unique sport and a very unique club in that parents don’t just put one kid in, they put everyone in,” SCST publicity representative Beth Wilson said, “and that’s where we get all these dynasties, I think.”

The three-day championships feature top regional talent from ages 10 through high school and begin at 5 p.m. today at St. Charles East’s Norris Center.

Swimming on Saturday and Sunday is set throughout the day at the Norris Center and St. Charles North’s pool, with finals slated for Norris at 5 p.m. on both days.

A handful of SCST swimmers – including Linda Licari, Audrey Guyett and Nick Vance – are in the USA Swimming top 10 for their age groups.

Finals begin with relays, “so the place is just crazy,” Wilson said.

Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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