Deep and confident, the Kaneland boys team enters its first outdoor invite at East Moline United on Saturday brimming with potential.
We're talking postseason – not just for a meet on the second Saturday in April.
"I mean, if it's the year to take home the [2A state] title," senior thrower Nate Dyer said, "it's got to be this year. … Our talent is so widely spread that, you know, there's no reason we can't score in almost every event."
Kaneland followed that democratic formula in winning last month's Northern Illinois Big 12 indoor meet at Sterling by 62 points. A week later, a handful of athletes embraced the chance to represent the program at the March 29 Illinois Prep Top Times meet, the unofficial indoor state championship.
Forced to work out in the school halls for the bulk of indoor season, the Knights envision even better times and standards now that the weather has started to break.
"We'll be in better shape and stuff because we pretty much ran in the halls and stuff," Stanford-bound senior distance standout Nathaniel Kucera said, "and you pretty much can't do anything with a 50-meter straightaway and sharp right turn."
The first shall be ... first?
St. Charles East senior Jordan Shead provided one of the more memorable moments of indoor season during the Saints' run to the Upstate Eight Conference title last month.
Before that morning, the Notre Dame recruit had not competed in an indoor 800, sending her to the first of four finals heats. Heats traditionally progress to the fastest seed times.
Sixteen athletes completed 800s after that, but none were able to top her 58.36. Shead provided a bit of foreshadowing by winning her heat by 8.27 seconds.
"We can't put her in there without a time. That's just the rules, so that's what happened there," Saints coach Tim Wolf said. "That was kind of exciting. It's interesting to see a kid like that be able to do something like that in a slow heat and all by yourself."
Beware of 'Dogs
Batavia's fieldhouse still generates plenty of buzz three years after it opened, but the Bulldogs want to assure opponents their skill is an attraction, too.
The boys program started positively to that end with a third-place finish at the UEC indoor meet, which it hosted.
The Bulldogs expect to close the gap on champion Neuqua Valley, runner-up Waubonsie Valley and other top programs as the outdoor season progresses.
"Our goal for this team is we've got to take the next step, you know. We've got to become an elite team," junior distance runner Ryan Wieties said. "We are building up locally and regionally. I think we're building up a reputation.
"But we want to be the team that everyone fears. We want to be Neuqua. We want to be Elmhurst York. That's our goal. Our goal is to build up and be that team that we always have that target on our back, and that's what we love."
IN THE GROOVE
What she did: Zick captured individual titles in the 200 meters (25.94 seconds) and long jump (17 feet, 4 inches) to help Kaneland to Tuesday's home triangular win against Burlington Central and Oregon.
Luke Juriga (Jr.) and Oscar Garza (Sr.)
What they did: Competing at Tuesday's home triangular, Juriga (47-3) and Garza (43-9.5) finished 1-2 in the shot put in the Cadets' team victory.
WHAT WE LEARNED LAST WEEK
The outdoor-indoor break is over. A handful of teams competed in midweek meets – including Kaneland's girls and Marmion's boys, who both win triangulars – and still more will descend on invitationals this weekend. The climb to Charleston and next months IHSA state meets is upon us.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
Which team comes out on top at Batavia's Les Hodge Invitational on Saturday. The host Bulldogs welcome a field that includes Burlington Central, Geneva and St. Charles North at the non-scored event, where T-shirts, not team points, are on athletes' radars most. North showed especially well at the 2013 meet.
COACH SLY SAYS
Put away those pushbrooms. The forecast is calling for rain on Saturday, but not until the evening, when this glut of outdoor invitationals will be over.
Although indoor workouts and meets keep them limber and on the move, athletes have no doubt been itching to take things outside.
Here's there chance, at last.