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Kaneland boys track sends flood of finalists into final day of state meet

Passing Burlington Central’s Travis Panariello (center), Kaneland’s Brandon Cruz (right) runs to the next exchange in the 4x100-meter relay Friday during the IHSA state track and field preliminaries in Charleston. The Knights advanced to today’s finals.
Passing Burlington Central’s Travis Panariello (center), Kaneland’s Brandon Cruz (right) runs to the next exchange in the 4x100-meter relay Friday during the IHSA state track and field preliminaries in Charleston. The Knights advanced to today’s finals.

CHARLESTON – Three assistant public address announcers collaborated with lead voice Matt Piescinski to call Friday's Class 2A and 3A boys track and field state preliminaries.

Each one followed the same protocol, meaning a certain team sporting white singlets and black and white-striped shorts at Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Stadium was known as "Maple Park Kaneland."

"It's kind of funny, because I mean, a lot of people when they see us go, 'Where's Kaneland at?' And we always say, 'It's not a town,' " Knights senior sprinter Brandon Bishop said. "So it's kind of nice to hear 'Maple Park Kaneland.' It gives us a good chuckle."

Come this afternoon, the Knights hope the sound of "Kaneland" signifies a changing of the guard no matter whose pipes deliver the school name. After qualifying 16 of its 19 preliminary entries into today's finals, Kaneland's bid to unseat three-time defending 2A champion Cahokia is exceedingly alive.

"Today was bang, bang, bang. Wanted to make finals, and we did that. Couldn't be any happier," Knights senior sprinter/hurdler Dylan Nauert said. "Tomorrow is time to break out the big guns."

That was just an expression, of course, especially during a peaceful late-morning scene near the foliage by the on-deck athletes' tent.

Shortly after the Knights won their heat in the 4x200-meter relay – a feat shared by their three other finals-bound relays – Bishop and Ben Barnes congratulated and bantered with two Cahokia sprinters who excelled in their own prelim.

Cahokia, part of 13 finals, registered top Friday marks in seven events, including the 4x200. For Kaneland, only senior thrower Nate Dyer turned the trick with a shot put effort of 56 feet, 9 inches.
It didn't exactly prompt any Knights-Comanches tension.

"We're competitors on the track, but there's no need to take that elsewhere," Bishop said. "You know, someday, those people could be our future employers or co-workers, so I mean, there's no reason to be mean to them."

Burlington Central produced six finals qualifiers, with junior hurdles standout Lucas Ege pacing the group by winning his heats in the 110s (14.54) and 300s (38.72). Ege also ran the lead leg for the qualifying 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Rockets senior Matt O'Connor is another multi-event finalist who touts experience. BC's 4x400 anchor leg advanced in the 800, too, as he tries to reclaim the ecstacy of two springs ago.

O'Connor, then a sophomore, joined three seniors on the Rockets' championship 4x800 relay in 2012. He's especially elated to be back in Charleston after missing a potential trip last season with a stress fracture in his right foot.

"I mean, people still remember the 4x8 and stuff. Not everyone, though, since I missed last year," O'Connor said. "They're like, 'It's your first year down, right?' And I'm like, 'No. Been here before.' "

In 3A, a veteran group leads St. Charles North's contingent of three finalists, all seniors. High jumper Erik Miller looks to improve his positioning after placing fourth in the event last season, while pole vaulter JT Grill gives the team another presence in the field events.

Jack Feeney extended his job description from simply a sprinter by joining the finals-bound 4x800 relay this season. Although he missed the finals cut in the 400, Feeney, who now has competed at state in all four relays in his career, embraced the chance to help teammates Steve Lewandowski, Chris Suda and Nathan Klair have the opportunity to run on one more muggy, sun-splashed day.

"That was one of my big driving factors of joining the 4x8," Feeney said. "It was like, I'm going to make it for the 400 and these guys could very well make it if we put it together and have the right push. It's definitely more fun having more people."

Batavia and Marmion both have two finals entries, including respective high jumpers Mark Rudelich of the Bulldogs and the Cadets' Tyler Maryanski.

Batavia's David Morrison was guaranteed to run today either way, if only because his event, the 3,200, traditionally is held only on state meet Saturday.

Geneva's Blaine Bartel advanced to the finals of a familiar-looking 800 that includes several opponents from last week's sectional meet.

"It's a benefit knowing who you're running against because you know their running style, you know," said Bartel, whose competition includes fellow senior Kevin Grahovec of Marmion. "Some of them go out hard, some of them have a good kick. If you know them, it's a little bit easier to pace and see where they're going to go."

Kaneland seniors Kyle Carter and Nathaniel Kucera could attest in the 400. Also the third and anchor legs of both the 4x800 and 4x400, Carter and Kucera found themselves in the same prelim heat for an individual event, a rarity for teammates.

For the record, Kucera edged Carter, 49.10 to 49.46, but the duo knows the clock and a friendly rivalry resets today.

"We always want to race each other and win," Carter said, "but at the end of the day, it was just get somebody in finals."

Aurora Central Catholic's Javier Montelongo, one of the Chargers' two finalists in 2A, will bid to give ACC state champions in the same event in successive weeks.

He's part of the 800 field one week after Karina Liz of the girls team earned a state title in the race. One bonus: Montelongo, a senior, could recuperate Friday without worrying about schoolwork or the structure of a normal weekday.

"It's a little different," said Montelongo, a Sugar Grove resident. "But I like it better, because there's not as much stress going around."

ACC graduated Thursday, and Kaneland's ceremony is set for Sunday.

Several Knights hope to have medals dangling from their necks by the time they're ready to toss their caps in the air.

"I graduate Sunday," Nauert said. "[Today], I hope to end high school with a bang."

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