For Neuqua Valley's boys track team the Upstate Eight Conference meet is just the beginning.
The Wildcats won the meet for an eighth straight time. Last year their win led to a second-place finish at the Class 3A outdoor state meet.
Wednesday at St. Charles East, Neuqua swept the three relays, won the 200-meter dash (Jamere Morrison), the 400 (Aryan Avant), the 1,600 (Aaron Beattie) and the 3,200 (Carlton Folster).
Neuqua Valley couldn't match Lake Park's domination of all five field events - including Zach Ziemek's titles in long jump, triple jump and pole vault - but didn't need to, racking up 126.5 points to Lake Park's 97.5 and Waubonsie Valley's 89.
It was not, however, cause for noisy blue and gold celebration.
"Our eyes are much further down the road," said Wildcats coach Mike Kennedy, whose path continues next weekend with a small army of athletes competing at the Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic.
"This is a very nice first step because this is where we first start coming together as a team," Kennedy said.
If you see Lake Park junior twins Jermaine and Jeremy Kline coming at you together, don't fret. They go a respective 6-foot-4, 300 pounds and 6-2, 230, but they're fun-loving guys. And they simply crush a shot put.
Jermaine - third in 3A outdoors last year - and Jeremy went 1-2 in shot at 59 feet, 6 inches and 57-2 respectively, followed by Waubonsie Valley's Andrew Szott and Bartlett's Brian Polubinski.
"We're doing more drills and not throwing much, so we're just trying to build up for the state meet," Jeremy Kline said.
"We competed today," said Lake Park throws coach Bob Nihells. "Our first goal when you go into a conference meet is compete."
Joining mighty-mite Danny Tucker's 55-meter victory, another Waubonsie highlight was Miguel Gonzalez's dual 55 high hurdles and 55 low hurdles wins.
On the day of the UEC meet last year, March 18, Gonzalez's grandfather passed away. Understandably shaken, Gonzalez false started in his race.
Wednesday, his grandfather's memory lifted him.
"I've got a memorial tattooed on my chest, and before every race I touch him and I thank him, and I just know that he's with me," Gonzalez said. "And then I try to go out as hard as possible just to make him proud."
Rounding out the field, St. Charles North and St. Charles East tied for fourth place with 45 points. Bartlett took sixth followed by East Aurora, Elgin, Streamwood and South Elgin.
St. Charles North's Bryan Mills took third in the 55 high hurdles, and fellow senior Peter Johnson came out of a slower heat to place second in the 800 behind Lake Park's Ryan Jorgensen.
St. Charles East coach Ben Provencher rattled off the names of sprinter Mike Brown, hurdles finalist Anders Johnson, 3,200 point-earner Mark Hayes. The Saints' 3,200 and 640 relays both placed second.
"We're really proud of them," Provencher said. "They've worked hard and it's starting to pay off."
Speaking of paying off, Streamwood's Derrick King was spied speaking with North Central College assistant coach Tom Roderick, Provencher's predecessor at St. Charles East.
The Streamwood senior, a dynamite athlete who may play football and run track at the next level, placed second in the 55 and fourth in the 200, ahead of Elgin's talented freshman Jeffrey Broger and quality senior Adam Kuforiji and Bartlett junior Jordan Barile.
King initially admitted running under Roderick's observation was "a little weight on my back." Then he reconsidered.
"No, I just come here and give it my all no matter who's watching," King said. "it could be a thousand people here or one person here. It's just me against the time."