By David Oberhelman
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Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Troy Kerber (26th year).
Last year: Second in the Suburban Christian Conference; fourth at the Class 2A Glenbard South regional.
Top athletes: Adrian Alviar, jr., middle distance; Ricardo Bustas, so., sprints; Jacob Dressel, so., jumps, hurdles; Alex Duncan, sr., middle distance; Cody Ekstrom, so., sprints; Joe Fese, jr., sprints; Zack Flint, jr., sprints, jumps; Oscar Gomez, jr., distance; Simon LaFromboise, jr., pole vault; Patrick Lefevre, so., jumps, hurdles; Javier Liz, jr., sprints; Matt Marter, sr., middle distance; Matt Meyers, jr., middle distance.
Outlook: The Chargers look to qualify either an individual or a relay for a 20th straight year. They should have the experience and the speed to get it done. They certainly have numbers, a record 85 boys out this year. "That's exciting," Kerber said. Along with that bounty ACC should enjoy a switch to the 2A Ottawa sectional. Though Plano, Princeton, Prairie Central and Geneseo are typically stout, the move west gets the Chargers away from Glenbard South, which in 2011 scored 134 more points than sectional runner-up Marmion and 171 more than ACC. Kerber called Fese one of the best sprinters in Class 2A with Flint not far behind. They'll hope to join youngsters like Ekstrom and Lefevre in a qualifying 800 relay. Last year Flint, Fese, Ekstrom and Duncan qualified in the 1,600 relay; with Marter, Duncan, Alviar all returning as well as Meyers -- the SCC's top returning open 1,600 runner (4:41.92) -- the 3,200 relay should continue to be "the crown jewel of the Charger program," as Kerber stated. It set a program record at the Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic. Strong on the track, improvement is sought in the field to challenge fellow SCC favorites Marmion and Walther Lutheran. Lefevre has gone 41 feet already in limited triple jump action and Kerber seeks others among a long list of sophomores and juniors to step up. "I think we'll be strong everywhere," Kerber said. "But our Achilles' heel, where we need to improve, are long jump and the throws, and I'm putting that out as a positive challenge to those athletes."
Coach: Dr. Jeff Schutt (eighth year).
Last year: Fifth in the Suburban Christian Conference; sixth at the Class 1A Rockford Christian sectional.
Top athletes: Quienten Boston (sr., discus), Jake Gehman (jr., sprints), Johnathan Harrell (so., sprints, jumps), Billy Howorth (sr., pole vault, sprints), Dillon Howorth (so., sprints), Nate Jensen (sr., sprints), Cody Slamans (sr., pole vault, sprints), C.J. Schutt (sr., jumps), Jonah Walker (so., throws).
Outlook: Right off the bat the Eagles are in good shape in the relays, namely the 1,600 in which Billy Howorth, Gehman, Jensen and Harrell return intact from a Class 1A third-place finish in Charleston. This indoor season they set a new school record. Howorth also looks to make a return trip downstate in the 400 after he ran it in 51.11 last season to win the SCC; he's also been on the cusp of qualifying in pole vault, topping out at 12-6 outdoors in 2011 and going 12-9 indoors. Aurora Christian will lack one state competitor, though, as senior Sam Schuette, 28th in the 1A 3,200 last year, is taking a trip to Germany and not coming out for track, Dr. Schutt said. "We will miss him because we do not have a 1,600 or 3,200 runner without him," said Schutt, who has been the program's only head coach. But they do have experience and state-qualification goals in triple jump with C.J. Schutt (the coach's son) and shot put and discus with Walker and Boston, respectively. Breaking out of their relays, athletes such as Harrell, Billy Howorth and Jensen will score points in individual sprints at most meets, with a chance at state qualification. Harrell, in fact, broke his own indoor school record in the 400 at Sycamore, going 52.62; T.J. Schutt broke his own triple-jump record there, at 40-5. "We should be better than we were last year because all the kids are hard workers, and because of some undiscovered talent," Dr. Schutt said.
Coach: Dennis Piron (14 years).
Last year: First in the Upstate Eight River Conference; first at the Class 3A Bartlett sectional.
Top athletes: Jorden Berendt, so., distance; Carlos Cervantes, sr., sprints; Brandon Clabough, sr., pole vault, hurdles; Alex DiVerde, sr., middle distance; Noel Gaspari, sr., sprints; Jon Gray, sr., jumps; Bennett Hartmann, pole vault, sprints; Pat Howland, sr., hurdles; Marquise Jenkins, jr., sprints; Austin Lewis, sr., throws; Omar Medina, jr., hurdles; Michael Moffatt, so., jumps; Roarke Mullins, so., sprints; Chris Orlow, so., distance; Jake Pollack, jr., high jump; Mike Redmond, sr., distance; Brian Rudelich, jr., high jump; Chris Spadafora, sr., distance; R.J. Viereckl, jr., jumps; Mitch Zabka, so., distance; Evan Zeddies, sr., jumps, sprints.
Outlook: Piron sees the Bulldogs as a much better team than the one that finished ninth at the Upstate Eight indoor meet. "I think we'll be a surprisingly good team that gets better and better throughout the season," he said. Batavia may get a jump on its opposition with a deep group in field events. Clabough enters the outdoor season with a 14-foot pole vault and the Bulldogs have numerous scoring opportunities in high jump and both long and triple jumps with Pollack, Rudelich, Gray and others; Lewis should likewise score in both throws. "That's a very nice way to start most track meets," Piron said. Spadafora and Redmond head a decent distance group that includes up-and-coming sophomores like Orlow and Zabka, both sub-4:33 indoors in the mile. Sprints and middle distance offer versatility good for sprint relays -- Batavia qualified the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays to state last year -- highlighted individually by Mullins and Jenkins, whose 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame will cruise much more smoothly with less turns outdoors. Seniors like Cervantes and DiVerde can range from 400-800 to add options for relays anywhere from 400-3,200. Along with 2011 throwers Sean Tews and Jacob Benner the Bulldogs graduated all-state hurdlers Rob Mohr and David Voland, opening up those events to Clabough, Howland and Medina. The St. Charles North sectional will be very competitive, but Piron believes that once team leaders such as Spadafora, Clabough, Rudelich and Lewis infuse the less-experienced athletes with confidence and they "discover themselves," ability will take over to get any number of them to Charleston. "I'm really optimistic as to where we're headed, and I think the kids are looking forward to some big breakthroughs when we hit the outdoor season," Piron said.
Coach: Gale Gross (seventh year).
Last year: Second in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; second at the Class 3A Streamwood sectional.
Top athletes: Peter Archibald, sr., distance; Mike Bianchina, jr., distance; Kevin Carlson, sr., throws; Justin Davis, jr., sprints; Brian Favis, sr., hurdles, jumps; Tim Guthrie, jr., pole vault; Tyler Hickey, sr., sprints; Kyle McNeil, jr., throws; Zac Miller, sr., hurdles; Tim Roels, so., sprints; Ben Rogers, sr., jumps; Nathan Wendt, jr., middle distance.
Outlook: In a just world, Archibald will remain healthy to unlock his true potential as a varsity runner. A state 800-meter qualifier as a sophomore with a swift sectional time of 1:56.83, last outdoor season a combination of first sickness then leg trouble limited his competitive performance to a single relay leg at the River conference meet and a non-qualifying 800 sectional run of 1:58.84. Though Gross will give him a light load as a preventive measure, Archibald looked good at the River indoor meet, bumping off Neuqua Valley all-stater Mark Derrick to win the 1,600 at 4:26.52. "He showed what he can do," Gross said. Another senior who deserves a break is Rogers, banged up both in football and basketball and to be brought along slowly for a run at qualifying in the horizontal jumps. These are two of about a dozen seniors, meaning that while a River title remains a goal, and it looks to be an open field between Geneva, Batavia and the St. Charles teams, the Vikings could be a year away. Sprints and sprint relays will need to be solidified, and Gross said there are the makings of a decent 3,200 relay; Bianchina placed 42nd overall in 3A cross country last fall, and third in the River indoor 3,200. There could be nice surprises in the throws, where despite the loss of Jacob Bastin to football training (Geneva also graduated stars Ryan Ahern, Russ Acton and Tom Frederick), McNeil and Carlson could be on the cusp of qualifying marks by May. The overall goal is to fill spots around the several experienced returners for a well-rounded squad. "The bulk of our team is juniors and sophomores," Gross said. "We've got a nice nucleus down below for the future and this year looks solid. We're looking for good, solid performances all around. I think we'll be OK."
Coach: Eric Baron (seventh year).
Last year: First in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference; first at the Class 2A Rochelle sectional.
Top athletes: Luis Acosta, so., distance; Tanner Andrews, jr., hurdles, jumps; Jesse Balluff, so., sprints; Brandon Bishop, so., sprints; Clayton Brundige, sr., distance; Sean Carter, sr., sprints; Kyle Carter, so., distance; Brandon Cottier, jr., sprints; Nate Dyer, so., throws; Marshall Farthing, jr., jumps; Frankie Furco, sr., jumps; Alex Gil, jr., pole vault; Kory Harner, jr., pole vault; Mirolhub Marin, sr., distance; Dylan Nauert, so., hurdles; Marcel Neil, sr., jumps; Dylan Pennington, jr., sprints.
Outlook: The Knights seek their fourth straight sectional title and second straight conference crown. They have depth, skill and flexibility. With several exceptions such as Cottier, Marin and Brundige, the main weakness appears to be lack of experience after graduating the likes of program mainstays Trevor Holm, all-state sprinter Tommy Whittaker and state 110 hurdles record setter Taylor Andrews. Without most athletes competing in more than two events, Kaneland scored in 14 of 15 events to win the indoor NIB12 meet with 113.33 points to Dixon's 79. "I was kind of shocked, to be honest," Baron said. "I knew we had a young team but they exceeded what our coaching staff thought." Kaneland should be solid in the field with Dyer, Farthing, Harner and others including Tanner Andrews, Taylor's younger brother, who won the NIB12 indoor triple jump. Cottier, Bishop and Sean Carter return from a qualifying 800 relay and Cottier and Balluff are back from a 400 relay that was eighth-place in 2A and just finished third at the Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic. Bolstered by top cross country runner Kyle Carter, Sean's younger brother, and last year's state sprint relay alternate Pennington, the Knights aim to qualify all four relays a third straight year. "It's almost becoming an expectation," Baron said. As well, a Carter or Balluff could spin off to try to qualify in an open sprint. Nauert is a returning 300 hurdles state qualifier who last year broke the freshman marks of both Taylor Andrews and former state champ Logan Markuson. The appeal of joining these 84 winning athletes was such that basketball star Marcel Neil joined up, adding athleticism to the long and high jump. At some point this team may be closer to the 2A second-place finish of 2010 than to the 16th-place finish of 2011. "I believe that with a number of sophomores and juniors competing for us at the major varsity level, I think this will be the beginning of a pretty strong run at the state level," Baron said. "I think this year a lot of it depends on how quickly we gain that big-meet experience."
Coach: Dan Thorpe (sixth year).
Last year: First in the Suburban Christian Conference; second at the Class 2A Glenbard South sectional; tied for 10th at the Class 2A state meet.
Top athletes: Garret Becker (sr., sprints), Matt Choice (sr., distance), Ben Cole (sr., jumps), Manny Dela Cruz (sr., sprints), Freddy d'Escoto (sr., hurdles), Nolan Dickson (sr., distance), Brady Hunt (sr., middle distance), Blake Mickey (sr., throws), Mike Montalbano (so., sprints, jumps), Jake Ruddy (jr., sprints), Pete Stefanski (sr., high jump), Jordan Sullivan (fr., sprints).
Outlook: Thorpe doesn't believe the Cadets boast loads of speed in sprints or hurdles -- Ruddy topped out at 11.57 seconds in the 100 outdoors and 23.78 in the 200 in 2011 -- but he also sees many positives. The new Regole Field House should benefit any number of facets and provide a fast start heading outdoors. Tom Choice, president of Kishwaukee Community College, takes over the distance group including his own son, Matt, as well as newcomer Dickson, who broke away from national triathlon training to run track for the first time. In 2011 Dickson finished 65th individually to help Marmion place eighth in 2A cross country, and at the Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic he ran the 1,600 in 4:16.52. The Cadets graduated all-staters Bennett Marsh and Eddy Grahovec -- whose sophomore twin brothers, Andrew and Kevin, are on the squad -- but returns state qualifiers Cole in triple jump and particularly Stefanski, who last year finished second in 2A high jump at 6-7. Indoors, Stefanski recently set the ICOPS record at 6-6 and went 6-7 at the Indoor Classic. Depending on how the distance crew shakes out there's a potential state-bound 3,200 relay in the making, if not individual 1,600 and 3,200 qualifiers; and big Blake Mickey is not far off in the throws. The Cadets have won seven straight conference championships and join Aurora Central Catholic as favorites again this year. On the state level, Marmion has been bumped up to 3A, sending the Cadets to St. Charles North. This will probably make qualification a matter of time and mark, not finishing first or second in an event. Positive attitude will help. "It's awesome to be coaching track at Marmion when you've got 92 kids who want to come out," Thorpe said. "Numbers have always been our forte. We've got great kids who work hard and rise to the challenge late in the season."
St. Charles East
Coach: Chris Bosworth (second year).
Last year: Fourth in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; third at the Class 3A Bartlett sectional.
Top athletes: Nick Devor (sr., hurdles, sprints), Mo Flanigan (fr., sprints), Mike Hockett (jr., throws), Jeremy Hultquist (sr., pole vault), Alec Jacquot (so., sprints), Benny Manibog (sr., sprints, jumps), Zach Manibog (fr., sprints, jumps), Jake Mazanke (sr., sprints), Danny Newman (so., sprints), Carter Reading (sr., sprints), Marcus Smith (sr., sprints).
Outlook: Headed by the Loyola-bound Mazanke and others such as Reading, Jacquot, Devor and Smith, the Saints should be fast on the track particularly from 200-800 meters. Last year, Mazanke ran a 1:55.06 in the 3A 800 prelims at state and followed with a 10th-place finish in the finals; recently he broke the 600 indoor mark at York and was the only runner to break 2 minutes at the UEC indoor meet. (Devor ran the only sub-8 second 55 hurdle time.) Mazanke already neared his 2011 state time at the Indoor Classic. The graduated Dillon Mugge is the one loss from a state-qualifying 1,600 relay with Benny Manibog, Reading and Mazanke, and Smith and Reading return from a qualifying 800 relay. Bosworth, a 2005 all-American cross country runner at North Central College who plans on running the Milwaukee Marathon in October, has the good problem of up to seven speedsters battling for spots on that 1,600 relay, including youngsters Jacquot and Newman. With Reading, Devor, Newman and Mazanke aboard, the Saints won the 1,600 relay at the Indoor Classic. Some sprinters will have to trickle into the 100, where freshman Flanigan will get a crack at a starting spot at invites. Meanwhile, the Saints will be building a young distance squad and looking for improvement in field events. Bosworth said there's a group of solid sophomores who've broken 5 minutes in the 1,600, but in a great conference, and area, for distance runners it will be difficult to score points in most meets. Among field events, Hockett seems the best bet to score in the throws and Bosworth said that Zach Manibog, Benny's brother, was an eighth-grade wunderkind who placed fifth at the Junior Nationals in triple jump at 40-5. The coach aims for a top-three spot at the outdoor meet, a most realistic goal. "We use every meet as a stepping stone for state," Bosworth said. "We are taking positives from every meet, whether good or bad, and turning them into a learning atmosphere to get ready for May."
St. Charles North
Coach: Don Spencer (second year).
Last year: Third in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; fourth at the Class 3A Bartlett sectional.
Top athletes: Nick Borger, jr., distance; Declan Duggan, sr., distance; Jack Feeney, so., sprints; J.T. Grill, so., pole vault; Zach Heuer, sr., distance; Oshay Hodges, sr., jumps; Ryan Joyce, jr., distance; Kaleb Kirby, so., pole vault; Zach Kirby, jr., sprints; Nathan Klair, so., distance; Connor Larson, jr., sprints; Grant Loess, jr., jumps; Zak Loess, jr., jumps; Ben MacKay-Zacker, sr., throws; Grant Markowicz, sr., distance; Josh McSweeney, jr., distance; Keane O'Kelley, jr., distance; Josh Phelan, jr., sprints; Nick Tomka, jr., hurdles.
Outlook: The North Stars offer a good mix of experience and youth, with a state-caliber headliner and proven relay speed. Hodges, a prospective track collegiate, returns after his 3A runner-up high jump effort of 6-7 (though winner Carl Heinz of Oak Park does as well) and won the UEC indoor at 6-6 despite being a little rusty. The distance squad lost Billy Clink to a transfer to York, but individually Heuer and Duggan placed 29th and 30th, respectively, on a ninth-place Class 3A cross country team last fall; North also won the UEC River Division. In the shorter races, having graduated state 400-meter qualifier Brandon Baymon the emphasis will be on relays. Last year the young foursome of Feeney, Zach Kirby, Larson and Phelan broke the school 800 relay record, and they'll go from there. Hodges joined the first three to anchor a 1,600 relay that went to the Illinois Prep Top Times indoor meet along with the 800 relay. There are "a ton" of throwers, Spencer said, headed by MacKay-Zacker who surpassed 140 feet in discus in 2011. The Loess twins do provide a problem for the coach -- how to tell them apart, with identical appearances and jumping styles. One of last year's promising freshmen, 6-3 high jumper Erik Miller, has had shoulder trouble and hopes to return by mid-May, but it remains to be seen if he'll be able to compete with what sounds like a great group. "I've just got to say that these kids, I love working with them every day, just love it," Spencer said.
Coach: Cortney Lamb (seventh year).
Last year: Third in the DuPage Valley Conference; second at the Class 3A Plainfield North sectional.
Top athletes: Royce Golembeck, sr., pole vault; Omar Gomez, jr., distance; Johnny Gosong, sr., sprints, jumps; Mike Graham, sr., sprints; Robert Herrera, jr., distance; Vontrell Hawkins, sr., middle distance; Aaron Kennebrew, jr., jumps; Parrish McGhee, sr., sprints, jumps; Tony Oros, jr., sprints; Anthony Powell, so., high jump; Benny Prunty, jr., springs; Greg Roache, sr., hurdles; Calvin Robinson, sr., middle distance; Marquette Sanchez, jr., sprints; Elijah Spears, sr., throws; Seven Taylor, sr., hurdles; Zach Truckenbrod, jr., distance.
Outlook: A well-rounded squad that scored in 14 of 15 events during a second-place finish at the DVC indoor meet, spreading points throughout sprints, distance races and field events. The Blackhawks may not have someone with the flat-out speed of graduates Nate Zinzer and Leon Spears, but good numbers of athletes up to 400 meters such as the competitive Prunty and Sanchez could produce state qualifying 400, 800 and 1,600 relays. The team of Sanchez, McGhee, baseball convert Oros and Prunty won the DVC 800 relay, the gutty anchor pulling it out down the stretch. Hawkins, Robinson and Truckenbrod could have very good seasons in the middle distance, while Herrera and Gomez could join Hawkins and Robinson on a 3,200 relay that reached the 3A state finals last season. "If we can just be consistent and avoid the injury bug we should be able to get a couple of those (relays) downstate," said Lamb, who's done great things with this program. Golembeck enters the outdoor season just 3 inches from reaching the qualifying vault standard of 13 feet, 9 inches, and as usual the Blackhawks have several horizontal and high jumpers such as Powell who will specialize in their events and should score well. Spears, who threw the shot put 47 feet at the DVC indoor meet, hopes to continue a Blackhawks strength in the throws under coach Bob Fowler. "We're strong in the field and strong in the distance, and then if we can pull our weight in the sprints we'll be all right," Lamb said.