Lake Zurich, Grant share NSC title
The final race of the North Suburban Conference boys track and field championships was supposed to decide who won the conference title — Grant or Lake Zurich.
Instead, several hours after the race, and for the next 364 days — until the conference meet is again at Libertyville — all the 1,600-meter relay decided is that the conference championship is undecided.
Grant held a 2-point lead over two-time defending conference champion Lake Zurich before the final race went off. All the Bulldogs had to do was beat the Bears or finish one spot behind them, and they would share the title at worst.
"You think about that a lot as you are waiting to get the baton," Grant senior Brandon Lofthouse said. "Everything went quiet and all I could think about was staying close to or ahead of (Lake Zurich)."
Lake Zurich anchor Chris Rantis stayed even with Lofthouse until the very end. The Bears finished second but were awarded the win when Lakes was disqualified. Grant did its part by finishing third, so the conference title chase ended in a tie.
The Bulldogs captured a share of their first NSC track title while Lake Zurich claimed a share of its third in a row and the fourth in six years for outgoing head coach Chad Beaver.
"Our kids worked their tails off," said Beaver, who is stepping down to take an administrative position at Lake Zurich next year. "Everything they have done since the end of January when we were running in the snow through now is what you saw today."
The Bears rode the legs of MIT-bound senior Pat Juras to two event wins and a second-place finish in the 1,600 to help stay close with Grant. Juras, along with Bobby Klett, Chris Rantis and Will Llanos, took the 3,200 relay in a season-best 8:01.60. Juras then won the 800 in a season-best 1:57.27 in a 1-2 finish with teammate John Ramirez.
Juras gave the Bears a huge lift, but nothing compared to the boost that Grant senior Sean Wells gave to the Bulldogs. On Sunday, Wells was battling an illness and was nowhere near his best for this meet, but he still managed to dig out a pair of event wins and two more top-five finishes to keep the Bulldogs close.
"He's a special kid," Grant coach Tom Evans said of Wells. "What makes him amazing is he was all about the team today. He was not feeling well and I gave him every chance to scratch and he said he wanted to help the team."
Wells took the 110 high hurdles in 14.54, then came back and gutted out the 300 hurdles in a winning effort of 40.06. His fifth-place finish in the 200 meter dash helped inspire the 1,600 relay team at the end for the Bulldogs.
"I was just hoping for the best watching him run the 200," Lofthouse said. "He performed really well under the circumstances."
Grant also earned a win in the discus from junior Brandon Lombardino with a toss of 169 feet, 3 inches.
Stevenson, which ran third with 73 points, dominated the sprinting relays for the second straight week. Senior James Vestuto anchored the 400 to a season-best 43.44, then brought home the 800 relay team in another season-best, 1:31.05.
Carl Miller, Brian Lee, and Kihwan Kim joined Vestuto on the 400 relay while Parker Deloye teamed with Vestuto, Kim and Miller to win the 800 relay. Kim and Deloye both contributed to the team score with wins in the field events.
Deloye held off a personal-best performance from Lakes' Max Savinkov to win the high jump with a leap of 6-4. Savinkov jumped a personal best 6-3 for second.
Kim jumped won the long jump with a leap of 21-0.75.
The best race of the night came in the battle for the 400. Illinois State-bound Round Lake senior Antonio Farley had missed most of the season with various nagging injuries, but showed no signs of rust on this night.
Farley fell behind early, but with a burst of speed in the last 100 meters, Farley took the conference title in 49.43 just ahead of rival Leroy Chapman of Antioch (50.59).
"In my head I knew I had to push because I have been off for a long time," Farley said. "But in the end, I knew I had enough race left in me."
Other conference champions included Deangelo Lockett of Round Lake in the triple jump (42-9.5), Matt Dziedzic of Libertyville in the shot put (55-2), Oleg Babin of Vernon Hills in the pole vault (13-3) and Martin Martinez of Warren in 3,200 meters (9:34.75).
Libertyville (60 points) and Lakes (51 points) rounded out the top five team finishes.
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