"We've got to hit just right, but it's possible."
Lake Park track and field coach Jay Ivory's statement was hard to question. After all Ivory's Lancers were the two-time defending Class 3A champions.
Yet after heavy graduation losses it seemed the odds wouldn't favor the "trifecta" Ivory sought -- conference, sectional and state titles. The Lancers could no longer depend on the superstars who delivered those two titles -- throwers Dan Block and brothers Jermaine and Jeremy Kline, and multievents master Zach Ziemek.
So far Lake Park is 1-for-2 on those goals. After winning the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division and placing second at the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional, the Lancers are in position to make a run in Class 3A -- if they hit just right.
"We lost a lot, but obviously we have kids ready to step up, and they've waited their turn patiently," Ivory said earlier this week. "They have stepped up and learned from what those older kids did, and they are ready to get in the mix."
Qualifying 10 of a possible 12 entrants in Lake Park's strength of field events, led by four-time state qualifying high jumper Kevin Spejcher, four-event qualifier Scott Filip and triple-jumper Shawn Koch with the best sectional effort in the state, the Lancers are seeded 1-3 in triple jump, 3-4 in long jump, 2-9 in high jump. In addition they have a No. 5 seed in pole vaulter Derrick Smith and a No. 6 seed in discus thrower Scott Karlis, with thrower Per Johnson and vaulter Tim Ehrhardt also among the top 26 in their events.
"When I look at my coaching staff, I'd say they're the best in the state and some of the best in the country in terms of their skill in what they do, how they work with kids," Ivory said. "I'm extremely fortunate to have those guys on the staff -- Tom Kaberna (horizontal jumps), Bob Nihells (throws), Doug Juraska (pole vault/high jump), Lance Murphy (distance). They do an incredible job with the guys, so I'm very, very lucky."
Winning the 2010 and 2011 titles without benefit of any points from the track, this year Lake Park also qualified its 400 and 3200 relays. Ivory believes they could make some noise despite being seeded 16th and 25th, respectively.
"There's no doubt in my mind that both could run faster than what they've run," Ivory said. "It's just a matter of what happens down there, but I think they can run faster and I think they can surprise some people and we are looking to score some points on the track."
Surrounding veterans Filip, Erhardt and the Wisconsin-bound Spejcher, Lake Park has filled in seamlessly with relative newcomers such as Koch, Karlis, Smith and Marcus Jegede. With those athletes in the system, no wonder Ivory Lake Park's glass as well over half-full.
"It was kind of one of those things that we looked at and said, you know what, we've got a shot," the coach said. "We've got some kids who are ready to go. You never know what the rest of the state is going to look like, but we definitely thought we'd have a chance."
Neuqua Valley assistant coach Steve Saul examined the seeds for each event. If the downstate performances were to match exactly -- which won't happen, but it's fun to consider -- here's how the top 10 in the Class 3A team standings would shape up:
Collinsville, 41 points; Edwardsville, 40.5; Belleville West, 32; Wheaton North, 31; Lake Park, 30; Cary-Grove, 25; Waubonsie Valley and Dunbar, 23; Thornton, 21.33; Neuqua Valley, 21.
Saul also noted that the Wildcats' Jake Bender, who pulled a hamstring gutting out his second-place 400-meter sectional finish, "is improving each day." In his email Saul wrote that should Bender be able to successfully complete a warmup in Charleston, the Nebraska recruit will compete in Friday's preliminaries. Until then, he's only resting.
Odds and ends:
Wheaton North is the sole DuPage team to qualify all four of its relays.
DuPage County has four No. 1 seeds: Glenbard West's Mike Lederhouse (4 minutes, 13.56 seconds in the 1,600-meter run); Wheaton North's Zach Gordon (24 feet, 2½ inches in long jump); Lake Park's Shawn Koch (47-8 in triple jump); and Glenbard South's Wesley Sanders (10.81 seconds in the Class 2A 100).
Matt Ruff in the Class 2A 400 and Noah Van Dyke in the 800 are Wheaton Academy's first state qualifiers since 2009, when Mike DeRenzo reached the Class 2A preliminaries in the 1,600.
York senior high jumper Adam Kosecki, among eight 3A high jumpers to go 6-5 at sectional including Spejcher, Filip, Glenbard East's Trinity Baker and Hinsdale South's Dijon James, joined the Dukes' track team only this year. A former lacrosse and baseball player, his best mark until the West Suburban Silver meet was 5-11. At conference he reached 6-4. Kosecki started competing in triple jump "and for a lack of progress there he went to the high jump," Dukes coach Stan Reddel said at the Wheaton Warrenville South sectional. "He's trying to learn a lot awfully fast."
Sammy Spivey, a member of Wheaton North's qualifying 3,200 relay, is the son of Fenton graduate and former Olympian Jim Spivey.
Jeff Helberg, a hurdler at Wheaton Warrenville South and North Central College and the son of Tigers coach Ken Helberg, has earned his stripes as a track and field official. Jeff will be an umpire at the state meet while his father watches from the stands and his grandfather, Ron Helberg, sits on the Jury of Appeals.
Other familiar names serving in some capacity at the boys state meet, either on the track or behind the scenes, include: retired West Aurora coach John Bell and current West Aurora football coach Mike Powers; former Willowbrook coach Mike Brosseau; Lisle resident Ray Carlson, on the FAT system; veteran Wheaton officials Jim Effinger and Tom Todd; retired Hall of Fame Lisle coach Carlin Nalley; former East Aurora coach and athletic director Cliff Pensyl.