Lake Park entered Saturday's Class 3A boys state track finals in Charleston having advanced 11 of 12 qualifiers from Friday's preliminaries. None led their events, however, leaving the Lancers scheming the best way to win their third straight team title ahead of top competitors Edwardsville, Wheaton North, Oak Park and Minooka.
"(Horizontal jumps) coach (Tom) Kaberna had a great idea to motivate the kids. It worked," said Lancers coach Jay Ivory said.
"His idea was, we need 50 points. We're going to leave the room and you figure out how we're going to get those 50 points. They debated, they talked and they came out and said we're ready, and they had written down how they thought they were going to get 50 points."
"As long as everyone gets the places that they need to get we should bring home another trophy," triple jumper Shawn Koch said on Friday.
Forty-eight points was good enough for a 6-point margin over Edwardsville. Among the Lancers' many clinching efforts were Koch going 48-2½ on his last try for second place, pole vaulter Tim Ehrhardt delivering a 6-inch personal record to finish at 15 feet, 3 inches, Per Johnson moving from 11th to seventh in discus and Marcus Jegede going from ninth to fourth with his final long jump of 23 feet, ¼ inch.
Crucial also were 3,200 and 400 relays featuring seniors Dimitri Alimissis and Kevin Jorgensen, which earned Lake Park its first relay points since 1998.
"I have to thank all of my teammates, to be quite honest," said four-time high jump qualifier and two-time all-stater Kevin Spejcher. "I would be nowhere without them. And I give even more credit to the coaches."
"It was phenomenal, just phenomenal, these guys, what they were able to do," Ivory said. "All the credit to my assistants: Tom Kaberna, Bob Nihells, Doug Juraska, Lance Murphy and Eddie Eisman. Awesome, awesome."
Metea Valley's Joe Stewart took the rest of the Class 3A 3,200 field by surprise when he suddenly burst from seventh place to first near the end of the third lap.
"I was like, oh man, this kid," said Neuqua Valley's Mark Derrick. "The way he got out there I was like, oh man, he might win this. I was kind of hoping everyone was staying together and keeping it smooth, but he just blew it up and it was (gutty), man."
Stewart felt it was his best chance.
"I knew there were a lot of fast kickers in this race, so me and my coach (Chris Rohde) talked about it beforehand and we knew that if I wanted just a shot I'd have to go out and push it every lap."
Stewart held the lead for each of the next three laps, by as much as 30 meters. He was ahead at the bell lap before several others, including fifth-place finisher Derrick, passed him. Stewart placed sixth, and his brother Matt, running out of the prior heat, finished in 17th place. Both Stewarts will run at Miami of Ohio.
"I thought for a second I had it," Joe Stewart said, "but they really started closing those last two laps."
Neuqua's Taylor Soltys earned all-state in ninth, while Willowbrook's Pat Niyork, tripped at 1,100 meters and, dead last out of 19 runners in the final section, rallied for 16th place overall.
In the 1,600 Glenbard West's Mike Lederhouse had the same idea as Joe Stewart.
Coasting behind New Trier's Leland Later for the first two laps, with about 700 meters left Lederhouse took off. He had a 5-meter lead at the bell, but at the second turn with 300 meters left, Later repaid the favor and shot past Lederhouse who, spent, went on to finish sixth.
"I knew that I would stand no chance if it came down to a kick with 300 to go," said the Georgetown recruit. "I went out, took a risk and unfortunately they got me at the end. But I stuck to my race and I gave it all that I had."
Out of nowhere:
One of the best stories of the 2012 season was the emergence of Downers Grove North senior Jordan Munar.
Recruited by senior sprinter Ryan Koegel, Munar had played soccer full-time in an effort to attract college attention. By the time indoor track rolled around this winter Munar figured he'd narrowed down his options, so he gave track a try.
What followed were some of the state's best times in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, state qualification in the open 100 and 200 and the Trojans' 400 and 800 relays.
Munar said soccer helped: "I chased after balls for like 90 minutes."
He finished second in his heat of the 200 and earned an all-state sixth place in the finals. A team player, he withdrew from the 100 to focus on relays, which didn't make the finals -- missing the 800 relay by .21 seconds and one position.
"I think the team has always been there for me," he said. "I'd rather do something that I could (for them). I feel better doing the four-by-one, four-by-two, no matter how we do."
Obviously a star on the rise, joining the Trojans track team opened a new vista for this soccer convert -- in mid-May Munar verbally committed to run at Nebraska.
A debut, a return:
When Colin Yorke took the big blue oval at O'Brien Stadium in Friday's preliminaries of the Class 3A 1,600-meter run, he became Metea Valley's first athlete to compete at the state meet. Trésean Mackey, Alan Williams, Aaron Laskey and Will King of the Mustangs' 1,600 relay team were watching.
"We were pulling for him," Mackey said. "He did a good job. We're proud of him, first year at state."
Wheaton Academy freshman Noah Van Dyke, running in the Class 2A 800 preliminaries, was the first Warrior to see the track since Mike DeRenzo in 2009. Van Dyke was followed in the 400 by sophomore Matt Ruff. Neither reached the finals but set the stage for the next few years.
"It's the best feeling ever, being able to come out here, represent Wheaton Academy," Van Dyke said. "We're a small school, but it just goes to show we have heart. We're able to do what we need to get done. I'm very happy to be here no matter what happened today. It's just a privilege."
Ruff did call the competition "nerve-wracking," but obviously was pleased to be in Charleston.
"It's very hard competition," he said, "but it's an experience that you can't forget."
One last time:
Glenbard East's Mike Fahey ran in Charleston all four years in high school. The two-time DuPage Valley Conference 800-meter champion, who won't run at Illinois State, capped his career Saturday with an all-state, eighth-place finish.
Fahey was 12th in the 800 last season, ran on the Rams' 3,200 relay as a freshman and in 2010 joined Jim Peters, Brad Magnetta and Luke Chvatal on the Class 3A champion 3,200 relay.
"The highlight was, without a doubt, the four-by-eight state championship of my sophomore year. High school running was a lot of fun. I really, really like my coach, coach (Jack) Brady," Fahey said.
"It was a lot of fun. Just the racing and coming down to state, the whole time at state. We went with a big group of guys this year and they were all fun."
A little consolation:
The downstate audience was denied seeing one of the state's top runners. Neuqua Valley's Jake Bender, 2011 runner-up in the 400, was unable to run after suffering a pulled hamstring at the Class 3A Naperville North sectional.
Not about to risk Bender's future at Nebraska, Wildcats coach Mike Kennedy and his staff rested Bender last week, then shut him down after a brief Friday warmup indicated the hamstring wasn't ready.
Not only were Bender's 400 chances dashed, so too were qualifying 400 and 800 relays that without him did not advance to finals. Still, the Wildcats enjoyed all-state finishes by seniors Mark Derrick and Taylor Soltys and surging junior discus thrower Carlos Varela-Hernandez.
The good news for Bender is that shortly after his injury he was named Neuqua Valley's outstanding male athlete of the year.
They said it:
"I'll definitely be a contender in the finals," Waubonsie Valley's Kyle Schafer said after the Class 3A 300 hurdles preliminaries; he finished sixth.
"Just staying hydrated is key. It's hot out here," said Class 3A 100-meter winner Tavaris Binion of Hinsdale South.
"I liked it back then, and I was like, I'll try it again and see what happens this time," said Glenbard North senior Jordan Simmons, fifth in the Class 3A 100 in his first track season since the eighth grade.
"I'm just so glad I'm here," said Glenbard South's John Wold, who anchored the Raiders' Class 2A third-place 3,200 relay. "This is the first meet my aunt and my grandparents get to see me run."
The final word:
Though he wanted to, Glenbard South senior Scott Wurtz was unable to run from his freshman to junior seasons due to stress fractures in his shins, back and hip injuries.
He wasn't 100 percent this year but went after it, placing 32nd overall on Glenbard South's second-place Class 2A cross country team. Last weekend Wurtz qualified for the 1,600-meter finals, earning all-state honors with a sixth-place finish. In the 3,200 relay the Raiders were eighth when he received the baton to start the third leg. Wurtz moved up to third when he passed it to anchor John Wold, who maintained the spot.
"Perseverance is a good quality," Wurtz said.
"I never really thought about stopping. It was hard, for sure, not being able to run that long, but I never thought that I would give up or stop trying. I was in physical therapy for pretty much those entire three years, so it was definitely mentally tiring. But I decided I needed to keep trying, keep going."