Neuqua Valley shining a bright light on cross country
Paul Vandersteen had a vision to try something different.
"I don't know where I came up with it," the Neuqua Valley boys cross country coach said. "I ran it across my athletic director (Barb Barrows) about 10 years ago."
Wednesday night at Neuqua Valley, the other two Naperville high schools and the Wildcats' sister schools, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley, will come together for six races.
But the boys and girls varsity races — which follow underclass and open race preliminaries — will be presented with a twist.
"When the sun actually sets, the two varsity races will start," Vandersteen said.
Vandersteen, in partnership with Nike, will illuminate the 3-mile varsity course. The Neuqua Valley coach is expecting upward of 1,000 spectators.
"I threw the idea their way, and they jumped at it," Vandersteen said of the Nike sponsorship.
The participants will run the final 600 meters on the Wildcats' track.
The fields will be replete with many standouts.
The Neuqua Valley boys are ranked third in the latest coaches' poll; the Naperville North girls are viewed toe-to-toe with Glenbard West for state supremacy.
With four state trophies the last five years, including a pair of state championships, the Neuqua Valley boys already have two major invitational titles to their credit at Hinsdale Central and Peoria.
Alekh Meka is the Wildcats' top gun; fellow state returnee Nick Bushelle ably fills in the second slot with additional help from Connor Horn, Brendan O'Connor, Robbie Holhlman, Mike Whaley, Alex Stowers and Daniel Weiss.
"I have eight guys fighting for seven spots," Vandersteen said.
Pride for Illinois:
The Naperville North girls enter the festivities at Neuqua Valley tonight coming off a unique experience last weekend.
The Huskies traveled to the University of Minnesota and emerged victorious against a myriad of opponents in the Twin Cities.
"We beat out a school from California, Redondo Beach, and the top-two teams from Minnesota were third and fourth," Naperville North coach Dan Iverson said.
Elly DeTurris, Maria McDaniel and Kimber Meyer have been the stalwarts for the Huskies this fall.
Naperville North also captured the girls version, contested on the state course, in Peoria earlier this season.
"It will give us a chance for us to take a step forward as a team," Iverson said of the Huskies' expectations for the Neuqua Valley night race. "Anytime we put our people out there we want to do well."
Naperville North does not have a major competition until the DuPage Valley Conference championship a week from Friday at St. James Farm in Warrenville.
The Tigers, the defending state runner-up, have McKenna Kiple and Hope Schmelzle as their anchors to win a fourth straight league title.
"We haven't won one in a while," said Iverson, on the conference meet. "They're (the Tigers) still good. It should be fun."
Rankings in perspective:
The Glenbard West girls hold a slender advantage over Naperville North in the latest coaches' poll; the Huskies earn bragging rights on another Internet site.
"It's a nice honor, don't get me wrong," Glenbard West coach Paul Hass said. "But when all is said and done, (the rankings) mean absolutely nothing."
"I don't even think (my girls) read them," said Iverson.
The Hilltoppers, like the Neuqua Valley boys, triumphed at the loaded field co-hosted by the two Hinsdale high schools.
The Glenbard West girls also were unblemished at Peoria Notre Dame.
Madeline Perez was runner-up to Lake Park senior Kaylee Flanagan when the latter set a new record at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
"(Perez) is doing very well," Hass said. "She works so hard in practice."
Perhaps nowhere is the symmetry between cross country and track and field more readily noticeably between the Glenbard West and WW South programs.
WW South girls country and girls track coach Rob Harvey once referred to the 3,200-meter relay at the state track meet as "the area cross country race of the spring."
The schools' relay quartets both set all-time state records last spring in Charleson as WW South became the first school in history to break the eight-minute barrier.
Perez and Emma Reifel were the Hilltoppers' standouts; Kiple and Schmelzle powered the Tigers' record holders.
Julia Sakach, the third returning member for Glenbard West, was lost to the cross country season with an injury.
"If there was any carryover (from the state track meet to this cross country season), it was in the dedication (of Perez and Reifel)," Hass said. "Running the second-fastest time in state history is nothing to be ashamed of. They want to get better (in cross country)."
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