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updated: 3/30/2013 6:48 PM

Just the right distance for DuPage runners

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  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com  Wheaton Warrenville South's McKenna Kiple lays on the ground as teammates Amy Yong, top, Hope Schmelzle, bottom, and Erin Hermann laugh with her after they set a meet record in the 3,200 meter relay Saturday at the Illinois High School Association girls state track and field finals at O'Brien Stadium at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

      John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com Wheaton Warrenville South's McKenna Kiple lays on the ground as teammates Amy Yong, top, Hope Schmelzle, bottom, and Erin Hermann laugh with her after they set a meet record in the 3,200 meter relay Saturday at the Illinois High School Association girls state track and field finals at O'Brien Stadium at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

 

The 800-meter run has simply become the chief domain of the 28 local girls track and field teams over the last dozen years.

Former Wheaton North luminary Sammi Pollock won the last of three consecutive largest-division state championships at the distance at the Class AA meet in 2003.

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Casey Short completed back-to-back Class AA titles for Naperville Central four years later, and McKinzie Schulz (Benet), Annette Eichenberger (West Chicago) and Lindsey Rakosnik (Glenbard East) won Class 3A titles in succession beginning in 2009.

But Wheaton Warrenville South, coming off a runner-up performance to Downers Grove North in 2011, put the exclamation on the area leadership at 800 meters by becoming the first 3,200 relay team in state history to break nine minutes.

Glenbard West also broke the Barrington state mark in finishing a shade behind the Tigers duo of Hope Schmelzle and McKenna Kiple.

The Hilltoppers' Emma Reifel demolished the field at the indoor Top Times meet last weekend at the distance to put first dibs on the outdoor leaderboard.

In addition to the eight championship runners the area has produced since 2001, 36 relay teams have earned all-state distinction at 3,200 meters during the same time period.

"First and foremost you have the population base," WW South coach Rob Harvey said when asked to explain the inordinate number of extraordinary runners at the distance from the area. "There aren't very many places in the United States where you have a 2,500-student school, and your neighbor has 3,000 kids."

Glenbard West spouses Kelly and Paul Hass oversee the Hilltoppers' track and cross country teams, respectively.

"I wish I could point a finger at exactly what it is," Kelly Hass said. "I think a lot of it has to do with coaches. Coaches have gotten more savvy about that kind of thing. They're telling the kids, 'You may think you're a quarter-miler, but you're really a half-miler.' You get these exceptional kids, and it makes you want to get bold (as a coach)."

Six of the eight runners from WW South return to the fold this spring, including Schmelzle, Kiple, Reifel and Madeline Perez, who smashed the Class 3A cross country state record for the Hilltoppers last fall.

"I think we were third in the nation (by time in the 3,200 relay) and second in the state," Paul Hass said. "People would ask me if I was upset that (the girls) finished second and I was like, 'Absolutely not.' Not many teams in the nation could have beat us that day. It is a challenge to try and do it again."

Schmelzle, a Purdue recruit, erased a 25-meter deficit on the third leg, and Kiple duplicated her two-minute, 10-second split on the anchor leg to hold off the Wisconsin-bound Reifel.

The Tigers were timed in 8:59.03 to the Hilloppers' 9:00.72.

"It was great to be part of a history-making duel," Reifel said. "When we took a step back to reflect on what we accomplished, we truly had exceeded our expectations."

The Tigers' unprecedented achievement only raises the stakes as this outdoor season begins in earnest.

"The 800 is a brutal race right now," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. "Our conference (the DuPage Valley) is brutal at the distance. You think, 'My God, we're not that bad (in the 3,200 relay) we finish fourth or fifth.'"

Naperville North, which has had countless entrants in the 3,200 relay in the state series over the years, could manage only eighth with its school-record time last year in Charleston.

"You have to have the strength of a cross country runner and the speed of a sprinter," Naperville North distance coach Dan Iverson said of competing with the elite 800 runners in the state. "(The local performances) raise the bar almost constantly. It's an indicator of how much better distance running is in the state of Illinois."

The central question may be: How long will the Tigers' record last?

The Tigers' collective posting was nearly eight seconds faster than Wheaton North established at the 2005 Class AA meet.

"A few years from now, we'll be talking about teams trying to beat 8:50s," Paul Hass predicted.

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