The West Aurora girls track and field team had a glaring omission from its trophy case in recent years.
Despite a host of prestigious titles, including three county championships, a pair of DuPage Valley Conference titles and an equal number of sectional triumphs in Class 3A the last three years, the Ritter Invite at Downers Grove North had proven mightily elusive with three straight runner-up performances.
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But behind the indomitable talents of Emma Spagnola and Anita Saffra Friday night in Downers Grove, the Blackhawks eased past field-event heavy Prospect 119-105 to win the 14-team invitational.
"This is the one we have wanted," West Aurora coach Teresa Towles said after returning all-state standouts Spagnola and Saffa accounted for five individual championships in the Blackhawks' triumph. "The girls are determined to (win major invites) but even more important to compete."
Palatine was third, and fourth through eighth suggested a dress rehearsal for the West Suburban Silver Conference as Naperville Central finished seventh to disrupt consecutive finishes by Glenbard West, Lyons Township, Downers North and York. Wheeling was ninth to round out the programs from the area.
Spagnola was as graceful as she was untouchable in her two hurdles victories.
The reigning state runner-up at 100 meters was in a league of her own in winning in 12.53 seconds, and the longer variety at 300 meters served as a coronation after beginning her evening with another long-jump win -- where she is also a returning all-stater -- before concluding her personal 36-point night with a third-place result in the high jump.
"It was really hard to keep warm," Spagnola said of the brutally difficult conditions. "I ran the 300 hurdles better than I have been so far (during outdoor season). (Being a three-event returning all-stater) pushes me to run hard and do my best. I have been training very hard."
Spagnola won the twin hurdles events by more than two combined seconds.
Saffa, the Blackhawks' speed queen, showed why she was the fastest athlete in the field with dominant victories at 100 and 200 meters.
Wheeling senior Sydney Keith was runner-up in both events as Saffa eased to titles in 12.53 and 25.62 seconds, respectively.
Saffa also anchored the Blackhawks' 400 relay to a runner-up finish behind state power Champaign Centennial and ended her night with a leg on the placing 1,600 relay.
"I like to know the people I am running against," Saffa said. "I didn't know much about the other (sprinters). The 200, I felt better about it (than the championship at 100 meters). I have been working on a lot on the 400. (The 100 dash) is such a fast race that you have to start fast and move fast in the middle."
West Aurora received a most unlikely victory from pole-vaulter Nadine Dunsing for its sixth and final individual title.
The junior cleared 10 feet to prevail in the trying conditions.
"This is my first (major championship)," Dunsing said.
Downstate veteran Maya Marion was third in both throwing events for West Aurora, which also received important contributions from jumper, hurdler and sprinter Kyla Walton.
Glenbard West has two of the most imposing area track athletes in the persons of Madeline Perez and Emma Reifel. The two state-hardened competitors were at their finest to lead the Hilltoppers' fourth-place finish.
Perez, the reigning Class 3A cross country state champion, was electrifying for Glenbard West as the famed Silver Division once again showcased its seemingly never-ending parade of extraordinary middle- and distance runners.
The Hilltoppers junior was not close to being challenged in forging a new personal record in the 3,200 run with a time of 10:27.3.
Sophomore teammate Lisa Luczak was more than half-a-minute behind to complete the Glenbard West sweep in the event.
But it only served as an appetizing prelude to what proved to be the race of night.
The open 1,600 run featured a bevy of stars as Perez sought an encore, but league rival Emma Fisher proved more than a formidable foe.
The Stanford-bound senior from York and Perez were soon engaged in an epic showdown; no more than a meter and a half separated the two returning all-staters over the final 800 meters.
Every time Perez sought to make her move, Fisher was able to withstand the pressure.
The two were shoulder-to-shoulder over the last 200 meters, only to see Fisher prevail by three one-hundredths of a second for the victory.
"I've never been in a finish like that," said Perez, who was timed in 5:02.26.
There was no way of knowing who had prevailed until the FAT system could verify the winner.
"I'm not sure who won," Perez said in the interim. "It's great to have (Fisher) to push me. I was kind of on my own the whole time."
"It came down to the wire," said Fisher, who was declared the winner in 5:02.23. "It was a fun race to be in. We race each other so often that we keep pushing each other. It's interesting to learn the other's strategy."
"They'll be seeing each other the next five weeks," Glenbard West coach Kelly Hass said.
Prior to the scintillating mile between Fisher and Perez, Reifel offered yet more proof for the elite status the Silver Division occupies on a state basis.
The Wisconsin-bound indoor state champion at 800 meters exploded over the final 200 meters of her specialty race to remain undefeated on the year at the distance with her win in 2:19.07.
Reifel also sacrificed potential individual points to help Glenbard West place in the both the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
"Coming out after the four-by-eight, there wasn't a lot of rest time (for the open 800)," Reifel said. "I was excited (with my win). I was pleased."
Emma Gambol was the Hilltoppers' secret weapon on the night, placing in three individual events and anchoring their frosh-soph 1,600 relay to first.
"We ran a lot of young kids tonight," Hass said. "It was their baptism by fire."
Stephanie Urbancic and Gaby Hesslau have state-championship bloodlines after helping the host Trojans' 3,200 relay to state glory two years ago.
The duo returned to help the Trojans' 3,200 relay get past perennial power Palatine in the event, and Urbancic powered the team with her runner-up open 400 leg before ending her night with a critical contribution to the Trojans' 1,600 relay win.
"We were really nervous (at the beginning the 1,600 relay)," Urbancic said. "We knew we could compete with those girls. The key (in the 3,200 relay) was to stay in the front of the pack."
Sprinter Mary Beth Blank and thrower Tina Norris paced Naperville Central.
West Aurora ultimately had too much speed in the hurdles and sprints for Prospect to overcome.
But the Knights more than compensated with their well-balanced field attack.
Erin Reese passed junior classmate Alicia Nicolau with her final throw to win the discus, and the former was also runner-up in the shot put.
"It's fun because we can help each other out," Reese said of having in-team competition. "My throw (in the shot put) was good."
"I really like (finishing second) when it's my teammate (ahead of me)," said Nicolau.
Jess Skudlarek, a freshman, stunned defending Lyons Township state champion Emma Haugen, among others, to win the high jump for the Knights.
Catherine Sherwood and Maggie Devereux also earned second-place finishes in the long jump and pole vault for Prospect.
"We were really good in the field events," Prospect coach Dave Wurster said.
Christina Santiago was the Knights' mainstay on the track.
The Knights' junior was runner-up at 800 meters and a more than respectable fourth in the deep 1,600 field that also included third-place Palatine state veteran Tess Wasowicz.
Senior Brooke Wolf also placed in her double for Prospect: the 1,600 and 3,200 runs.
"I really feel like I came through for the team," Santiago said. "I am very happy."
Palatine received its lone championship from senior Meg Jump in the triple jump.