The three people Kaneland boys track coach Eric Baron credited as most valuable to the Knights winning Saturday's Peterson Prep Invitational didn't run, throw or jump in anything. They made it possible for those who did.
"We worked our tails off to get this place ready to go," Baron said after the week's rains submerged much of the track and jumping pits.
"I'll tell you," Baron said, "my MVPs for the meet are Bob Mance and Rich Miller and Mark Payton, they're our maintenance guys that came out here pumping water. There was water on the track until Friday morning. We worked really hard to get the facilities set and the times were great today because they worked so hard at it."
Once athletes from 16 teams congregated in 39-degree weather in Maple Park, the hosts won the Peterson Prep for a second straight year and the third time in the last four. Kaneland's 145.33 points easily beat DeKalb (58), Oswego East (57), Burlington Central (46.50) and West Aurora (46.33).
"As a team we always perceive ourselves as winning before we go into the meet just so you have that sense of confidence first," said Kaneland senior Brandon Cottier, who finished third in the 200, fifth in the 100 and ran legs on a winning 400 relay and second-place 800 relay.
"We know we're capable of winning, we know that we're capable of scoring in every event. We just wanted to PR and just have great races today," he said.
Baron "loaded up" his 3,200 relay with Conor Johnson, Kyle Carter, Luis Acosta and Nathan Kucera, and the coach said their winning time of 8 minutes, 1.23 seconds -- less than two seconds off the school record set in the 2012 Class 2A preliminaries -- was the best time the Knights had run at this meet.
Kucera, who ran a split time of 1:58.13, also finished second in the 400 and anchored the winning 1,600 relay.
The Knights went 1-2 in long jump with Ben Barnes and Tanner Andrews and in pole vault with Kory Harner edging Dylan Kuipers on misses, both vaulter at 12 feet, 9 inches. Thrower Nate Dyer was runner-up in both shot put and discus while senior bulwark Dylan Nauert scored in both hurdles events and ran on victorious 400 and 1,600 relays.
"As a team," Andrews said, "we just come in and are just ready to run. We know that we're good enough to get first place in this meet and, obviously, we've been doing pretty well."
Dalvell Triplett's second-place triple jump was enough to motivate West Aurora's Aaron Kennebrew to first. Both had trailed West's Charles House until the end. After House tweaked his heel, Kennebrew led at 42 feet, 6 inches until Triplett's final attempt went a quarter-inch further.
Disappointed with what for him was a sub-par high jump, Kennebrew hit his final triple, 43-2.
"I really don't want to come in second, to be honest with you, so I put one big out there. My coach (jumps specialist Chuck Hilby) told me I that I can go do it, just go do it," Kennebrew said.
The Blackhawks' Benny Prunty just did it in the 200, going 22.45 to beat Dundee-Crown's Austin White and Kaneland's Cottier.
Prunty has enjoyed what he called a "bro-ship" with Cottier since meeting at an eighth-grade meet. Still, he didn't mind beating Cottier.
"No," Prunty quickly said. Running out of lane 7, Prunty kept the field behind him the whole way.
"That's what my coach (Cortney Lamb) said -- just make them chase you and finish. Whatever you've got left, just finish. Just finish," Prunty said.
After helping Geneva take fourth in the 1,600 relay, Tim Roels sounded glad to be finished. He'd run a 100 dash prelim and took second in the final, and along with Justin Taormina helped the Vikings to third-place in both the 400 and 800 relays. Geneva's Dan Herrera, Mike Bianchina, Jordan Midgley and Nathan Wendt also finished third in the 3,200 relay.
"Pretty tired right now," Roels said, "just going to go home and take a nap. Happy about that. Go eat some food. But everyone did really well today, I'm happy about that, stepped up when they needed to."
Burlington Central's Lucas Ege looks smooth as silk running hurdles. His technique and foot speed helped settle an old score.
As a freshman Ege had faced Kaneland all-state hurdler Dylan Nauert several times and beat him once, in the 110-meter race at last year's Class 2A Rochelle sectional.
Ege got him twice Saturday, once in Nauert's trademark 300 hurdles. In that race, Ege dramatically lowered his personal-best to 40.45 seconds from 42.9.
Coming from the pack into the final 100, Ege remained focused even as another runner banged into a hurdle.
"I think I was third, or somewhere around there, and then I just kind of realized that I could win it and that Dylan from Kaneland was slowing down," said Ege. "So I just started to pump my legs and get over the hurdles fast. I had good steps and everything. It all worked perfectly."
Ege ran the fastest preliminary time in the 110s and in the finals ran another PR of 15.44 seconds to win. Teammate Sean Kisch placed fifth -- same as in pole vault.
"Lucas has really good technique," said Burlington Central coach Mike Schmidt, whose Rockets placed fourth behind decisive champion Kaneland, DeKalb and Oswego East. Schmidt acknowledged Nauert was "a little banged up" -- and the Kaneland junior was running the third of his four events -- but that didn't diminish Ege's achievement.
"He's learning how to work really hard, especially in those 300s, to be able to have the endurance to finish that race. And you saw it today -- he came from behind to win," Schmidt said.
Burlington Central got a sixth-place finish by Casey Matthews in the 200 and a lot of mileage from sprinter-jumper Jason Berango. Rockets senior Ryan Olsen also came within a whisker of a new program 400-meter record.
Last week Olsen ran a personal-best 50.5 seconds at Geneva. Saturday he cut it to a first-place 50.27, just off Clay Kliem's 2007 mark of 50.19. Part of the Rockets' Class 2A second-place 1,600 relay in 2012 and joining Berango, Matthews and Trevor Davison on a fourth-place 400 relay Saturday, Olsen credits diligence and patience.
"It's working hard every day," he said. "Every day after practice, you say it (stinks) then, but by the end of the season you're like, 'This is awesome.' It all pays off."
Olsen utilized Kaneland's usual wind tunnel effect.
"Since we got the headwind my strategy is just dig through it on the backstretch and then let it push you on the final stretch. It worked out pretty well," he said.
The maturation of Wheaton Academy track athletes Matt Ruff and Noah VanDyke continued.
A year ago in Maple Park neither finished higher than 10th place in their events. Saturday, neither finished lower than VanDyke's seventh-place 400-meter dash, his second and final event of the day.
Ruff, third in the 400, a race in which last year he qualified for state in Class 2A as a sophomore, set a new personal and school record, at 50.86 seconds. That was a flash faster than his prior PR of 50.89.
No wonder he thought it went by so quickly.
"I actually thought it went much faster than usual," Ruff said. "Just running the race, it didn't feel as long as other ones, so I guess that was really nice. And I thought I ran pretty well."
Just a half-second behind winner Ryan Olsen of Burlington Central, Ruff's fast time came despite a left foot he said has been hurting. He attained his goal of a top-three finish.
"Good competition makes it better, so it definitely was the competition today. It felt really fun today," Ruff said.
VanDyke, a 2012 state qualifier in the 800 as a freshman, took third in that event. Sycamore's David Emmert took it out fast and VanDyke was in fifth with 300 meters left. He kicked from fourth to second with 200 left before Oswego East's Rene Salinas pushed him back a notch.
The 400 likewise went at a decent clip, for VanDyke in his first try at it against larger schools.
"They went out fast. I didn't have my best race, but it was a learning experience for me. Coming that we're a 2A school against these 3A guys, there's some fast kids here," VanDyke said.
"I'm proud of Matt," he said. "I was just watching him the whole time. From the first 300 I was back there quite a bit. I reeled a few guys in, but overall that race was fast."