Before the snow melted, the rivers rose, and the weather hit 70 degrees -- well, that part hasn't happened yet -- Lakes and Grant were considered the deepest track teams in Lake County and the prohibitive favorites in the North Suburban Conference.
After three frigid and rain-soaked weeks, nothing much has changed.
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The Eagles and Bulldogs have run rampant over the competition for the most part, winning three of four invites and every dual meet thus far in the NSC Prairie Division. Both are 5-0.
It leaves just one question that inquiring track coaches want to know: Who is better?
That will get decided Monday at Lakes at 4:30 p.m.
Lakes had won six straight NSC Prairie Division titles before the Bulldogs stopped that streak last season and captured their first since joining the NSC. To add to the budding rivalry, Grant carried the momentum from the divisional title into a share of the overall conference title the following week. The Bulldogs shared the title with Lake Zurich -- and the Bulldogs did so at Lakes.
"I think before the season you make a list of goals as to what you want to accomplish," said Lakes coach Kurt Rowells. "As our program has evolved, we have adjusted our goals now to winning the conference -- though winning the division is still nice."
The breakdown of depth and talent on each roster is enough to build an all-star team in some cases. The Eagles feature veteran stars in Shawn Beutlich, Trevor Ray, and Ryan Prais. Grant has its share of stars in Arkansas State-bound senior Brandon Lombardino, Kyle Hatton, and Jonathan Wells.
"Our list of goals includes trying to win the division and win the conference again," said Grant coach Tom Evans. "But they aren't satisfied with just that, they want more."
Grant and Lakes will also see each other at the Bulldog Invite Thursday at Grant and the Lake County Invitational at Lake Zurich on May 3. Lakes will compete in Class 2A at the state meet the end of May; Grant will be in the 3A. Both teams should figure in the trophy race.
Meanwhile, in the Lake
The North Suburban Lake Division has seemed more like an actual lake of late, with Warren, Libertyville, Lake Forest, and Zion-Benton all struggling with severe flooding around their campuses. The race for the top spot, which was captured by Warren in 2012, is a three-horse affair at this point. The defending champion Blue Devils, Zion-Benton and Stevenson all still have a shot, with Lake Forest contending as well.
Stevenson and Warren will race with Lake Zurich on Monday, and that should go a long way to deciding the race.
A few of the top performers in the Lake so far this spring include Stevenson junior Ki Whan Kim and senior Alan Velev, along with Brown-bound Warren senior Martin Martinez.
Lake Zurich has been impressive as well despite rebuilding this season. The Bears distance group led by Jared Ripoli and Alex Milner is joined by a new sprint standout in Bobby Klett. He popped off two of the best times in the area Monday, running a 10.75 in the 100 and a 22.6 in the 200.
Martinez is among the best in the state in the 3,200 so far this spring as his battle with Ripoli at the Warren invite two weeks ago figures to be a harbinger of things to come when the championship season starts in two weeks.
"(Martin) has some big numbers in mind this year," said Warren coach Bill Dawson. "He wants to medal at state in the mile and 2-mile and looks very strong so far this year."
A Cougar with Hops
Before the season, first year Vernon Hills coach Mark Whitney knew he had a talent in freshman Noah Agnew. What he heard is quickly turning into reality.
Agnew came in as a highly touted high jumper and through just a handful of outdoor meets, he hasn't disappointed. With one of the top high jumpers in the state returning in his division in Jonathan Wells from Grant and Lakes standout Max Savinkov having cleared 6 feet, 5 inches, Agnew has been step for step with the best so far.
Agnew won the IESA state championship last season in eighth grade, clearing 6-2 and has already been over 6-4 so far this outdoor season. That mark is over the state qualifying mark needed to qualify for the Class 2A state meet next month.
A USA Best
He already owns the school records at Grant in the shot put and discus and has the best discus throw in Lake County history and the second best shot put effort, but for a while, Brandon Lombardino was also the best in the country this spring.
The future Arkansas State athlete launched the shot 62-2.5 in a dual meet last week, which temporarily was the best throw in the country this spring. Currently it is third-best. All of this comes from a thrower who had not exceeded 52 feet in the event prior to this season. Lombardino is still tops in the state and has the fourth best throw in the discus so far.