Lake Park's boys track and field team intends to leave the Upstate Eight Conference with a bang.
Lake Park's athletic teams will shift to the DuPage Valley Conference starting next fall. The Lancers plan their UEC track finale to go a lot like last year's outdoor conference meet, winning. There will be no saving people for sectionals, according to Lancers coach Jay Ivory.
"We're absolutely making a run for this title," said the coach of the three-time defending Class 3A champions. "Being the last Upstate Eight meet for us and us hosting it, we want to go out on top, definitely."
From Mike Amerlan to Jeremy Lozano the Lancers have the pieces in place to defend the title Thursday ahead of challengers such as Neuqua Valley, St. Charles North, Waubonsie Valley, Bartlett, Batavia and Geneva.
"It's a four-team race with those schools (Lake Park, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, St. Charles North) competing for the top spot at varsity," said Metea Valley coach Aaron Lewis.
Along with the massive point totals to be gained by Lake Park field-event aces such as Tim Erhhardt, Scott Filip, Shawn Koch, Derrick Smith, Per Johnson -- a cast too numerous to mention in full -- the Lancers have bulked up on the track with sophomore hurdler Antonio Shenault joining Joe Pierce, and Dakota Morales joining Lozano and Eric Dade from 800 meters on up.
"If somebody can knock off Lake Park," said Batavia coach Dennis Piron, "they're a really, really good track team."
Piron weighs in because this Upstate Eight outdoor meet offers a new wrinkle. While not agreeable to every Upstate Eight coach, the meet will include all 14 Upstate Eight teams but will be scored to determine champions of both the Valley and the River divisions.
"It's a compromise," Ivory said. "Some teams wanted one big meet and others liked two smaller meets. We'll try it and we'll see and we'll talk about it afterward. I guess we won't be part of the conversation."
St. Charles North coach Don Spencer will, and he's not real keen on the idea. Both sophomore and varsity levels take time, though the absence of preliminary heats of the 100- and 200-meter dashes and 110 hurdles, and the 3:30 p.m. start for field events relieve some pressure. But a 14-team meet on a school night, in a week also designated for Advanced Placement testing, does not thrill Spencer.
"St. Charles North strives to create well-rounded students, both from an athletic and academic standpoint," Spencer wrote in an email. "However, the format for this meet is not, in my opinion, one that aspires to both at the same time."
Regardless, his boys will be fired up. In the 14-team UEC indoor meet, St. Charles North had the best finish of any River squad, following Lake Park, Neuqua Valley and Bartlett. Then came the North Stars, Waubonsie Valley, Batavia and Geneva.
"There are many heavy hitters in the conference in a bunch of events," said Neuqua Valley coach Mike Kennedy. For example, Wildcats high jumper Tim Heinz recently cleared a school-record 6 feet, 8 inches in a triangular with Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley. Filip outdueled Heinz at the UEC indoor meet, and they'll both be challenged by others such as St. Charles North's Erik Miller, right up there with Filip and Derrick Smith at 6-6.
"There's some very good teams in the conference," Ivory said. "They all bring something to the table which really makes it interesting especially with all the teams at one site. We don't want to overlook anybody."
Coach Don Helberg's Wheaton North Falcons are as formidable in the DuPage Valley as Lake Park is in the Upstate Eight.
"If Don can get his kids off the bus they should be fine as the favorites to win the DVC," said Helberg's brother, Ken, of Wheaton Warrenville South. These two programs have combined to keep the DVC title in Wheaton an amazing 22 straight years.
Wheaton North, another defending champion, won its indoor meet by 47 points over runner-up West Aurora, 54 points ahead of third-place Naperville Central.
"It will take a strong team performance and a pretty major collapse for Wheaton North not to win the title," reported West Aurora coach Cortney Lamb, who on Friday at his track will prepare his team for the sectional more than a full-on DVC assault.
"If they load up everything and execute, they should repeat their success from indoor. Naperville Central and Wheaton Warrenville South could give them a run. Naperville Central is strong in a lot of events and has some quality events."
Lamb said it should be a fun night -- with an important qualifier especially this spring -- "if the weather cooperates."