Lake Park's boys track and field team intends to go out of the Upstate Eight Conference with a bang.
Moving 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 up for sectionals, according to Lancers coach Jay Ivory.
"We're absolutely making a run for this title," said the leader 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 top challengers Neuqua Valley, St. Charles North, Waubonsie Valley, Bartlett, Batavia and Geneva.
"If somebody can knock off Lake Park," said Batavia coach Dennis Piron, "they're a really, really good track team."
This year's meet will include all 14 Upstate Eight teams but will be scored to determine champions of both Valley and River divisions. Not everyone likes the format.
Even with the 3:30 p.m. start for field events and no preliminary heats of the 100- and 200-meter dashes and 110 hurdles, a 14-team, dual-level meet during a week also designated for Advanced Placement testing does not thrill St. Charles North coach Don Spencer. He believes it will run too late (Lake Park athletic director Pete Schauer anticipates an 8:30-9 p.m. conclusion) for athletes to study and get good sleep.
"The mega-meet also favors the larger schools who have more athletes who can fill a position more readily than the smaller teams and schools," Spencer wrote in an email.
Still, like Geneva distance runner Michael Bianchina, Batavia discus thrower Sebastian Vermaas and St. Charles East hurdler Matt Allen, the North Stars offer serious contenders. Jack Feeney, Tyler Ingham, Josh Phelan, Grant Loess and Zach Kirby combine to form some of the state's top sprint relay teams. Erik Miller has gone 6 feet, 6 inches in high jump, Batavia's Jake Pollack 6-5.
"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."
Wheaton North is as formidable in the DuPage Valley as Lake Park is in the Upstate Eight. Between Falcons coach Don Helberg and his brother Ken at Wheaton Warrenville South the DVC title has stayed in Wheaton an amazing 22 straight years.
Defending outdoor champ Wheaton North won the indoor meet in March by 47 points over runner-up West Aurora, 54 points ahead of Naperville Central.
"It will take a strong team performance and a pretty major collapse for Wheaton North not to win the title. 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," reported West Aurora coach and meet host Cortney Lamb. On Friday he will be more interested in preparing the Blackhawks for the sectional rather than a full-on DVC assault.
Eight years ago Marmion snatched the reins from St. Francis in what was then called the Suburban Catholic Conference, and has not let go. Aurora Central Catholic hosts Wednesday's meet and paced by middle-distance man Matt Meyers, hurdler Pat Lefevre and sprinters Zack Flint and Joe Fese the Chargers hope that, finally, this is their year.
"We are capable of scoring in a lot of events on the track; on the track, ACC has reigned," Chargers coach Troy Kerber noted. "The key will be the field events and hoping that some of the other SCC schools will be strong in some of the areas that Marmion is."
Kaneland seeks revenge against Dixon, which beat the Knights by a point last year in the Northern Illinois Big 12. Coincidentally, Dixon hosts Friday's meet.
Kaneland, which could very well challenge Cahokia at the Class 2A state meet, is favored. Coach Eric Baron's squad won the indoor conference meet by 40 points over Geneseo.
"DeKalb, Geneseo, Sycamore and Dixon are all very solid teams. There will be all-state athletes in every event and that will prepare us for the sectional the next week," Baron said. "We just have to make sure to be at our best and not make mistakes and leave points on the track this year."
Independent of conference or rivalry, West Aurora's Lamb provides probably the best summary particularly this spring: "All of the events will be competitive and it should be a fun night ... if the weather cooperates."