There's nothing wrong with a little pressure.
Marmion's John Graft felt it Wednesday. Set to launch into the 1,600-meter run he was told that with a win the Cadets could clinch the Suburban Christian Conference boys track and field championship. On the track of Marmion's greatest rival, no less, Aurora Central Catholic.
"So I felt a little bit of pressure to finish out the race and win," said Graft. "But a little pressure is good sometimes and I pulled through."
Graft, a junior who finally gapped racing buddy Matt Meyers of ACC to win in 4 minutes, 27.05 seconds, is a two-sport spring athlete who enters Saturday's SCC boys tennis meet undefeated with doubles partner Jackson Rettig.
"It's been a little hard to balance but it's been a lot of fun and I'm definitely getting good results in track, so it's working out," Graft said.
He noted the person who told him his 1,600 win could clinch victory might have had his math wrong, and perhaps so. Marmion's 177 points were 48 more than runner-up ACC, as the Cadets won the SCC for an eighth straight year, the host Chargers taking second a fourth straight year. Aurora Christian and Montini followed.
"Our kids compete," said Marmion coach Dan Thorpe, who in pre-scoring the meet had the Cadets losing by 8 points to ACC. "In February I didn't think it was possible just by what we returned. Track also is heart, and our kids have a lot of heart."
Marmion started strong with a 1-2 long jump finish by Isaiah Brown and Michael Sheehan, and finished strong with a 1,600 relay win from Jordan Sullivan, Peter West, Andrew Grahovec and twin brother Kevin Grahovec.
In between was the victory by first year high jumper Tyler Maryanski, at 6 feet, 4 inches. A junior who came out after basketball season, Maryanski hadn't high jumped since the eighth grade.
"I came into the season hoping to clear maybe 6-foot, 6-1," said Maryanski, who has gone 6-5 once indoors, once outdoors. "And since that indoor meet when I first cleared 6-5, ever since that it's been a lot better than that."
A couple more Marmion points in high jump by David Blaha typified what ACC was up against.
"Where we were attacking events in ones, they were attacking events in twos," said Chargers coach Troy Kerber. "I really like where my kids are at, though."
He had to love where four-year sprinter Joe Fese is at. The senior wore a neck brace for two weeks in April to ward off neck and back spasms but on Wednesday he won the 100- and 200-meter dashes, before Montini's Michael Spangler both times, and anchored victorious 400 and 800 relays to earn meet MVP.
"This year I just tried to really push it in my workouts and tried to give it everything I've got," he said.
The most exciting finish came in the 800. ACC's Meyers and Marmion's Kevin Grahovec, closing down the stretch on the outside, bracketed Wheaton Academy's Noah VanDyke. The three runners seemed intent to cram into two lanes. VanDyke fell before the finish line, crawling to get there. Grahovec remained upright on the outside but Meyers dove across the line to win in 1:58.62, just .06 before Grahovec.
"I was going to try to give it all I've got and whatever happened, happened," said Meyers, a mean-looking strawberry glistening on his right shoulder.
Aurora Christian's Jonah Walker won both discus and shot put, as expected. After two shot put scratches he won the event at 49-5¾ on his final throw to beat Marmion's Oscar Garza, then the football lineman high-tailed it to a football showcase at Aurora Christian in front of college scouts.
"I think the pressure helps me a little bit," Walker said.
St. Edward junior John Danner had a busy and successful day. He opened up with a win in the 3,200-meter run, hanging up front with Marmion's Eric Anderson and Nick Delaney until breezing home in 10 minutes, 6.56 seconds.
Danner, whose brother Greg ran at Lisle, said he initially wasn't going to run the long event.
"It's not my race, I guess," Danner said. "I like to run the 800 and the mile but coach (Mike Olenek) said, 'Hey, I'll put you in it.' I'm glad he did. It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the day. Starting good is everything. Because then you're just in a good mood for the rest of the day and you just run."
And run. Danner finished sixth in the 800 and returned again for his third distance event, taking fifth in the 1,600.
St. Edward senior Kevin Olenek finished second in the 300 hurdles and third in the 110 hurdles. This is a great accomplishment considering what the home facility he uses to train.
"We run pretty much on asphalt, use grass on the football field when we can. But this year's been terrible for all of that. Gravel has been the big one," said his father, coach Mike Olenek, whose Green Wave placed sixth among the 11 squads and got a fourth-place discus finish by John Gothridge.
"Hurdle practice, he sets up two hurdles on the grass and that's where we have to practice," Mike Olenek said. "As far as John (Danner) is concerned we do repeat laps, etcetera, around the football field. And that's about it. Very difficult.
"Our only practice is we get to come out here to a meet, so I think (Kevin is) doing pretty well for that."
St. Francis senior Michael Wilson disappointed clearing only 13 feet in pole vault, having gone 13-9 before, but it was good enough for the win. The senior also finished third in the 100 dash and opened the Spartans' 400 relay.
Wilson is among St. Francis' rare four-year seniors, and credited coach Scott Nelson for his success.
"I couldn't do it without him," Wilson said.
Along with Michael Spangler's two second-place finishes in the 100 and 200, Montini's 400 relay took second with its usual lineup of Dimitri Taylor, Michael Hollingshed, Logan Goss and Spangler. Bronco Liam Kennedy placed third in shot put.
IC Catholic Prep had its best success in relays, fourth in both the 400 and 1,600 relays. Tim Hipskind anchored both of them.
Wheaton Academy's Matt Ruff repeated as the SCC 400-meter champion. Consistently dropping his time, the junior lowered his school record to 50.38 seconds, holding off Marmion's Kevin Grahovec and teammate Noah VanDyke.
"It's really cool to do that again," Ruff said.
Ruff and VanDyke are among many quality athletes Wheaton Academy's Bill Bickhart has coached. Wednesday was his last conference meet as after 18 years the school will not renew his contract as track and cross country coach or physical education department head.
"Eighteen years, lots of fun," Bickhart said. "Great competition, had a lot of great athletes who've come through ... Good fun, fond memories, but there's a time and a place for everything, and God's moving us."