The Class 3A York girls track and field sectional featured nine returning members of the top-three 3,200-meter relay quartets in the state, including Wheaton Warrenville South and Glenbard West.
The schools ran the two fastest times in state history last spring, but coaches Rob Harvey and Kelly Hass threw the other schools for a loop in the opening event.
"It was time to write a new chapter," WW South coach Harvey said.
Harvey and the Hilltoppers' Hass dismantled their relay lineups to concentrate on other events, and Madeline Perez made her remarkably deep distance rivals pay dearly.
The Hilltoppers' reigning state cross champion put on a scintillating display in Elmhurst on Friday night with a jaw-dropping combination of speed and endurance to rout her six fellow state qualifiers in the 3,200 run, including future Pac-10 combatants Emma Fisher (York, Stanford) and Kaylee Flanagan (Lake Park, University of Washington).
Seizing command by the 800-meter mark, Perez crossed the line in 10 minutes, 21.82 seconds.
Six competitors finished under 10:46.5 in all as Fisher and Flanagan, the defending state champion, were second and third in 10:34.86 and 10:35.9, respectively.
"I knew this field was strong," Perez said. "The goal was to go out and test myself."
Perez came back in the 1,600 run and immediately established the tone, taking the lead early on and withstanding a late challenge from Prospect junior Christina Santiago to win in 4:58.85.
"This is one more step of preparation for the state meet," Perez said.
"(Perez) gets her mind to do something, and it's going to get done," Hass said.
There were 16 totals qualifiers in the two longest races.
The other major actors in the enthralling 3,200 relay last year at Charleston all made equally important statements for their teams.
WW South senior luminaries McKenna Kiple and Hope Schmelzle, the twin engines of the Tigers' state-record relay last spring, were as interchangeable as ever.
Kiple denied the Hilltoppers' Emma Reifel, who teamed with Perez last spring as part of the unforgettable duel, to win the open 800 in 2:14.26.
Schmelzle, the Purdue-bound Tigers' senior leader, qualified in both the 1,600 and 3,200 runs.
The pair also qualified in the 1,600 relay.
"We have so many more opportunities," Schmelzle said of skipping the long relay. "That's what made (qualifying individually) so much more exciting."
"That was my focus going into the year was the open eight," said Kiple, who raced past Prospect junior Lauren Poplowski and Reifel over the final 100 meters to win. "(Reifel) is an amazing runner. I had to stay on her."
Reifel would come back catapult the Hilltoppers' 1,600 relay with a never-to-be-relinquished opening leg.
Emma Gambol anchored the Hilltoppers' crew; the sophomore also won the 300 hurdles and advanced in the triple jump.
WW South, second to Prospect in the team standings, led all schools with three relays and eight individuals, including a victorious Jessie Spera in the 100 hurdles.
Glenbard West, third overall, had four individuals in three events in addition to two relays.
Lake Park, fourth, could very well threaten for a state trophy behind Flanagan and fellow returning all-staters Tyshai Freeman and Maya Golliday.
Freeman won both the high jump and triple jump, with Golliday crowned champion in the pole vault.
Willowbrook senior Colleen Krawczykowski (long jump), Wheaton North senior Emma Grisanzio (400) and the York 800 relay were the final local champions.
Glenbard East qualified three individuals.
It was a bittersweet night for Prospect coach Dave Wurster.
The Knights were 17 points better than WW South, 99-72, but the sectional team championship did not compensate for several near misses.
"The sectional meet is always an emotionally weird night for a coach," Wurster said. "You get really excited for a few minutes and then you have to move on. There are always two or three events that you just miss in (qualifying). (The girls) work so hard and then their season is over."
Prospect was third in the epic 3,200 relay at state behind WW South and Glenbard West last year.
Poplowski, Santiago and Brooke Wolfe returned to the fold for another championship run after turning back Glenbard West with a time of 9:41.54.
Poplowski and Santiago were both denied individual titles at 800 and 1,600 meters by Kiple and Perez.
"I thought I had the win," said Poplowski, who was runner-up at 800 meters in a splendid 2:14.53. "I couldn't run any faster."
Santiago appeared to be within striking distance of Perez with 200 meters to go.
"I thought I could catch (Perez) for a little bit," said Santiago, sixth in the event last year at state. "I couldn't quite get her. We (the members of the 3,200 relay) feel really good about what can happen next week (in the event)." Prospect also won the 400 relay as Catherine Shorewood, a qualifier in the long jump, led off the quartet.
Erin Reese was a qualifier in the two throwing events for the Knights.
But the Knights' junior was completely overshadowed -- as were all of her fellow throwers -- by Rolling Meadows' Morgan Keller.
The Illinois State-bound senior was untouchable in both events, uncorking the discus 150 feet, 2 inches to set a new personal best by more than 4 feet.
"My last three throws were 148, 149 and 150," Keller said. "I have been flirting with 150 for a while. I have always wanted to throw that distance."
Keller, third in state last year in the shot put, was over 44 feet in the discipline for her other triumph.
Jennifer Donnell continued the local theme by qualifying in both throws for Conant.
Tracy Iroegbulem was the only runner to qualify for Conant, via her runner-up result in the 200 dash.
Elk Grove failed to advance any individuals or relays.