Huntley boys track coach Jim Rolando has said his team's success this season has boiled down to teamwork.
That theory is backed up by the Red Raiders winning both the McHenry County and Fox Valley Conference titles.
Huntley looks to add to its string of success Friday at its own Class 3A sectional, where berths in next weekend's state finals in Charleston will be on the line.
At the sectional level the top two place finishers in each individual and relay event plus any individual or relay satisfying the minimum state-qualifying standard in each event will advance.
"We have a pretty solid base of seniors and a handful of freshmen have stepped up at the varsity level," said Huntley senior Trevor Obecny. "There are a lot of guys we can count on. We have an all-around solid team with distance, sprints, jumps and throws. We're a very well-balanced team."
Obecny, who will do track next year at Northwest Missouri State, will compete in the 800 as well as the 3,200 and 1,600 relays, making for a busy evening. Obecny was part of Huntley's 1,600 FVC championship relay team and took second in the 800.
"It's a killer trio," he said with a laugh. "I've been running that stuff since freshman year so I got used to it. The training we do helps you get used to it. It's really not that bad."
Fellow senior Justin Herbert is coming off a conference-championship win in the discus and a second-place showing in the shot put. He's already over the state-qualifying mark in the discus and is very close in the shot put (5 inches).
"I did a lot of training in the off-season," he said. "I did a lot of powerlifting over the winter. My shot put has gone up 8 ½ feet since last season and my discus has improved by 17 feet from last year."
Herbert increased his bench press from 285 pounds to 325. He's squatting about 500 and deadlifting 580 pounds. He added strength alone hasn't gotten the job done.
"There is tons of technique involved," he said. "When I wasn't lifting I was going over steps and drills wanting to get ready for the season. I knew if I wasn't pulling anything off this year it would be tough to throw in college. Putting the numbers up I have lately has made it a lot easier."
Herbert, who will throw at Western Illinois University next season, said team chemistry and coaching also have helped in crafting this Red Raiders' story.
"It's been a crazy year," he said. "We're all really close friends not just on the track, but outside of track. Everybody's bond has helped a lot. Teammates will come over between their events and cheer each other on. We feed off that and we push each other. And any of the sports I have played I've never been with coaches who cared so much about players and the health of players like our coaches do. The coaches are there when you need anything. They are like a second family."
Obecny knows Huntley must prove itself at the sectional.
"We're pretty pumped," he said. "We know the sectional is very competitive. Our goal is to compete well and get good PRs."
The Huntley sectional field also includes Jacobs, Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake South among the 16 teams.
Bartlett and Connor Rachford are part of the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional along with Dundee-Crown, Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin and Streamwood. Bartlett coach Eric Kramer said Upstate Eight Conference 100 dash champion Aaron Everson will not compete at the sectional (rules violation).
Rachford will run the 800 and be part of the 3,200 and 1,600 relays. He's gone as low as 1:57 in the 800 this year (1:57.24 is state qualifying). Rachford did not run the 800 at conference and instead did the 1,600.
"I took a mental break from the 800 so I could come back and pound it for sectionals," he said. "You have to be mentally tough in the 800 the entire way. You can't be afraid to push at the right time. There is no time to lay back. Once someone gets away from you, it's hard to catch them."
Rachford is looking forward to meeting up with Marmion standout Kevin Grahovec again. Rachford won the Illinois Prep Top Times indoor 800 state title in 1:58.66, while Grahovec was right there at the line at 1:58.67.
"This will be the first time we've raced since then," Rachford said. "It will be interesting."
Burlington Central will compete in the Class 2A Sterling sectional. Central's Ryan Olsen will be plenty busy competing in the 100 and 400, as well as the 400 and 1,600 relays.
"This is easier than conference because I had to run the 200 and that had prelims and finals," Olsen said. "I like being busy. I feel like when I'm busy I get warmed up easier and I'm ready to run my races."
Olsen, who noted his best event is the 400, was plenty active with off-season training, specifically mixed martial arts regimens.
"I wasn't doing anything (time-wise) as a freshman or a sophomore," he said. "Coach told me I was just a nice kid on the team (laughs). I was that kid. Junior year I kind of came out of nowhere and I credit that to having a strong off-season with hockey. I played on two teams and got a lot bigger and faster. The MMA training has helped me stay in shape and helped with preseason conditioning and it's fun. You know you will get a workout. It's a pretty unique thing to do. People don't realize how much work is involved in just jumping rope for 20 minutes straight. Something like that is all calf and lower muscles."
Olsen, part of last year's Central state runner-up 1,600 relay team, has gone as low as 49.5 in the 400. State-qualifying is 50.84 in Class 2A.
"I would like to get that down to 49.1 or in the 48s," he said.
Sophomore teammate Lucas Ege is slated to do the 110 and 300 hurdles and the 1,600 relay. He said he may not do the 110s due to a hamstring issue.
He has his eye on the frosh-soph school record of 39.8 in the 300s. "I think I can get that," he said. "Everything is starting to come together. With the 300 hurdles you have to have enough stamina to get through it. Everybody seems to die off in the last stretch. You have to have energy at the end."
Ege runs the 1,600 relay with Olsen, Alex Johnson and Kyle Neubauer.
"We're less than a second off state time," Ege said. "We've improved a lot. I think we can get it if everyone is healthy."
Hampshire also is in the field at Sterling. St. Edward, Elgin Academy, Westminster Christian and Harvest Christian will compete in the Class 1A Seneca sectional Friday.