Trevor Ray held a small bundle of gift-wrapped goodies baked by Stephanie Rowells, wife of Lakes boys track coach Kurt Rowells, when a competitor stopped by to feed the speedy senior some sugary praise.
It was none other than Ray's old middle-school relay teammate, Leroy Chapman of Antioch.
"Mention that he beat me," Chapman said with a smile, as he patted Ray on the shoulders and back. "Smoked me."
Chapman, who finished second to Ray in the 400-meter dash, wasn't the only one blown away by a Lakes runner.
If this were a high school baseball game, it would have been called after five innings. Lakes piled up 144 points to capture Friday night's Class 2A Vernon Hills sectional. Defending sectional champ Grayslake Central (76 points) was way back in second. Vernon Hills (69), Antioch (52) and St. Viator (36) rounded out the top five.
Besides Ray, the Eagles received first-place efforts from their 800 (1:28.68) and 1,600 (3:24.81) relays, senior Shaun Beutlich in the 100 dash (10.97), senior Ryan Prais in the 800 run (1:59.29), junior Rodolphe Boyer in the 110 hurdles (15.17), senior Ty Summers in the shot put (53-0.5) and freshman Devyn Cedzidlo in the long jump (21-5.25).
"Unreal," Rowells said after his squad qualified in 12 events, putting it in position to possibly return home from downstate Charleston next weekend with a state trophy. "It was our best total meet, as a group, in our eight years as a program."
Ray was a freshman -- and key contributor -- the last time Lakes won the sectional.
"We have such smart coaches when it comes to training," Ray said. "They push us hard, but they don't try to hurt us."
Ray won the 400 in 49.28 -- Chapman (50.32) also qualified downstate -- and anchored the 400 (second) and 1,600 relays. Ray filled in for Beutlich, who tweaked his hamstring in the 100 prelims, on the 400 relay (43.66), which also had Ayman Reffat, Jake Balliu and Corey Hertz run legs. The winning 800 relay consisted of Balliu, Hertz, Reffat and anchor Beutlich. Prais, Mark Gerrits and Balliu sprinted the first three laps of the 1,600 relay.
All three Lakes relays clocked school-record times.
"The boys put it together," Rowells said. "It's always been about the team. That's the constant message we send as coaches. These seniors, the freshmen, the sophomores, juniors ... everyone believed in each other. They focused on the team first, and that's how you get performances like we did today."
Lakes also qualified for state the sophomore Hertz (200 dash) and seniors Troy Swindle (high jump), Max Savinkov (high jump) and Caleb Arnwine (triple jump).
"We're always pushing each other," Ray said. "Those guys that are below (the top guys), they're always trying extra hard to keep up, and that pushes us to get better."
Grayslake Central won the 400 relay (42.93) ahead of Lakes, and Rams senior Jourden Swopes took the triple jump (44-5.25). Grayslake Central also got through Kevin Boyle in the 3,200 run, Davonta Jennings in the 100 dash and its runner-up 800 relay.
When Vernon Hills senior Gabe Cotton electrified with a winning time of 22.14 in the 200 dash, holding off Lakes' Hertz, he was mobbed by teammates in the infield. Several Cougars had sprinted to catch up to their likable teammate near the finish line.
"They were pretty excited," said a smiling Cotton, who was equally thrilled with his race. "With these bigger meets, I always tell my guys, 'Meet me in the curve. Meet me at the finish.' It really gets me amped to give it my all during the race. When I see that they're cheering for me, I try to give it all I've got, because it's not just for me. It's for them, too. It's for my mother, my sister, my dad. It's for everyone."
Cotton will be headed downstate for the third year in a row, but his berth wasn't guaranteed after tendinitis in his right knee shut him down for about half the season.
"Once I got back, I wasn't seeing the times I wanted," Cotton said. "But I stayed positive. I've got great teammates that train with me. My best friend on this team, Mitch Campbell, sticks with me every day at practice and really pushes me. That's what really pushed me to get this time."
Cotton will have some of his teammates going downstate to compete. Sectional-champ Oleg Babin (13-3) and Nick Foley (13-3), a pair of seniors, are both going in the pole vault. Junior Ben Mohrdieck ran to a winning time of 4:23.95 in the 1,600 run. Cougars freshman Noah Agnew won the high jump (6-8), and junior Kyle Whiting made it in the 3,200 run.
Senior Chris Bednarski will represent Wauconda downstate. Bednarski was second in both the long jump (21-0) and 300 hurdles (40.48).
Besides Chapman, Antioch is sending discus-champ Alan Taylor, Tyler Facey (high jump), Jacob Craft (shot put) and its 1,600 relay downstate.
St. Viator junior Nick Brey won the 3,200 in 9:42.43, bringing plenty of smiles to his coaches and teammates. Brey led Vernon Hills' Whitney heading into the final lap. Whitney surged ahead, but Brey caught him with 200 meters to go and used a strong kick to win by more than a second.
It's the first time Brey has qualified downstate.
"I wasn't really expecting him to come up," Brey said of Whitney. "My assistant coach told me to just sit on him, so I did. Then I just remembered all the workouts that we do with speed, and I just gave it all I got in the last 200."
Brey's time was a personal best, which surprised even himself.
"It's really exciting," Brey said. "I didn't think I was going to be in the lead."
St. Viator's 3,200 relay finished second with a state-qualifying time of 8:14.10, and senior Tyler Sammons earned a state berth in the 800 run (2:01.25).