St. Charles North hopes to send coach off with a bang
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St. Charles North's Grant Loess runs the 100 at the recent Upstate Eight Conference meet.
Paul Michna | Staff Photographer
The St. Charles North boys track team established 11 program records since indoor competitions began in February. This weekend at the boys state track finals in Charleston the North Stars aim for a couple more.
They could serve as a going-away gift for coach Don Spencer. After three seasons as St. Charles North head coach Spencer will take his acumen to the girls program at Burlington Central, where his younger daughter Elizabeth is currently a sophomore sprinter. Spencer, who both succeeded and will be succeeded at St. Charles North by Kevin Harrington, will serve as an assistant to Rockets head girls coach Vince Neil.
"I might have gone last year but I promised my boys — they're seniors this year — I'd see them through to their senior year, I promised them as freshmen," Spencer said. "My daughter, believe it or not, wants me to coach her. I really enjoy the program there (Burlington Central) as well. When you have a chance to coach your own daughter, or coach your own child, you don't get those back."
As Spencer's tenure comes to a close (he'll stay on as a school librarian) he insists the focus be on his athletes, not on him.
That's an easy thing to do. Seniors Mason Heinz, Zach Kirby, Grant Loess, Connor Larson, Josh Phelan and Tyler Ingham and juniors Jack Feeney and Kaleb Kirby enter Friday's Class 3A preliminaries having had a hand, one way or another, in setting a bushel of records. At the Hoffman Estates sectional alone Heinz set new marks in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, and the 400 and 800 relay teams each set school records.
Jack Feeney, Josh Phelan and Connor Larson ran on both those relays, with Zach Kirby on the 400 relay and Grant Loess on the 800 relay. St. Charles North was invited to this year's Penn Relays where, of course, the 1,600 relay of Feeney, Larson, Zach Kirby and senior Tyler Ingham set a school record.
It's probably not coincidence that Spencer reached the Illinois state meet in the 400 relay as a senior at little Windsor High School. He went on to sprint at Eastern Illinois.
"I want them just to do the best they can do," said Spencer, who noted that Larson, Feeney and Phelan all are nursing leg issues. "That's the motto on the back of our T-shirts this year, the best you can do. And if they do that I'll be very happy."
In a state meet where three-time defending Class 3A champion Lake Park remains the favorite, St. Charles North's 800 and 1,600 relays are in the upper half of all sectional qualifiers. Zach Kirby is right in the middle of the 400 dash field. Kaleb Kirby's 13-foot, 9-inch sectional pole vault joins 11 others at that height including Geneva's Dan Acton and Batavia's R.J. Viereckl. Geneva's Tim Guthrie, at 14-11, is seeded fourth entering Friday's preliminaries.
The highest seeded North Star and 3A athlete from Kane County is junior high jumper Erik Miller. After missing his sophomore year due to shoulder surgery, this season Miller has not finished below 6-2 and has increased his personal-best three times including last week's 6-7 at Hoffman Estates.
Spencer has coached track on and off since 1988, starting at Terre Haute (Ind.) North. He said not only will he miss his athletes, but the track parents.
"One thing that doesn't get said enough is how much backing we get by parents," he said.
They've raised a good group.
"They're respectful young men, conscientious, hard workers. They're smart," Spencer said. "I joke around that it looks like they've fallen out of a Norman Rockwell painting. They're wonderful kids."
Kaneland has some wonderful kids, too. Unfortunately they compete in the same Class 2A portion as Cahokia. Were state competition to match seeds based on sectional performances — it won't, of course — the Comanches would score an astronomical 128 points to break their own record of 94 set by the 2006 Class AA champs.
Earlier this month Kaneland coach Eric Baron also said watch out for usual suspect East St. Louis, Metamora, Bloomington and North Lawndale. Baron has the No. 3 seed in the 400 in Nathaniel Kucera, the No. 2 seed in the 3,200 relay and No. 3 in the 1,600 relay — behind Cahokia and East St. Louis.
"I have a great team," Baron said, "but one or two individuals at state can make a big impact in scoring."
In Class 1A, Aurora Christian brings down a nice contingent including sophomore jumper Kimani Mobley, senior discus thrower Jonah Walker, 800 runner Jake Gehman and a retooled 1,600 relay looking to defend last year's state title. Returnees Gehman and Johnathan Harrell are joined on that relay by state newcomers Grant Schweisthal and Aidan Flanagan, both juniors.
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