CHARLESTON -- Cahokia's runaway success in Friday's Class 2A preliminaries of the 119th boys state track meet did little to dampen Kaneland coach Eric Baron's spirits.
"I don't think we have a shot at beating Cahokia. They're going to have to really blow up tomorrow," Baron said of the two-time defending state champs, who advanced an unheard-of 17 of 18 qualifiers into Saturday's finals at Eastern Illinois University.
Contact information ( * required )
"But I think we're in the top three, we're right there," Baron said. "We'll come here and we'll do what we do. I told the boys, get as many into finals as we can and we were pretty close to what we thought we would get through today."
Seeking its first trophy since a third-place 2A finish in 2010, the Knights advanced seven qualifiers, tying Lakes with that number and four behind Bloomington -- all well behind Cahokia's bounty.
"No complaints," said junior Nathaniel Kucera, who won his heat of the 400-meter dash with the third-fastest 2A time at O'Brien Stadium, a comfortable 50.01 seconds.
"We're just trying to make the finals," he said. "That's the goal today."
Kaneland also advanced pole vaulter Kory Harner, high jumper Marshall Farthing, Nate Dyer in shot put, Tanner Andrews in triple jump, and its 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
Kucera, Conor Johnson and Kyle Carter ran on each of those relays, with Dylan Nauert running in the former and Luis Acosta in the latter.
The only speed bumps were Dylan Kuipers failing to advance in pole vault and Nauert not making it out of either the 110 or 300 hurdles. Baron looked at the sunny side of Nauert's availability.
"It's a first for Dylan Nauert not to have to run three events before he runs the four-by-four. I like that," Baron said.
For three-time state qualifier Harner, it was the first time he'd advanced to Saturday, among 14 vaulters who cleared 13 feet, 9 inches.
"I just think I gained experience from the first year," he said. "The first year I didn't do well at all and I'm just more mature and it really helped me out today. I had a lot more fun today than the last two years."
Aurora Central Catholic's Matt Meyers couldn't vault the Chargers' 3,200 relay into the finals, but the senior did make it in the 1,600. His time of 4 minutes, 26.43 seconds placed third in his heat and 10th of 12 finalists. Meyers credited "will and drive."
"I tightened up about the last 200 meters, the hamstrings," he said. "I willed it the last 200 meters. I wasn't going to let anybody pass me."
Teammate Patrick Lefevre also has tightness, in his hip. That makes clearing the 110-meter high hurdles difficult, yet he'll be running in Lane 1 Saturday.
"It's been a long season," said Lefevre, who couldn't advance in the 300 hurdles. "Most likely just overworked and fatigued, but you've got to finish through state hard, do what you can."
In Class 3A, three-time defending state champion Lake Park leads the field with 10 individuals and one relay advancing into Saturday's finals. Lyons Twp. and O'Fallon are in the hunt with seven apiece, 2012 runner-up Edwardsville with 6.
Marmion advanced three. First-year high jumper Tyler Maryanski joined St. Charles North's Erik Miller among 11 high jumpers to clear 6 feet, 4 inches. Jake Ruddy, a returning state qualifier in just his second week of long jump this season after breaking both wrists in a gym class fall, is seeded eighth at 22 feet, 4¾ inches.
Channeling the guts of older brother Eddy, an all-stater in the grueling 300 hurdles and 800 run, Cadets junior Kevin Grahovec came from the pack to place third in his heat of the 800 and enter Saturday by dropping his school-record to 1:54.59.
It's like, you always want to beat your older brother," Kevin said, not too bothered when early leaders took the race out fast.
"You want to sprint early at the beginning but then kind of ease back and see what the pack's doing," he explained. "Then right at 250 (meters) -- because I've got a good kick -- I just wait and then sprint them out in the end."
Batavia's R.J. Vierckl and Geneva's Tim Guthrie are two of the 12 Class 3A pole vaulters who advanced by clearing 14 feet, while athletes such as West Aurora triple jumper Aaron Kennebrew and St. Charles East shot putter Mike Hockett were not able to get past preliminaries.
St. Charles North's reign of speed also came to an end. The North Stars were unable to advance their 400, 800 or 1,600 relays.
A key relay component, Zach Kirby, collapsed at the conclusion of his heat of the 400-meter dash, sending trainers running. Nothing mechanical, the affects of a weeklong bout with the flu. He didn't return for the 1,600 relay.
Struggling to breath, Kirby said his mother considered having him withdraw. Of course, he'd have none of that.
"I've been training for this for four years. I just couldn't do that to myself," he said. "Even if I ran awful times, and didn't run my best, I have to do that no matter what. I just have to, otherwise it's just going to hurt me more.
"My one goal was just to finish. I finished. Barely, but I finished."