CHARLESTON -- All season long, Lakes and Grant battled for boys track supremacy in the North Suburban Conference.
On Saturday in the state finals at O'Brien Field and Eastern Illinois University, the Eagles and Bulldogs showed the rest of the state what the NSC and all of Lake County already knew: They're pretty good at this running, jumping and throwing stuff.
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As part of the Class 2A finals session, Lakes qualified individuals in seven events Saturday and wound up with its highest state finish, taking fourth overall. The Eagles' 29 points were just 8 points behind third-place Bloomington. Cahokia won its third consecutive Class 2A state title with 99.5 points to 40 for second place East St. Louis.
"We wanted to come down here and show the rest of the state that we can compete with the Cahokias and East St. Louis' of the world," said senior Lakes' Max Savinkov, who placed third in the high jump with a school record of 6 feet, 8 inches. "This was such an amazing year and an amazing team, and I just wanted to do my part to help the team out."
Grant was in very much the same position as Lakes. The Bulldogs came close to a trophy again, just missing one by 3 points and finishing in a tie for fourth with St. Ignatius. Lake Park captured its fourth straight Class 3A title with 63 points, way out in front of Providence Catholic (33) and Pekin (31).
"This has been such an incredible group of kids this is all about them and the work they have put in," said Grant coach Tom Evans. "I am so proud of all of them and what they have accomplished. This is all about them."
While they didn't finish first as a team, it was still a first of sorts for Grant as two Bulldogs took home state championships. Junior Jonathan Wells overcame the high jump event being moved indoors because of wet weather and took home a state title by clearing a school record 6-11.
"I won indoor state on tiebreakers and I wanted to make sure I won this one all on my own without a tiebreaker," Wells said. "Once I cleared 6-8 and then 6-10 I felt comfortable. I tried at 7 feet but that was a little too big for me -- maybe next year."
Wells was joined atop the winner's circle by Arkansas State-bound senior Brandon Lombardino. In a soggy and slippery discus event, Lombardino saw to it that no one would catch him in the finals. On his second throw, Lombardino tossed the disc 191-0 to secure his first state title, and the first title by a Bulldog since 1937.
"I didn't get the record which was really one of my goals all year, but at least I got a good throw in," Lombardino said. "I'm glad I was able to still win it, which I was supposed to do, I guess, as the favorite."
Senior Kyle Hatton also medaled for the Bulldogs, placing ninth in the 800 in 1:56.13.
Lombardino started his day with a third-place medal in the shot put event in what turned out to be a very impressive day for the NSC. Lombardino placed second with a put of 55-9.25; Jordan Fobbe of Stevenson took second after his throw of 56-7 held up and Libertyville senior Matsen Dziedzic took home top honors with a put of 61-11.25.
It marked the first time in state history that one conference has finished 1-2-3 in an event at the state meet.
"I think we all know that the throws in the conference this year were really good," Dziedzic said. "Now everyone else knows how good the throws are up there."
Dziedzic had two more throws near his best effort on Saturday to secure the title.
"After finishing second last year, I knew I was the favorite coming back and I worked hard to get back here," he said. "It's great to win this -- still hasn't quite sunk in yet."
While it hasn't sunk in for Dziedzic, it may never sink in completely for Grayslake Central senior Davonta Jennings.
After a number of heartbreaks at the state meet for Jennings and for his older brother Bryant, the Rams finally brought home a relay state title for the first time in school history. Jennings was joined by seniors Jourden Swopes and Matt Weatherhead and junior Kacey Adams running a school record 1:28.67 to win the 4 x 200. The same group nearly pulled off the double title but took second with a sensational 400 relay time in another school record of 42.69.
"This is for all the guys before us," Jennings said after the 400 relay. "We worked so hard to get here and we were disappointed last year that we didn't medal. Now we finally got it."
In his first state finals, Mundelein sophomore Bryce Richards proved that the race isn't over until you cross the line. As the field closed towards the finish line of the 800 run, Danville junior Johnny Leverenz started to slow up, thinking the race was over. Richards knew otherwise.
"I thought I could catch him," Richards said. "I wasn't going to quit and gave it everything I had until the end."
Richards didn't catch Leverenz but did produce the best finish in school history with a second-place time of 1:53.69.
Other individual medalists on Saturday included Leroy Chapman and Tyler Facey of Antioch placing fourth in the 400 dash (49.77) and ninth in the 2A high jump (6-5) for Antioch and Dylan Toole taking 6th in the 3A high jump clearing 6-6, and Gabe Cotton of Vernon Hills placed fifth in the 200 in 22.74.
Lakes' multiple medalists included a sixth-place finish in the high jump from Troy Swindle (6-6); Rodolphe Boyer placing seventh in the 110 high hurdles (15.25); Shaun Beutlich placing eighth in the 100 (11.27) and teaming up with Jake Balliu, Corey Hertz, and Ayman Reffat for a fourth-place finish in the 800 relay (1:29.68); Ryan Prais taking seventh in the 800 (1:56.99), then teaming up with Trevor Ray, Mark Gerritts, and Balliu for a sixth-place finish in the 1,600 relay (3:22.90).
Oleg Babin and Kyle Whitney of Vernon Hills, Kevin Boyle of Grayslake Central, Alex Milner of Lake Zurich and Kihwan Kim of Stevenson also competed in the state finals.