Waubonsie Valley found retribution in Charleston.
Ever since a disappointing showing at the 2012 boys state track meet when the Warriors' 1,600-meter relay went downstate with the third best sectional time, then finished seventh in its preliminary heat running nearly five seconds slower, Warriors coach Kevin Rafferty was determined to give senior John Burke another shot.
Burke was determined as well.
"After last year we knew we were going to lose a lot of guys for the relay that would really help us out, so this year we knew we had to practice even harder to get down to state in the first place," Burke said after Friday's preliminaries. "And then once we realized we had the potential to do that we knew that we needed to give it everything we had in practice and be as focused as possible."
Burke's Saturday moment came not in the 1,600 relay -- which ran faster than last year in prelims but finished two slots away from the final field of nine -- but in the 800 relay. He had plenty of help.
"Going into the season we knew that we had talent, but we never knew if we could put it all together for both relays," said senior Kyle Neese. "Pulling that 4-by-4 back to state was all our coach could ask for, too, and we got them both down here. It's been awesome."
Running the eighth-fastest 800 relay time in sectionals, the team of sophomore Tony Durns, Burke, junior John Fizer and Neese matched that in the preliminaries and again in Saturday's Class 3A finals, with an all-state eighth-place finish.
"I believe all my teammates have given everything they've had," Burke said. "They sacrificed everything, took as much time as possible to prepare for this moment."
Neese said: "We pulled our relays out of nowhere this year. Just to be down here, to get to state's the biggest thing. And the fact that we actually pulled out state finals and now that means my team is all-state and we've got that recognition, couldn't ask for anything else in the world."
Several athletes in Charleston had a center strip of their hair dyed into "blue-hawks." For local athletes, Wheaton North junior Matt Biegalski's coif earned a medal. His pate was trimmed to a stubble except for the image of a Falcon shaved into it.
As usual, Wheaton Academy junior Matt Ruff had an issue with how he ran the 400-meter dash. Usually it's the start to the race, but in Friday's preliminaries it was more personal.
"I just wanted to run better because it's my coach's last time coaching me," said Ruff, a repeat state qualifier. "I just wish I could have run better for him."
Warriors coach Bill Bickhart's contract was not renewed after 18 years in Wheaton Academy's physical education department and as track and cross country coach for both boys and girls. He's taken a job as athletic director at Annapolis Area Christian School in Maryland.
"I just want Coach Bickhart to have a good future ahead of him," Ruff said. "I want to thank him for what he's done for me the last couple of years. I'm going to miss him greatly."
Along with Wheaton North, Neuqua Valley's quality sophomores and juniors appear to be the best bet locally to challenge four-time Class 3A champion Lake Park. Such as junior Tim Heinz, whose fifth-place high jump of 6 feet, 6 inches is the Wildcats' best finish ever in the event. However, the Wildcats will miss senior Carlos Varela-Hernandez, who earned Neuqua's best finish in discus with a second-place effort of 166-10.
They shall return:
There were two outstanding things about watching Willowbrook's Matt Burns and Naperville Central's Sam Bransby running in the Class 3A finals of the 400-meter run -- watching them finish 1-2 and knowing that as juniors they'll be back. Downers Grove South's Odell McFarland, second in the 200 and fourth in the 100, will as well.
"Matt did a great job today," said Bransby, who with Carson Hassler, junior all-state 300 hurdler Michael Jopes and Kevin Kulling also ran on a third-place 1,600 relay. "The times weren't where I don't think anyone's hoping they'd be because of the weather, the rain. But we made the most of it. ... Next year me and Matt, it's going to be fun."
In his preliminary on Friday, Burns beat outstanding junior Cole Henderson, out of Pekin. Burns felt once he won his heat a state title was a possibility.
"At the beginning of the year, I was just thinking about making it to state, but as I saw my times start dropping little by little I knew I'd have a good shot. But it's a shock to me. I'm really glad with my progress this year," said Burns, crediting Willowbrook assistant Matt Clapper for his help.
"Next year it's probably going to be harder than this year considering I've got a target on my back, everyone's going to be wanting to beat me," Burns said. "But I've just got to give myself maybe a couple weeks off and then start training in the next month or two, preparing myself."
Among others Wheaton Warrenville South junior Nolan McKenna will return as well.
Part of the front pack the entirety of Saturday's 3,200-meter run, McKenna finished with a time of 9 minutes, 3.96 seconds, second all-time for the Tigers.
"I wasn't looking at time at all, just go out, compete, do what I do," he said. "I knew if I competed the time will come."
McKenna was the second-fastest junior in the Class 3A race, less than one second behind O'Fallon junior Patrick Perrier.
"It's a great setup for next year," McKenna said. "Lots of great experience racing with some of the best runners around. It gives me lots of confidence going into next year and knowing I can run with the best of them."
Wheaton North freshman Chico Jackson hadn't appeared in a varsity meet all season until qualifying for the Class 3A long jump at sectionals. Neuqua Valley's Connor Horn had been part of the Wildcats' varsity distance squad all season, winning the 1,600 at the Upstate Eight Conference indoor meet and the 3,200 at the outdoor meet.
Horn was a little anxious prior to his heat of the 1,600 on Friday, but upperclassmen Matt Horsley, Brendan O'Connor and Robbie Hohlman warmed up with him to calm his nerves.
Like Jackson, Horn didn't make it out of preliminaries but happily set the stage for the future. Horn called his freshman season "amazing."
"I really wanted to see what I could do in high school, and this is really good because I did everything I wanted to," he said. "I can't wait to see the next three years."