Billy Thomas is off to a blazing start.
The Hoffman Estates senior set a course-record time (15:04) in winning the Fenton Invitational last Saturday, and he didn't slow down on Saturday at Lake Park.
Thomas battled Plainfield East junior Joseph Suarez for the first 2 miles, and then got separation in the final mile in cruising to the title in an impressive 14:38 at the Lake Park Harvey Braus Invitational in Roselle.
Suarez (14:51), who finished 19th in Class 3A last season, took second, with Bartlett senior Dan Cotton (15:07) edging St. Charles East senior Max Rowland (15:08) for third.
Host Lake Park placed five runners in the top 22 in holding off a strong challenge from St. Charles East to win the team title with 59 points.
St. Charles East took second with 67 points, followed by Hoffman Estates (103), Bartlett (150), and Belvidere North (189).
Last year Thomas finished 51st in Class 3A before having his junior outdoor track season wiped out by mono. But the Hawks senior is making up for lost time this season as he won his second consecutive invite title.
"I'm trying to redeem myself," said Thomas who has put his name among the elite runners in the state. "My focus is the state meet and I want to run a fast time."
Last week Thomas edged Buffalo Grove senior Steven Salvano, who finished ninth in Class 3A. This week Thomas topped another of the state's elite in Suarez.
"We could tell this summer he was looking stronger than he ever looked," said Hoffman coach Brenden Mariano of Thomas' ascent. "He's at a whole new level this year and he is finishing races."
Lake Park is also looking for a bit of redemption this season after finishing ninth at the Niles West sectional last season and not qualifying for the state meet. So far this season the Lancers look like they are on course for a date in Peoria in November.
"It's a good start for us this year, but we have a lot of work to do," said Lake Park coach Lance Murphy. "We have a good group up front, and I think we have kind of made an early season statement."
Senior Jeremy Lozano (15:13) and senior Eric Dade (15:20) gave Lake Park a lift on Saturday, finishing a strong 5-7.
"We're pretty happy with our start to the season," said Lozano, whose team won the Fenton Invite last week. "Every time we run a race, we feel like we can run with anybody."
Junior Andrew Tomaka (15:33) and senior Lucas Bracher (15:33) hung close to the Lancers top two runners in taking 12th and 13th. Senior Zachery Schwarz (15:49) completed Lake Park's scoring by taking 22nd place.
"Our strength is running as team," said Dade. "It was heartbreaking in not making state last year. It gives us some motivation this year."
St. Charles East gave the Lancers a challenge, with Rowland taking fourth to lead the Saints' attack.
Sophomore duo Mike Gerkin (15:22) and Mark Sciurba kept it going for the Saints, finishing in ninth and 10th place. Senior Lucas Werner (15:39) added a 17th-place finish.
"Our younger runners have really picked it up," said Rowland, who produced a strong finish in challenging Cotton for third place before being nipped at the line. "Qualifying for state has always been a goal. This year we are closer than we ever have been."
Hoffman Estates also had a strong performance as sophomore Bryan Gamboa (15:30) took 11th place, combining with Thomas to push the Hawks' attack.
"We're very young and we're going to keep growing," said Mariano of the Hawks' progress. "We're looking to the back end of the season."
Cotton powered Bartlett to a fourth-place finish. The Hawks senior hung tight with the two lead runners for the first mile, but dropped back in the second mile. He was challenged by Rowland in the final mile before finding another gear in the final 50 meters to secure third place.
"I wasn't about to let (Rowland) beat me, I had worked to hard," said Cotton of his final burst.
Senior Anthony Peters (15:38) added a 16th-place finish for Hoffman Estates.
"Our top five is really strong and we're moving up together," said Cotton. "We still have a few gaps, but we're improving."
Huntley sophomore Keagan Smith (15:21) continued his fast start, finishing in the eighth place. Sophomore Seth Conroy (15:35) took 14th place in helping the Red Raiders to a sixth-place team finish.
"I have been working a lot harder and I looking to build off my start," said Smith, who took fourth place at the McHenry County Invite.
Senior Tim Danielson (15:52) took 24th place in helping Metea Valley secure an eighth-place finish.
Maine West junior Alex Liston (15:37) finished 15th, with Larkin senior Alex O'Claire (15:44) and Elk Grove senior Mike Frintner (15:46) taking 20th and 21st place.