With the first day of spring passing, and the last remnants of winter slowly melting away, all of the Upstate Eight Conference boys track teams were gathered in the field house at Batavia to celebrate the end of the indoor season in style.
Finishing with a total of 117 points, Neuqua Valley was able to dominate the rest of the conference and win the 2014 UEC Indoor meet, winning six of the 15 events held and losing out on a seventh win by 1/10th of a second. Waubonsie Valley, host Batavia, St. Charles North and Geneva rounded out the top five.
The trend started early in the day for the Wildcats, with Nick Bushelle completing the 3,200-meter run in 9:28.84, nearly 15 seconds better than the second place finisher, Dan Cotton from Bartlett.
Bushnell, who was seeded second behind Cotton for the event, said he had something to prove going into the race.
"I wasn't seeded in first and I wanted to come out here and prove that I belonged in the first spot," Bushnell said. "I ran about the same in the indoor season as last year so I'm pretty happy with it."
After the win, the Wildcats would go two events before Ty Moss blazed through the 800 in under 2 minutes to give the conference champs their second victory.
In between, however, it looked as though another valley school had a chance to run away with the title thanks to back-to-back wins in the shortest races of the day.
Waubonsie Valley would claim victory in both the 55 dash and 55 hurdles behind top qualifiers Tony Durns and Tyler Kirkwood.
For Kirkwood, a sophomore who posted a 7.80 second mark in the 55 hurdles, a win in the conference just reaffirmed the confidence he had in himself.
"It's kind of big for me, because just last year I was at freshman conference and I didn't think I had a chance," Kirkwood said. "Then I got first. So this year I've been working really hard on my hurdles and to get first as a sophomore on varsity is big."
In the 55 dash, Durns was able to use a great start off the blocks to propel himself into first in both preliminaries and in the finals, posting the best time in each by three seconds. The race for second, however, was a photo finish, with South Elgin's Shawn Griffin edging past St. Charles East's Jordan Duncan by two one-hundredths of a second. That loss would start a string of bad luck for Duncan as he mishandled the second leg of the 4 x 200 relay and false-started in the 200 dash.
Matching its highest placement of the day with the second-place finish, South Elgin would place sixth overall, thanks in part to Griffin's run, something he knows he will be able to build on.
"It's a great accomplishment, but there's still a lot more to go throughout the outdoor season," Griffin said. "I'm going to use this as steppingstone for the outdoor season. Try to get a whole faster and try to win more meets."
Waubonsie would win the 4 x 200 relay in 1:34.36 before Zac Espinosa from Neuqua Valley took the 400 dash in 51.03 seconds.
The streak of the two valley schools going back and forth would come to an end in the form of Ryan Wieties of Batavia winning the 1,600.
The Bulldogs were almost assured of some point total from the event as both Wieties and Chris Orlow, who came in third, were top three in seed time. For his part, Wieties knows that he has his teammate to thank in part for his win.
"Our goal was to have Orlow lead it, he gets these amazing starts, and then I come in and we work it together. Our goal was to get points and that's what we did," Wieties said. "We communicate a lot during the race, and about six laps in, we can just sense when the other needs help, so I took it. That's why we're great teammates."
The 200 again saw a different school with a winner, as Geneva's Tim Roels was able to outsprint the competition by nearly half a second with a 22.93 time.
"When you compete you want to do well, but it's really like a building block for outdoor. You want a solid base right now so come outdoor season you will do even better," Roels said.
As the events wound down, Elgin was still looking for its first points, coming in the form of Richard Childs in the 1,600, a hopeful sign of things to come according to Elgin head coach Michael Ledbetter.
"One of the things we're looking for from our guys the past couple of weeks is showing improvement each week. Because of our facilities, we're looking forward to getting outside so our guys can really start to stretch out," Ledbetter said. "Overall, in the last three years, this is probably the best overall team. By May 1 I think that, at a minimum, we will be at the same level of the teams that we are chasing now."
Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley each picked up wins in the field events, while St. Charles North was also able to get in on the action. Jon Harris of Waubonsie won the shot put (52 feet, 11½ inches) and James Travis of Neuqua took the triple jump (47-5½). The Wildcats' Noah Heupel won the long jump in 22-3¼.
The North Stars were able to claim victory in both the pole vault and high jump, with Kaleb Kirby's 14-foot vault and Erik Miller's 6-3 jump.