Aurora Central Catholic Chargers
Coach: Troy Kerber (28th year).
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Last year: Second in the Suburban Christian Conference; second at the Class 2A Plano sectional. Top returners: Daniel Aquino, jr., middle distance; Gabe Boebel, jr., middle distance; David Gagnon, sr., distance; Tyler Garcia, jr., middle distance; Eduardo Gonzalez, sr., throws; Matt Knapp, sr., middle distance; Patrick Lefevre, sr., hurdles, sprints; Javier Montelongo, sr., middle distance; Joey Perez, so., sprints, jumps; Connor Robinson, sr., sprints.
Key newcomers: Scott Becker, so., middle distance; Henry Feldhaus, fr., distance; Reuben Franco, so., middle distance; Josh Jerwers, fr., distance; Jared Kennedy, so., sprints; Christian Marchis, so., throws; Patrick McNulty, fr., distance; Caleb Mink, fr., sprints; Sam Pawlowski, fr., middle distance; Kendall Smith, fr., jumps, sprints; Nick Spagnola, so., sprints, jumps; A.J. Zajac, so., sprints.
Outlook: Aurora Central Catholic graduated guts and speed in Matt Meyer, Zach Flint and Joe Fese but returns one of the state's top hurdlers and will attempt to qualify all four relays for a third straight year. Lefevre set school records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles while finishing first in the SCC and at sectional, and fifth in the Class 2A 110s. Kerber called him one of his best athletes ever and said the University of Chicago recruit's improved strength gives him a shot at Fese's 100-meter school record (11.02 seconds). Robinson ran on three qualifying relays; he hopes to add an open sprint berth and heads a cast of young sprinters. The Chargers' trademark 3,200 relay, a 25-time state qualifier, is in fine shape. Garcia, Knapp and Montelongo return as does Aquino, who helped the relay qualify as a freshman but didn't run last year. Montelongo's pursuit of a solo 1,600 bid shouldn't diminish their times. One thing -- though each relay qualified in 2013 none advanced to finals, which Kerber obviously looks to change. Perez contributed to varsity late last year in horizontal jumps and Gonzalez is a bull, but the team's soft spot remains in the field. To improve, Kerber has welcomed help from the likes of track veteran Skip Stolley. Field event strength is what Suburban Christian Conference kingpin Marmion has over ACC. Moving to the Metro Suburban next year, Kerber hopes to go out strong regardless of finish. "It's been an honor to compete in the SCC, and this being our last year we'd like to leave the conference on a high note," he said.
Aurora Christian Eagles
Coach: Anna McQuade (second year)
Last year: Third in the Suburban Christian Conference; second at the 1A Seneca sectional. Top returners: Johnathan Harrell, sr., sprints; Josh Schien, jr., pole vault, sprints; Grant Schweisthal, sr., sprints, jumps; Nick Van Gilse, jr., sprints, jumps; Jonah Walker, sr., discus.
Key newcomers: Jamie Boer, fr., sprints, throws; Tanner Chada, fr., middle distance; Noah Roberts, sr., sprints, high jump; Zach Williams, so., throws.
Outlook: Aurora Christian has fielded three straight 1A all-state 1,600 relays. Last season the Eagles added the 800 relay, fifth place in each. The Eagles graduated Jake Gehman from both units but return Schien from the 800 relay and Harrell and Schweisthal from both. New recruits such as Van Gilse and Roberts -- in his first meet since freshman year the South Dakota State-bound safety high-jumped 6-2 indoors -- will vie for spots on those relays. A key is Harrell. This top athlete looked healthy in basketball but coach Anna McQuade said the knee he injured late sophomore season can still be testy and nixes him from jumping events. Harrell also will try to play baseball but if he's able to qualify in the 400 or in a relay, that's be hard to pass up. "He's trying to live up his senior year," said the former Anna Morgan, the 2008 Aurora Christian graduate and track star who married Craig McQuade last June 29. Schien, who reached the 1A pole vault finals with an 11th place finish, and Walker, who went 147-10 in discus for an all-state seventh, seek to continue that success. As always Aurora Christian won't have huge numbers but the 2013 SCC and Seneca finishes illustrate it can score points. An early indoor start at Aurora's Vaughan Athletic Center hopes to pay off outdoors. "We will miss our senior leaders next year," McQuade said, "so hopefully they send us out with a bang."
Coach: Dennis Piron (16th year)
Last year: First in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; fifth at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional. Top returners: Jorden Berendt, sr., middle distance; David Curnock, sr., middle distance; Mark Majka, sr., high jump; David Morrison, jr., distance; Rourke Mullins, sr., sprints; Chris Orlow, sr., distance; Mark Rudelich, sr., jumps; Clayton Siemsen, sr., hurdles; Mitchell Voellinger, sr., middle distance; Ryan Wietes, jr., distance; Mitch Zabka, sr., distance.
Key newcomers: Alex Bala, sr., sprints; Blake Crowder, jr., sprints; Matt Cuartero, jr., sprints; Tyler Mansfield, jr., pole vault; Patrick Gamble, jr., throws; Peyton Piron, jr., hurdles, sprints; David Sharp, jr., sprints, jumps; Jake Slott, sr., sprints, pole vault; Nick Stuttle, so., jumps.
Outlook: The balanced Bulldogs get the nod to repeat in the UEC River and, with Lake Park gone to the DuPage Valley Conference, may press Neuqua Valley overall outdoors. At the UEC indoor meet Batavia finished third behind Neuqua and Waubonsie Valley. A returning distance crew (22nd in Class 4A cross country) headed by Wietes, Zabka and 2013 1,600-meter qualifier Orlow leads this squad, but Dennis Piron said the base of the team is in his 400-800 meter runners, the preferred hot spot. He said up to nine athletes could break two minutes in the 800. Toward that end, last season Piron mixed Morrison and Wietes with a pair of sprinter types, Curnock and Berendt, to get the 3,200 relay downstate. It's possible that group could return and still qualify others in open distance events, as well as 400-800 dash slots. It's yet to be determined whether Batavia has a top-flight short sprinter, but overall numbers will benefit relays and provide flexibility within both individual events and relays. Piron noted awkwardness regarding his son, Peyton, doing so well early his junior year, but said "we've been really amazed" by his work in the hurdles and open 400 indoors; he placed fourth in both at the indoor UEC meet. Once outside Peyton Piron's size will lend strength to the 300 hurdles, and he and Siemsen provide a good 1-2 hurdles punch. Mansfield is a 13-foot pole vaulter indoors, Slott has done well in vault and improved in sprints, Majka finished strong in high jump last year and stocky shot putter Gamble will come on. The Bulldogs' area of improvement figures to be in several field events. "I think we're a really strong 400, 800 team this year," Piron said. "We have a lot of interchangeable pieces especially when we get outdoors. I think we have a really, really solid core of senior distance runners and I think that's the strength of the team."
Coach: Gale Gross (ninth year)
Last year: Second in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; first at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional. Top returners: Blaine Bartel, sr., distance; James Carroll, jr., pole vault; Jason D'Amico, sr., throws; Dan Dudman, sr., distance; Dan MacDonald, sr., distance; Justin Nebel, jr., jumps; Tim Roels, sr., sprints; Tyler Schleicher, sr., hurdles; Sam Urben, sr., distance.
Key newcomers: Zeke Buck, so., sprints, pole vault, jumps; Nick Carlton, jr., hurdles, middle distance; Alex Keating, so., sprints; Justin Taormina, so., sprints, jumps.
Outlook: The Vikings' numbers are down to around 75 from about 100 last season, but the goals remain the same: a top-two finish in the River Division and a top-three sectional finish. "Last year's team, it was a surprise. I did not expect to win the sectional," said coach Gross, who on March 24 saw his first daughter, Annalise Mae, turn a month old. The 2013 crew had one state finalist, pole vaulter Tim Guthrie -- now a Wisconsin redshirt -- but Geneva's hoping that after qualifying in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes Roels can reach Saturday in Charleston. A poor start limited him to seventh in the 55 at the UEC indoor meet, but he rebounded to win the 200 and take fifth in the 400. "For him to come back and compete like that between the 200 and the 400, without much time in between, he had a very good meet," Gross said. The coach said Roels would fill in relays, but depending on the development around him, his road to Charleston may remain in the open sprints. There may be a chance for Bartel in both an open 1,600 and as part of a 3,200 relay, which as it stands with Bartel, Urben, Dudman and MacDonald dropped 25 seconds in two weeks. Bartel placed fourth at the UEC indoor and the relay took third. The Vikings' depth is greatest in distance and field events. Carroll is a possible downstate qualifier in pole vault and at the UEC indoor meet D'Amico launched a 7-foot personal-best in shot put; last spring discus was D'Amico's better event, so that's a real positive. In horizontal jumps Taormina and Nebel should at least score in most meets they'll enter. At 21 feet, 4 inches so far this season, Taormina is less than a foot from Class 3A state qualifying distance. Gross took 17 athletes to last Friday's UEC indoor meet. Without pushing the boys too hard outdoors he'll hope a somewhat large junior class bolsters the depth to not only fill events but place in them. "I think our goals this year are just to see how well we can do as a team and just compete every week," Gross said. "Actually my goals weren't much different last year, because I didn't think we'd be that strong."
Coach: Eric Baron (ninth year)
Last year: First in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference; first at the Class 2A Sterling sectional; sixth in Class 2A. Top returners: Luis Acosta, sr., middle distance; Ben Barnes, jr., jumps; Ryan Bower, sr., distance; Brandon Bishop, sr., sprints; Kyle Carter, sr., middle distance; Nate Dyer, sr., throws; Dan Evers, sr., pole vault; Shane Jorgenson, sr., throws; Nathaniel Kucera, sr., middle distance; Dylan Kuipers, sr., pole vault; Andrew Lesak, jr., middle distance; Dylan Nauert, sr., hurdles; Brock Robertson, sr., hurdles; Isaac Swithers, jr., sprints; Dalvell Triplett, sr., jumps.
Key newcomers: Grant Burriss, so., hurdles, jumps; Brandon Cruz, so., middle distance; Drew Franklin, so., middle distance; Austin Kintz, so., middle distance; Sean Spaetzel, so., middle distance.
Outlook: Using last season's sixth place finish somewhat as a setup to grander plans, Kaneland could be poised for a 2A trophy. "It was kind of to build for this year," said coach Baron, whose Knights have won five straight sectional titles and three of the last four conference crowns. At the indoor conference meet Kaneland's 130 points nearly doubled runner-up Dixon's 68. "We're excited for what we're bringing back, and we should be contending. That's kind of what we're thinking right now." Kaneland graduated only Conor Johnson from last year's first place 3,200-meter relay and second-place 1,600 relay. (Lesak, sub-2:04 in the 800 as a sophomore, enters the season filling the 3,200 relay slot.) Back from those units are Acosta, Kucera, Nauert and Southern Illinois recruit Carter, each also capable of running Saturday in Charleston in individual events depending on how Baron wants to work it. Nauert already is a three-time qualifier in either 110 or 300 hurdles, and the Stanford-bound Kucera was all-state in the 400 last year. Bishop, another three-time state qualifier in short relays plus last year's 200-meter solo bid, heads a sprint group that needs development around he and Swithers. Aside from filling the slots of graduated high jumpers Marshall Farthing and Tanner Andrews, however, there really aren't any holes. Field events are stocked with veterans like ninth-place shot putter Dyer, qualifying vaulter Kuipers and horizontal jumpers Barnes and Triplett, who just missed 2013 downstate berths. Athletes such as Robertson, Evers and Jorgensen, who would be No. 1's in their events for many other teams, are good bets for Kaneland double-scoring even in large invitationals, and Bower might be on track for open 3,200 qualification. Several sophomores will help build for the future. The present looks good. Baron was speaking about Nauert, but this comment fits the whole team: "(The) big goal is get (downstate), run on Saturday, and let the chips fall where they may."
Coach: Dan Thorpe (ninth year)
Last year: First in the Suburban Christian Conference; sixth at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional. Top returners: Brady Bobbit, jr., distance; Jake Cornish, jr., pole vault; Matt Fredericks, sr., hurdles; Oscar Garza, sr., throws; Andrew Grahovec, sr., sprints; Kevin Grahovec, sr., middle distance; Luke Juriga, jr., throws; Brock Krueger, sr., jumps; Erik Lifka, sr., distance; Tyler Maryanski, sr., high jump; Jim Rogers, sr., throws; Seth Sevenich, sr., hurdles; Ethan Young, sr., distance.
Key newcomers: Paul Bancroft, jr., distance; Anton Blaeser, jr., jumps; Isaiah Brown, so., jumps, sprints; Malcolm Confer, jr., sprints; Joe Duffield, so., sprints; Tim Reardon, sr., middle distance; Nick Ruble, sr., sprints; Joe Talbot, sr., throws; Jacob Thompson, sr., distance; Christian Trujillo, sr., jumps; Charlie Zimmer, fr., distance.
Outlook: Thrust into a 3A sectional Marmion is always challenged to qualify events downstate, but the Cadets have won eight straight Suburban Christian Conference titles. Primed for a 10th, Marmion again will get numerous points from field events, is solid in distance -- even with last season's best area two-miler, John Graft, playing tennis full-time this spring -- has double-scoring options with veteran hurdlers and will piece together decent relays while it tries to built up flat-out speed. At the top end is Kevin Grahovec, who in a memorable 2013 moment shouldered his way to a sprawling second-place SCC 800 finish and took fourth in the 3A 800 with a school-record 1:54.59. He also owns the school 400 mark, 50.68. Maryanski, a 6-foot-5 high jumper, also made the finals in Charleston, finishing 11th. As with several TriCities teams, some "key newcomers" aren't 100-percent newcomers, as Brown won the SCC long jump as a freshman and Blaeser took second in triple jump, but they'll definitely be key parts this season. This year also Sevenich and Fredericks will vie to downstate berths both hurdle events, and Division 1 recruit Bobbit, a cross country state qualifier, aims for either an open mile berth or as part of a 1,600 or 3,200 relay. If recent history is an indication Marmion's relays get better as the distance gets longer, and with athletes like the Grahovecs, Lifka, Young and Bobbit around that may again be the case. Meanwhile, Thorpe is depending on his relays in every event to simply "get the baton around" to score valuable points, as they usually do. Thorpe said competing in the last year of the SCC as we know it is a huge motivator. "We're on a mission. Win the conference again. Our motto is one more to go," he said.
St. Charles East Saints
Coach: Chris Bosworth (fourth year)
Last year: Fourth in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; seventh at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional. Top returners: Jack Cozzi, sr., pole vault; Kyle Decker, sr., hurdles; Jordan Duncan, sr., sprints; Mo Flanigan, jr., sprints; Mike Gerkin, so., distance; Charlie Hearn, sr., sprints; Joe Komlanc, jr., sprints; Ryan Memije, sr., high jump; Will Muckian, jr., distance; Max Rowland, sr., distance; Mark Sciurba, so., distance; Mike Skora, jr., distance; Lucas Werner, sr., distance.
Key newcomers: Devon Kelly, so., sprints; Mike Meyer, sr., middle distance; Nick Sherman, fr., sprints.
Outlook: Bosworth said between his wife delivering twins just before indoor started and other pressing family matters, an overall lack of team leadership contributed to a "down" season in 2013. "This year's been completely different from day one, it's much better," he said. Led by strengths in both distance and sprints, the Saints can perhaps narrow the gap against UEC River favorite Batavia and will certainly vie for an upper-half spot in the UEC River. In the fall St. Charles East won the River cross country title, a point better than Batavia, and also won the 3A Wheaton North regional though only Rowland, third at regionals, advanced downstate out of a tough sectional. Rowland, Werner, Muckian, Skora, Sciurba and others are back and targeting perhaps a 3,200 relay qualifier and individuals in the open distance events. Duncan opens outdoor season as the sprint headliner though Bosworth said in the future first-time trackster Kelly "is going to be the real deal." Based on a good indoor outing at York, Duncan was among Illinois' top boys in the 60 and 200 dashes, the latter his specialty after running 22-flat outdoors last season. Bosworth said the 1600 relay of Duncan, Kelly, Hearn and Komlanc is well ahead of last year's pace. Decker, second in the UEC indoor 55 hurdles, is a potential qualifier in the 110 hurdles. The Saints are sporadic in the field, having graduated thrower Mike Hockett, but both Memije and Cozzi look for good springs to put them in position in high jump and pole vault, respectively. Overall Bosworth likes what he sees: "I'm definitely excited about where this season's going to take us."
St. Charles North North Stars
Coach: Kevin Harrington (first year; 11th overall)
Last year: Third in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division; third at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates sectional. Top returners: Tom Cunningham, sr., throws; Brad Dawrant, jr., sprints, jumps; Drew Egger, sr., pole vault; Jack Feeney, sr., sprints; J.T. Grill, sr., pole vault; Kaleb Kirby, sr., pole vault; Nathan Klair, sr., distance; Steve Lewandowski, jr., distance; Tom Lindholm, sr., throws; Erik Miller, sr., jumps; Nate Newbill, sr., sprints, jumps; Chris Suda, jr., distance.
Key newcomers: Peter Francissen, sr., distance; Hayden Joyce, jr., distance; Eric Lins, fr., sprints; Max Markowicz, jr., distance; Josh Pelock, so., pole vault; Dom Sidari, so., sprints; Ryan Turner, jr., throws.
Outlook: Coach for the program's first 10 years, Harrington returns to head a sport he loves after the departure of sprints guru Don Spencer, who still teaches at St. Charles North but is assisting at Burlington Central where he has a daughter. "I'm real excited to be back," said Harrington, whose squad placed fourth in the indoor UEC meet, a good start toward pressuring Batavia in the River division. Reasons for excitement are several. After one day off from basketball and with no practice, Illinois State commit Miller, fourth in 3A high jump last year, cleared 6-7 at York. He won the UEC indoor at 6-3, and also is being worked into horizontal jumps where he'll join Newbill. The North Stars have a mini-pole vault factory going with 2013 qualifier and Minot State recruit Kirby having gone 14-9 indoors and both Egger and Grill clearing 13-6; sophomore Pelock has cleared 13 feet to provide double-scoring options. Feeney, a holdover from last year's program record-setting sprint relays, took second in the UEC indoor 400, third in the 200, and will be joined in a retooling sprint crew by Dawrant, the promising Sidari and others. Also rebuilding is the distance group, headed by Klair, who placed fifth last fall at the 3A Wheaton North cross country sectional. The throwers don't look like they'll be reaching the upper 50s, but both Lindholm and Cunningham should be consistent scorers. Harrington calls his throwers "a dark horse group." Hurdles, middle distance and overall depth needs development, but Harrington is encouraged by the boys. He looks to last year's Geneva team as somewhat of a model, a sectional winner without a large number of standouts. "I think we have kids in almost every event who can put some points on the board," Harrington said.
West Aurora Blackhawks
Coach: Cortney Lamb (10th year)
Last year: Fourth in the DuPage Valley Conference; 10th at the Class 3A Joliet West sectional. Top returners: Joe Chavez, sr., distance; Karl Fowler, jr., throws; Gary Glover, sr., sprints, jumps; Vidal Griffin, jr., jumps; Donald Larsen, sr., throws; Brady McCue, sr., middle distance; Connor McCue, so., middle distance; Alec Murray, sr., sprints; Hunter Siler, jr., throws; Drake Spears, so., hurdles, jumps;
Key newcomers: Noah Cavender, so., middle distance; DaQuan Cross, fr., sprints, jumps; Davion Cross, fr., sprints, jumps; Nick DeBolt, so., throws; Nick Thompson, so., pole vault.
Outlook: Perennial contenders for a top-half DuPage Valley Conference finish, the Blackhawks scored just 4 points on the varsity level at the DVC indoor meet, Siler in shot put, Brady McCue in the 800. Much better things await. On the frosh-soph level West Aurora won the meet with 118 points, ahead of typical power Wheaton North. "Our underclassmen are loaded with talent," said coach Lamb, who may keep them together as a unit before giving them a shot on varsity later this spring. Connor McCue has already been tested on the varsity level, breaking 4:31 in the 1,600, and at the DVC frosh-soph indoor meet won both the 800 and 1,600. The Cross twins, sons of West Aurora graduate Kendrick Cross, went 1-2 in triple jump and 2-4 in long jump on the lower level, Davion surpassing 44 feet in triple. Spears, who like Connor McCue got his varsity feet wet last year, won the frosh-sophomore 55 hurdles. As for the upper classmen the Blackhawks should continue to score in the throws, and Brady McCue, Chavez, Glover and Murray had decent indoor DVC performances. The strength is the jumps, and by May Lamb believes his team could still vie for an upper-half DVC finish in West Aurora's final year before returning to the Upstate Eight. Lamb said it's "sad" to leave the DuPage Valley having built strong relationships there, but with more than 120 athletes on the team noted: "I think there's great competition in the Upstate Eight and right now our team is hitting an upswing these next couple years, so I think it's going to be exciting for us as well."