A freshman, Metea Valley sprinter Alonzo Taylor-Jones appreciates his situation and what brought him to it.
He gained valuable experience in the 100-meter dash at Waubonsie Valley's Red Ribbon, surrounded by the likes of Waubonsie's Tony Durns, Wheaton Warrenville South's Ben Jackson and Josh Prueter, and burners from Oswego East and Class 3A title candidate Minooka. Of the five freshmen entered in that event, Taylor-Jones was the highest finisher, 11th at 11.48 seconds.
"It's actually an honor to be running with so many older kids, especially as a freshman," he said at the time. "Just me being a freshman running with these kids -- plus I have like three more extra years, so all those times are going to drop down, extremely."
Friday at Hoffman Estates' Pete Reiff Invite, Metea Valley coach Aaron Lewis kept Taylor-Jones on the frosh-soph level with most of the younger athletes, the coach said. Taylor-Jones led the field in the 100 with a personal-record time of 11.36 seconds.
At Waubonsie the youngster credited putting in the effort "he was taught as a kid" by his parents, Steven and Tasha Jones, and on the track by coaches such as Tom Boatright of the Aurora Flyers.
"It'll definitely teach me something, especially for next year," Taylor-Jones said. "Then I'll know the competition level and what I have to step up to in order to win, of course, and drop my times. It's definitely a confidence builder."
Quote of the week:
IC Catholic coach Bob Cronin on Knights freshman Jordan Rowell, who won three events at the Carlin Nalley Invitational and would have won a fourth had not a relay been disqualified: "Every once in a while somebody like him walks through the doors and makes you a better coach."
Out of nowhere:
Occasionally an upperclassman bursts on the track scene unannounced. Often soccer players suddenly realize their endurance is a great boon to the spring sport.
In 2012, for example, Downers Grove North's Jordan Munar had his college soccer choice wrapped up and was looking for action. He led the county in the 100, 200 and 400 much of the season finished sixth in Class 3A in the 200 dash. In 2002 Glenbard West's Jimmy Kinn broke out in the 400 and 800.
As York coach Stan Reddel said, these are athletes successful at "trying to learn everything at once."
He has a first-year senior, Isaac McKinley, running the 400, and another basically inexperienced senior, Itoro Akpakpan, a soccer player, running the 100 and 400 relay.
Akpakpan initially was with the Dukes as a junior long jumper, but between injury and other things, did not contribute.
"Track wasn't the priority last year that it has been this year, as recognized by both coach and athlete," said Reddel, who persuaded the coachable senior to move to the sprint group.
In his most recent race, the DuPage County Meet at Naperville Central, Akpakpan ran the 100 in 11.38 seconds, just .02 off his personal best. He's part of a talented Dukes sprint squad that includes Josh Farrar, Jeff Ostling, Greg Gornick, Jake Saksteder, 400 runners McKinley and Kyle Stearns and versatile sprinter-hurdlers Jarvis Hill and Alex Teague.
York is a Class 3A trophy contender, and Akpakpan might help them get one.
"We've got sprint depth this year more than we have distance depth," Reddel said. "He's a senior that's helping us, and he didn't have a history of helping us before this year."
David Leffler and Matt Ruff have been four-year sprinters at a Wheaton Academy program that seems to be making strides. The Warriors set three school records Saturday at the Carlin Nalley Invitational.
"We're way more serious about showing up to practice and being there and being focused while we're there," said Leffler, who helped set a new 400-meter relay record with Ruff, Ty Seager and Hunter Finnegan. "I would say even spiritually, that aspect of the team is getting better. I would say just about every aspect (is improved)."
Another big reason is pure numbers. Athletes like Seager and distance runner Brandon Lach, a junior who said he joined track to improve for cross country, have joined Warriors veterans like Leffler, thrower Daniel Sedjo and Ruff, the state qualifier who dropped his own school 400 record to 50.37 seconds on Saturday. Wheaton Academy also set a new 1,600 relay record with Ruff, Seager, Finnegan and Lach.
"It's definitely improved," Ruff said. "I think, one (reason), is they're having a lot more people come out this year and that's helped everyone, sort of. It's like, the atmosphere they bring, it's really lifted us all up, which I think is a huge part."