Neuqua Valley boys track coach Mike Kennedy provided his athletes a simple message for Thursday's Upstate Eight Conference meet at Elgin's Memorial Stadium.
"He told us, every race you go into, either you win or you PR, because you win either way," said Wildcats junior Zac Espinosa.
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He achieved both in the 400-meter run, edging teammate Nick Rafacz while setting a personal record at 49.33 seconds.
Neuqua Valley did win either way, both in the Valley Division and among all 14 UEC teams. In the first year of a post-Lake Park UEC, the Wildcats earned a total of 131 points, a fair cushion over Waubonsie Valley's 109 and River Division winner Batavia's 103.
As the division races were scored, Neuqua beat Waubonsie 164-145 in the Valley and Batavia edged Geneva 160-156.
It might not always have been pretty for Neuqua, as when Matt Horsley lost control and crashed just shy of the finish line in pursuit of St. Charles North's Nathan Klair in the 3,200 relay. Yet that's the effort Kennedy's boys gave.
"We want to win," Espinoza said. "It's self motivating."
Neuqua racked up big points with Grayson Jenkins in the 3,200, Ty Moss and Connor Horn in the 800, Nick Bushelle in the 1,600, horizontal jumpers Noah Huepel and Austin Parks and pole vault winner Adam Peterson. The Wildcats ended on the track with a 1,600-meter relay win by Jeremy Stern, Moss, Rafacz and Espinosa.
Along with Geneva's Tim Roels, fastest in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, Waubonsie Valley jumper James Travis was the other two-event winner. The Warriors' Tyler Kirkwood easily won the 110 hurdles, teammate Jeff Penny in third. Jon Harris nearly smacked some metal contraption deep in the discus sector, winning at 171 feet, 4 inches.
Heading strong fields in both long and triple jump, Travis set the challenge quickly, landing the winning 22-foot, 10-inch long jump on his second attempt and his triple of 47-1¼ on his first attempt. Parks was 2 feet behind, though Geneva's Justin Taormina crept up with a River-winning long jump of 21-7.
"It was a good meet, I put out some good distances," said Parks, who also won the UEC indoor triple jump. "It's been better than I've been doing. I've been scratching a bunch outdoors. It's nice to see the jumps go through."
Connor Oats, enjoying nice progression as sectionals approach, finished third in the 3,200 run for Metea Valley, which finished fifth in the Valley Division, but fifth overall on the frosh-soph level. Surprising Quinton Sanders placed fifth in high jump, at 6-1.
West Chicago's Andrew Zak, fifth in discus, was the first West Chicago athlete to score a point in the Upstate Eight outdoor meet after decades in the DuPage Valley. He was quickly followed by pole vaulters Nate Wesolek and James Kubik, second and fifth, respectively.
Wesolek didn't think it was much different from any other meet he's competed in. West Chicago coach Paul McLeland just wanted his squad to get the lay of the land.
"We've done pretty respectfully, got some personal bests," he said. "Now that we've been here I think it's good for the guys coming back, that they see what it's about in the Upstate Eight."
Bartlett and South Elgin tied for sixth overall with 39 points, and went 3-4 in the Valley Division; Streamwood, Larkin and Elgin placed fifth through seventh in the River.
Streamwood's Brian Adkins, a starting football cornerback as a sophomore, placed third in the River in long jump and second in triple jump, eclipsed on the last attempt of Geneva's Justin Nebel.
Larkin's sprint relays stood out, winning the 400 and 800 relays with the identical lineups of Jarelle Shipp, Aaron Campbell, Keiren McKenzie and Dante Bonds.
At last week's Kane County Meet, Shipp tweaked an ankle in the 400 relay, which scuttled the relays. He said he was ready in two days, and the whole outfit -- all four attending North Park University next fall -- looked more than ready by recording times of 43.25 seconds in the 400 relay, 1 minute, 3.51 seconds in the 800.
Bartlett's Daniel Danek, a weight man like his older brother George, placed second overall and in the River Division to Waubonsie Valley's Jon Harris in discus. Danek, who threw 150 feet, 11 inches, didn't match his 160-10 at the DuPage County Meet or the 159 footer at Bartlett's Flying Hawk, but he knows what to work on with throws coach Dan Morrison -- chin and chest up, higher release, more explosion.
"He thinks there's still more power in there, and there obviously is if I hit 160," said Danek, whose teammate, Pat Karys, placed fourth overall in the 110 hurdles as did Bryce Petty in the 100 dash. Another thrower, Dan Brainard, went 48-6½ to place second overall in shot put.
South Elgin's Kyle Kumerow, soon to join the Wisconsin-Whitewater track team, outlasted St. Charles North's quality high jump Erik Miller to win the overall title at 6 feet, 5 inches.
"He's set up for sectionals," said Storm coach Anthony LaRue.
Kumerow, keeping loose jamming to music on his headphones in between attempts, went straight past the 6-7 he cleared at the Kane County Meet to try 6-8. That didn't happen, but LaRue remained impressed with Kumerow, who also finished fourth in the Valley Division in triple jump.
"Hey, conference champ, he deserves it -- he's put in the work," LaRue coach said.
Geneva's Tim Roels, still carrying a little pain in his right hamstring, shrugged it off to twice defeat East Aurora speedster Desmond Gant.
Both attending Minnesota, where Gant will play football, Roels came from lane 6 to top Gant and Waubonsie Valley's Tony Durns. Later, Roels nipped the long-legged Gant by .01 seconds, 21.97 to 21.98. It's tough to beat a wide receiver with a head of steam for 200 yards.
"Definitely it's a little bit harder (than the 100) because he really comes up on you," Roels said. "Once he hits top speed he really goes. He's going to Minnesota also, so there's a little bit of Minnesota pride involved, too."
Geneva senior Jason D'Amico twice rallied to overcome shot put deficits against Waubonsie Valley's Jon Harris. After two scratches in the finals, D'Amico threw his personal-best, 50 feet, 11 inches to top Harris by less than 2 inches.
St. Charles East coach Chris Bosworth saw the dreadful sight of both Mo Flanigan and Jordan Duncan pulling hamstrings in the Saints' 400 relay. That affected not just that relay but the 100, 200 and the 800 relay.
"Those four events, it took the wind out of our sail, for the whole team. At least it's not sectionals," Bosworth said.
St. Charles North started strong by winning the 3,200 relay, with Jack Feeney, Steve Lewandowski, Chris Suda and Nathan Klair. Getting individual points by Feeney on the track, thrower Tom Lindholm and second-place high jumper Erik Miller, the North Stars scored points on "a lot of little stuff," coach Kevin Harrington said.
Batavia had a banner day featuring wins by Ryan Wieties in the 800, Chris Orlow in the 1,600 and Peyton Piron in the 300 hurdles.
Wieties, battling Neuqua Valley's Ty Moss, dove across the finish line to win by .2 seconds, at 1:56.51, and gain road rash from his left cheek to his left knee.
"I was just stuttering, and I had nothing left in the tank," said Wieties, though endurance his specialty, having run more than 1,000 miles since Jan. 1.
Piron's victory in the 300 hurdles, at 39.87, obviously pleased his father, Batavia coach Dennis Piron. Choppy steps over the first two hurdles had been Peyton's problem, but not on Thursday night.
"He finally hit the hurdles right," Dennis Piron said. "I love him, I'm so proud of him. He works hard."