When the new boy on the block is a four-time defending state track champion complacency is no option regardless of how many consecutive conference titles you've won.
Friday at the DuPage Valley Conference meet at Lake Park in Roselle, Wheaton North earned its third straight title in a tight competition against DVC newcomer Lake Park. Along with the Lancers' championship run they'd won the last three Upstate Eight Conference titles plus March's DVC indoor meet.
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Combining with Wheaton Warrenville South to keep the DVC crown in Wheaton each year since 1991, Wheaton North finally clinched victory on Steven Connor's 200-meter dash win. Jeremy Stapleton, Noah Leach, Bradley Dowell and Joe Kirby added icing by winning the 1,600 relay.
"Our mindset was come in here and steal it from them," Kirby said.
Lake Park lacked Louisville-bound superstar Marcus Jegede and sprinter Joe Pierce, held out to rest testy hamstring muscles. After winning the 100 dash and the 110 hurdles with brief rest, Lake Park's Antonio Shenault pulled out of the 300 hurdles for safety reasons.
"With Lake Park coming in, boy, they just up the ante. They were the team to beat. I think they're hurt a little bit, they had to pull some kids out, that really helped us out," said Wheaton North coach Don Helberg.
"Our kids performed well," he said. "I just challenged them to get out there and run a PR. I told them, the pressure's off of you, just go out and perform, and they did."
Wheaton North scored 124 points to Lake Park's 110.5. Naperville Central, Naperville North and WW South followed.
Conner won that open 200 and anchored a winning 400 relay with Ben Moore, Matt Biegalski and Michael Bloss. Matt Contreras won pole vault, and the Falcons scored in 16 of 18 events. Naperville North's winning high jumper, Tim Heinz, even enjoyed the test of Wheaton North's Devante Pearson, who entered with a personal best of 6-2 and reached 6-5 before bowing to Heinz.
"I'm friends with him, so I was surprised and excited at the same time," said Heinz, also the DVC indoor winner. "It's good to keep pushing each other forward, and that's all I can ask."
Lake Park's first DVC points came from Gio Basso in long jump (he later won triple jump), its first event win by Mike Prestigiacomo in discus at 180 feet, 2 inches, and its first track victory when 3,200 relay runners Jeremy Lozano, Matt Miarka, Lucas Bracher and Eric Dade broke a 23-year-old conference mark, clocking 7 minutes, 51.57 seconds.
Something happened to Lake Park's Curtwan Evans between uncharacteristically failing to reach the discus finals and winning shot put at 60 feet, 7 inches, second best on the Dyestat list. Anger?
"There was definitely some motivation," Evans said. "You've got to redeem yourself if you mess up in one thing."
While Jegede was out, Naperville Central's Sam Bransby was in after a hamstring injury that had limited him since an early outdoor comeback. He joined long jumper Ben Andreas and 300 hurdler Michael Jopes in the Redhawks' winners circle by holding off Conner in the 400 dash.
"I've been confined to practices and trainers room and stuff for the past two weeks and just basically videotaping meets," Bransby said. "It was nice to actually get on the track and compete."
Naperville North burners Cameron Knox, Davin Collier, Adam Milsap and DeSean Brown won the 800 relay. Teammate Matt Frey must be living right; in discus he went 159-5, a 22-foot improvement. He had no clue why.
"I don't know what I did different, but today was the day," Frey said.
WW South's Nolan McKenna won the 3,200 for the third straight year and returned to win the 1,600 to earn the DVC's annual Gill Dodds Trophy. Wheaton North's Joseph Emmanuel took second both times.
"It's a tough double," said the Iowa State recruit. "Last year it was a very similar race and I got outkicked the last 200 (by Naperville Central graduate Ethan Brodeur), and that hurt a lot. It gave me something real hard to strive for, something that I really wanted."
Glenbard East finished in sixth place, yet it was a special meet for coach Jack Brady. He's retiring as a teacher and coach after heading the Rams for 30 years.
"I'm awfully happy that we're still in the DVC for my last year because I'll tell you, I've really enjoyed this conference and a lot of class people. This is the way to go out. It's been a nice ride with this group," he said.
West Aurora's Connor McCue, on a hot streak, out-kicked a fast field, including Glenbard East's Jack Peters and Vince Booth, WW South's Luke Schroer, Wheaton North's Wes Noyes and Tyler Gabrielle and Lake Park's Dade -- all of whom broke two minutes with McCue on top at 1:55.05.
Breaking Ryan Bartel's school record by more than a second, McCue took assistant coach Tony Rizzo's advice to heart: "Start my first gear change at the 300, get up there, and then at the 150 we call it a 'turn and burn' -- set myself up for that last 100 and just burn it home."