CHARLESTON -- Pumped up after winning his heat of the 300 hurdles, his fourth qualifying event of the day, Kaneland's Dylan Nauert summarized his physical status.
"I feel better than I ever have on the track," said the mustachioed senior, who overcame midseason hamstring and groin injuries to feel "100 percent."
Kaneland nearly clicked 100 percent during Friday's preliminaries at the 120th year of the Boys Track and Field State Finals.
Arriving at Eastern Illinois University with 19 entries the Knights advanced 16 to Saturday's finals to lead all Class 2A teams, and all teams, period.
One of the omissions was sophomore Austin Kintz, pulled from the 1,600-meter run -- where he was a longshot to score -- to sub for junior Andrew Lesak, out with a foot injury. Kintz, Luis Acosta, Kyle Carter and Nathaniel Kucera handily won their heat in 8 minutes, .66 seconds, which they'll undoubtedly top Saturday.
"I'm extremely excited to run with all these seniors. It's a great honor," Kintz said.
Kaneland coach Eric Baron said the 16 finalists are a program best. It puts the Knights right where they want to be challenging three-time defending champion Cahokia, which has 13 finalists.
"It's going to be about who's got the most at the end of the day," Baron said as he sat in the O'Brien Stadium grandstand to watch Brock Robertson, Brandon Bishop, Carter and Kucera win their heat of the 1,600 relay by more than 3 seconds.
"It's going to come down maybe to this race (1,600 relay)," Baron said. "They've got some great athletes, we've got some great athletes. It's going to be fun. We have nothing but respect for Cahokia's program and what they do, and they have a lot of respect for what we do, too."
While Cahokia's horizontal jumpers may not be passable, Kaneland has certain advantages as well. Kucera and Carter are each set to score in the 400 and pole vaulters Dylan Kuipers and Dan Evers each made Friday's 13-foot cutoff.
Perhaps Nauert's crossing himself at the start of the 110 hurdles was answered elsewhere because twice Evers hit the bar on vaults. The second time it bounced off the standards, rolled, and rested.
"I was looking up at it and it was just rolling back and forth," said the blond-haired senior. "I didn't know what to expect, I got really lucky."
Luck had nothing to do with the throws, where Nate Dyer retained the No. 1 shot put seed he had entering the competition with a top throw of 56 feet, 9 inches, and threw the fourth-best discus mark. Teammate Alex Snyder will join Dyer in shot put finals with the seventh-best distance, 51-1½.
Where Kaneland had a lemon, like Ben Barnes fouling on each of his three triple jump attempts, they attempted to make lemonade.
"I was disappointed, but it's just one event," Barnes said. "Down here you can't let one even bother you. So I took out my anger on the (qualifying 800 relay) from triple jump and had my teammates' great support."
Another who funneled disappointment into success was Aurora Central Catholic's Javier Montelongo. The Chargers' 3,200 relay failed to finish among the top 12 finalists for Saturday. He cooled off, literally if not figuratively, to qualify in the 800.
"That kind of made me angry," said Montelongo, whose teammate, Patrick Lefevre, joins Kaneland's Nauert and Brock Robertson in the 110 hurdles final. "I just sat down and relaxed in the shade, and thought about my race."
In Class 3A, the 800-meter final will offer locals from three different conferences: returning all-stater Kevin Grahovec of Marmion, West Aurora's Brady McCue and Geneva's Blaine Bartel. Bartel emerged from the staging area -- he called it "the nervous tent" -- to break into the lead before falling back, still fast enough at 1 minute, 56.61 seconds to reach the final field of 12.
"I didn't want to be in the lead for the first 200 (meters), but I didn't want to get boxed in, so I took the lesser of two evils and just took it out," he said.
West Aurora's young triple jumpers, Chris Walker and DaVion Cross, both reached the 3A finals, as did St. Charles North's J.T. Grill in pole vault.
St. Charles North's Jack Feeney, running the lead leg of the North Stars' 3,200 relay, said that 800 meters "killed me" during his unsuccessful bid in the 400. It sounded worth it to help Steve Lewandowski, Chris Suda and Nathan Klair advance to Saturday.
"They've been trying to get this forever, so I'm glad to help give them this opportunity," said Feeney, who's participated in seven events over three years downstate. "Today we were pretty on top of it. Today I knew I had a little left in the tank. Lewandowski had more, too."
Batavia's Brian Rudelich, whose sectional high jump of 6 feet, 7 inches tied the program mark of Travis Meeks, was one miss from going home. On the last of his three attempts at 6-4 he cleared it to join returning finalists Erik Miller of St. Charles North and Marmion's Tyler Maryanski.
"I kind of had my mind set that this is it for high school," Rudelich said, "and I had to focus, give it my all and hope for the best."