On Sunday, Kaneland graduated a slew of athletes who led the Knights to second place in Class 2A at the Boys Track and Field State Finals in Charleston. They'll also return key members who in 2015 will try to prevent Cahokia from winning a boys record fifth straight state championship.
Here are the all-state athletes Kaneland says goodbye to: Nate Dyer, Alex Snyder, Luis Acosta, Brock Robertson, Brandon Bishop, Dylan Nauert, Kyle Carter, Dylan Kuipers and Nathaniel Kucera.
Also, senior qualifiers Dan Evers and Dalvell Triplett plus alternates Zack Wielgos and Gary Koehring.
"We had a goal all season long of what we wanted to do. We just had to train as hard as we could," the Southern Illinois-bound Carter said after Kaneland finished second in the 3,200-meter relay with a school-record time of 7 minutes, 49.33 seconds.
"A lot of the team is seniors and we knew this was our only shot. We had to carry and push everybody through. But it's not the end of Kaneland, let's say that. They're just going to load it up again, just like we always do," Carter said.
The Knights return long jump champion Ben Barnes, fellow juniors Isaac Swithers, Aaron Olson and Andrew Lesak -- a season-long staple on the 3,200 relay until a foot injury denied him the last weekend -- and sophomores John Delach, Drew Franklin, Sean Spaetzel and Austin Kintz, who subbed in for Lesak.
Even as an alternate a feel for the O'Brien Stadium atmosphere is an advantage.
"We're really deep, and we're not a senior team," Stanford recruit Kucera stated. "We have a bunch of underclassmen, sophomores and juniors that were running who did a great job. We'll be back next year and we'll be competing still."
Graduating with honors: In the 120th running of the boys state finals Mooseheart won its first relay title when long-legged Wal Khat crossed the finish line in 3:24.80 to clinch Class 1A 1,600-meter relay gold for teammates Jeremy Kalicum, Josh Gordon and Brandon Gadson.
"It's amazing," said Gadson, a Mooseheart student since the sixth-grade after being raised in Chicago then moving to Indiana.
"We've been training so hard, these four guys right here. It took us toward the end of the season to get a consistent team with our school being small and our team just being stretched in so many events," Gadson said.
"It's hard to gather a group to run the four-by-four. We picked up Josh Gordon, who's our sophomore, and he just stepped it up. He just became one of us and he's been running like a senior. I'd like to see what he does in the next two years."
This was the Red Ramblers' first event win since 2011 when Oumaru Abdulahi won high jump as a sophomore. Last spring Abdulahi qualified for Saturday's high jump finals as well as long jump, but opted to return to the Batavia-area school for graduation. He ended up finishing eighth in long jump due to those preliminary results carrying over to finals.
A senior, Gadson chose to stay in Charleston and skip his graduation ceremony. Kalicum did the full 7-hour round trip and returned to not only run the relay but place ninth in triple jump to help the Moose finish tied for seventh in the 1A standings, the school's best finish.
Junior Joe Feemorlu placed seventh in the 110-meter hurdles and Khat -- a junior academically but without remaining athletic eligibility -- earned another all-state finish, fourth in the 800.
Mooseheart's first and only all-state cross country runner, Khat was dynamite especially considering he had surgery to correct a hernia after cross country ended in November. He recuperated over winter and returned to track training May 4.
"I wanted to improve my time, hit it low ... I feel confident in what I did ... Little training, got there late," the South Sudan native said.
He can't compete for Mooseheart any longer but will stay active.
"I'm going to miss it," Khat said. "But we'll go running around the area."
The air up there: Along with the finals of the Class 3A 800-meter run, which saw Marmion's Kevin Grahovec and Geneva's Blaine Bartel earn all-state sixth- and eighth-place finishes, respectively, with West Aurora's Brady McCue in 12th, the 3A high jump had several locals in the final field.
Batavia's Mark Rudelich topped out at 6 feet, 4 inches while Marmion's Tyler Maryanski placed fifth at 6-8 and St. Charles North's Erik Miller matched his personal best at 6-10, second to 7-footer Jonathan Wells of Grant.
Miller and Wells each cleared 6-10 on their third attempts. Wells missed on his first attempt at 6-11 but cleared the second.
"I think I got a little overexcited because I thought I had him at 6-10," Miller said. "I thought I had won it. I got overexcited, but the sun might have had an impact on me. But I'm not going to complain, it's beautiful weather out. He deserves it."
Maryanski missed his first attempt at 6-2, and later said that were it not for his downstate experience in 2013, "it probably would have got in my head. I probably wouldn't have gotten past 6-4, honestly."
Instead the senior, probably jumping at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, improved his state position from last year by six spots to conclude what he called a "very victorious season."
"It was a great experience coming down again this year, had a lot of fun," said Maryanski, who reached 6-11 at the Kane County Meet. "Me and Kevin made it to the finals, he did very well in his race as well. It was a great time again and it was a great way to end my high school career at Marmion."
Quick hitters: Moving from fifth after Class 3A preliminaries to second with a personal-best triple jump of 46 feet, 11½ inches on his last try in Saturday's finals, West Aurora sophomore Chris Walker ranks third in school history behind Jarod Tobler (48-5¾) and Blair Hadnott (47-7).
"I was just strictly focused," said Walker, hoping to return next year with fellow finalist DaVion Cross. "I just wanted (his last jump) to be at the top."
Due to a torn right muscle in his right shoulder, a football injury, Aurora Christian's Jonah Walker hadn't picked up a shot put since last spring. His first throws in shot came the week of the Suburban Christian Conference meet. He qualified for Class 1A in the event as well in discus, which didn't strain the shoulder quite as much.
Walker didn't advance in shot put but in discus became Aurora Christian's first individual state champion.
During the SCC meet his throws coach, his father Dave Walker, said: "We are so glad God has blessed us that he's even able to throw."
The final word: Only a few schools have won both girls and boys state track championships in the same year. Illinois High School Association assistant executive director Matt Troha dug them up -- East St. Louis Lincoln in 1983, '83 and '84, Luther South in 1986, St. Joseph-Ogden in 2000 and East St. Louis in 2008.
As of this year, add Cahokia and Aurora Christian.
"The guys came to win this weekend," said Aurora Christian coach Anna McQuade. "They have been working so hard and we're really blessed with some excellent athletes. Some of them just their senior year decided to come out, the two Noahs (Hagerty and Roberts). I'm really, really happy for them and so excited that it was the ladies who set the bar very high."
After the 200 dash, his fourth all-state performance, Eagles senior Johnathan Harrell explained the team's motivation.
"Whether or not we get out there and get first it's all about how we persevere and keep pushing to get our best PRs (personal records)," he said. "It doesn't matter if you get first, second, third or fourth, if we go out there and we push ourselves and do our best and improve on our times, that's all you can ask for."