Next to the shot put, the 1,600-meter relay is the favorite event for long-time Fremd track and field coach Jim Aikens.
So it was only fitting that in the Class 3A boys track and field sectional at Fremd on Thursday night, the meet ended with a dramatic finish in the final race.
With under 200 meters to go and qualifying marks to next weekend's state meet on the line, Fremd, Zion-Benton and Lake Zurich battled in a near dead heat behind eventual race champ Barrington.
Into the final few meters, Jaden Jackson of Fremd out-leaned Brian Griffith of Lake Zurich to capture the final qualifying spot of the night. The Vikings posted a 3:25.11 clocking, but the second-place finish earned the hosts the state-qualifying berth -- and also a sectional team title.
The Vikings won the meet with 87 points. Zion-Benton (66), Lake Zurich (64.5) and Barrington (64) rounded out the top four.
For Aikens, who is stepping down at Fremd after this season, it was a sweet ending to a very good night for Fremd.
"It's about guts -- you got to have guts," Aikens said. "It's the last race of the meet and the meet usually comes down to that race, and I want four guys with guts."
Joining Jackson were Ed Worthem, Ben Konopka and Danny Peterson.
Jackson had one of his best nights of his Fremd career, earning a pair of individual qualifying spots. He won the 110 high hurdles in 14.75 and the 300 hurdles in 38.57.
"For us, that last race didn't mean anything," Jackson said. "We ran that race for coach, and we went all out just for him."
The throws have been the signature events for Aikens at Fremd, and he will send three more to the state meet this spring. Matt Bilek earned his first trip to state in the discus by throwing a personal best 159 feet, 6 inches.
In the shot put, Missouri-bound Fremd senior Ethan Hanson showed why he is a state title contender next weekend. He captured the sectional title in the shot, throwing 60-2, for the event win. He won't head down alone as fellow senior Austin Schwantz qualified on his final throw with a toss of 52-7.
Joining the Fremd throwers in Charleston will be the dynamic duo of John Stefan and Brad Warman of Barrington. Stefan, who battled a flu bug all week, muscled through a toss of 53-5.5 to earn his state spot. Warman finished second in the event with a best effort of 56-2. Stevenson also earned a qualifier in the event as Anand Barbaar qualified on this second throw with a put of 52-8.
Barrington filled up the stat sheet early, with junior Louis Cossio leading the way. He started the meet anchoring the 400 relay team that included Ray Niro, Peter Jackowski and Matt Siapkaris to a season-best 42.98 and a runner-up finish.
In his best event, Cossio battled through the diminishing weather conditions to produce a 49.68 in the 400. Lakes' Jeff Milostan finished second to also qualify.
To close the night, Cossio along with Ellis Sawyer, Dave Lozzio, and James Pirie, captured the sectional crown in the 1,600-meter relay (3:23.88).
"To me, after that 400, without them, I had nothing left so I really wanted to get the seniors downstate," Cossio said.
Other Broncos qualifiers included Ross Bravo in the 110 high hurdles (second place in 14.85) and Nick Laning in the 3,200 (second in 9:20.72).
Lake Zurich and Notre Dame-bound senior Brian Griffith had a decision to make. Griffith has proven to be one of the elite runners in the state at almost every distance over 400 meters. The decision then was to put him with brother Kyle, Matt Pereira and Kyle Fitzgerald to make a potential state champion 3,200 relay.
And the foursome, in their first race together, broke the school record with a state-best 7:46.91. Also advancing were Fremd with Peterson, Ed Worthem (who also qualified in the 800), Jack Buban, and Luke Vogelgasang (7:53.12), and Mundelein, which broke its school record by running 7:58.28 with Dario Carrillo, Ben Krauss, Robert St. Clair and Mikey Parduhn.
The Griffiths weren't done as they both qualified in a 1,600-meter race that saw six qualifiers run under the state time, including Liam O'Connell of Grayslake North (4:19.44), Peterson (4:19.23), Alex Tam of Libertyville (4:19.03) and Jack Aho of Grayslake Central (4:18.07). Aho also won the 3,200 in 9:11.30.
"We are definitely going for the win next week at state in the 4x800," Brian Griffith said. "I think we ran great races today and I think we can all run better next week at state."
Lake Zurich also qualified Jake Stevens in the pole vault (13-7) and the 800 relay team that included Stevens, Shawn Bandel, Thomas Messina, and Alex Nelson.
Mundelein's Bobby Nuzzo did his thing again, qualifying in the 100 (10.81) and 200 (21.98), and winning both. Noah Lukz of Stevenson also earned a berth in the 100 at state by running second in a personal-best 10.95.
Lakes senior Cameron Ruiz didn't even think he would be at this sectional meet and yet, there he was. And the defending state champion in the long jump and triple jump didn't disappoint. He took one jump in each event -- and qualified in both. His triple jump was 46-10.5 to win it, and his long jump of 23-7.25 was second to Buffalo Grove senior Dimitri Lomnick.
On his first jump in the long jump, Lomnick popped a school record 23-11.75 to qualify for state for the first time. He later followed with a 44-7 effort in the triple jump. Brandon Ellis of Warren and Jonathon Powell of Stevenson also qualified in the triple jump.
Jordan Eng of Stevenson qualified in the long jump with a personal-best 22-3.
Other individual qualifiers for state included John Elischer of Palatine in the 300 hurdles, Nikita Smyrnov of Stevenson in the 3,200, Francisco Villanueva of Round Lake in the 110 high hurdles and Arturo Bautista of Buffalo Grove in the 800 (which he won, in 1:56.38).
Alex Moran of Grayslake North and Cordell Griffin of Palatine joined Ellis as qualifiers in the high jump, and Jim Leahy of Fremd and Nick Garcia of Lakes advanced in the pole vault.