Like the baton Stevenson's speedsters toted on Weiss Field's track, the future of the Patriots' program rests in trusty hands.
"It's time for me to pass the baton, figuratively and literally," said a smiling senior Ahmad Dinkins, apologizing in advance for sounding corny (his word). "I know I'm leaving it to a good team next year."
Frustrated with its performance in the North Suburban Conference meet last year, done in by what Dinkins called a few injuries and some disappointing performances, Stevenson redeemed itself in Waukegan on Saturday. Led by Dinkins and a young group of sprinters, the Patriots captured their first conference championship since 1985.
"Very sweet," Dinkins said. "Sweeter than any dessert I could have."
Stevenson's 116 points were 16 more than runner-up and defending champ Lake Zurich (100). Zion-Benton (77), Warren (75) and Mundelein (72) rounded out the top five.
"We've been close a lot of times but just have not been able to get over the hump," Stevenson coach Andy Farrissey said. "People don't realize how good this league is in track. It's hard to win in this league. I'm so proud of our guys."
The Patriots won the 400- (43.62) and 800-meter (1:30.70) relays with the same foursome of Dinkins, sophomores Jaheel Perrin and Shane Johnson and freshman David Smolensky. Farrissey thought senior Nikita Smyrnov helped set the tone by winning the 3,200 (9:21.41). Then Stevenson's kids shined on the drizzly and cold day.
"Our young guys and our sprinters really ran well," Farrissey said.
Stevenson settled for second in the 1,600 relay with Dinkins, fellow senior Aaron Portman, sophomore Jordan Vincent and junior Sam Farber. That's because Warren senior Cody Canegan overcame a deficit on the final lap to give the Blue Devils the win in 3:31.95, nearly two seconds ahead of the Patriots (3:33.39).
Canegan was in second place, about three strides behind, when he grabbed the baton from Brian Holland. Hunter Subry and Cyrus Braza ran the first two legs for Warren, which was seeded third.
"I just had to work and get (the lead)," Canegan said. "I knew we could win against these teams. I just went for it."
Canegan's teammate Branden Ellis and fellow senior Bobby Nuzzo of Mundelein each won three individual events. Ellis soared to victories in the 110 hurdles (16.29), high jump (6-4) and triple jump (44-2.75). Nuzzo captured the long jump (21-8.25), 100 (11.04) and 400 (51.28). As he neared the finish line in the 400, Nuzzo looked back repeatedly as his competitors, including Stevenson's Vincent (second, 52.18) and Canegan (third, 52.20).
"I did it because all we needed to do was score the points, so I was saving it for the 200," Nuzzo said. "I got a good competitor in the 200 from Zion. I want to be a little more fresh for that."
Seeking his first 40-point performance in a varsity competition as large as conference, Nuzzo settled for 38 points for the second year in a row, as Zion-Benton's Cortez Sawyer captured the 200. Sawyer ran 22.43 to Nuzzo's runner-up clocking of 22.86.
A week after breaking Libertyville's record in the 3,200 run -- which had stood since 1977 -- Wildcats senior Alex Tam ran fast again. Opting to skip the 3,200 and focus on the 1,600, Tam won easily in 4:22.99.
"Last week when I was choosing my races (for conference), I wanted to break my PR for the season in the mile (4:19.56)," said the Miami (Ohio) University-bound Tam, who set the school mark in the 3,200 at the county meet. "But I got a little bit of a cold this week, so I'm just bouncing back from that. I'm looking forward to killing it at sectionals (Thursday at Grayslake North)."
Libertyville also got a win from Colin Beattie, who cleared 12 feet in the pole vault.
Warren also won the 3,200 relay (8:08.89). Lake Zurich senior Sean Ginn won a tightly contested 800 in 2:00.13, just ahead of Libertyville's Austin Becker (2:00.26), Lake Zurich's Drake Heisterkamp (2:00.27) and Mundelein's Michael Parduhn (2:00.71).
Zion-Benton's Darrell Chisum finished first in the 300 hurdles (41.17), with Stevenson's Farber taking second (42.52). Zion-Benton's Jamir Gibson won both the shot put (54-2.25) and discus (160-0).
Libertyville sophomore Ethan Burkhart won all four wheelchair events: 100 (17.84), 200 (32.32), 400 (1:01.88) and 800 (2:03.94).