Addison Trail's Juan Valdez heard his time and yelled in relief and joy. He looked to the sky, arms upraised, and in that moment considered the coaches who helped him qualify for next week's boys track state finals in the 800-meter run.
After 400 meters Valdez had faded from first to sixth, but what mattered Friday at the Class 3A Glenbard North boys track sectional was the junior's perseverance to make the cut.
"When I was in the first 400 I was like, 'I've got this.' When people started passing me with 250 meters left, I just started doubting myself. I didn't know if I could make it," Valdez said. "But I knew that I couldn't stop, I just had to give it my all because it could have been my last meet of the season."
Now it's not. Same for sectional champion and three-time defending Class 3A champ Lake Park, which qualified 15 entries, including 11 of 12 possible field event slots. York qualified all four relays and 13 entries. Wheaton North qualified 11 with Zach Gordon winning the 100 and 200, anchoring a victorious 400 relay and returning in long jump where he's defending state champion.
But vignettes such as Valdez's make sectionals special.
Glenbard West qualified a 3,200 relay team featuring senior Brandon Bonifer and three sophomores -- Chris Buechner, Nate Crail and Ben Hecht. In the 1,600 relay Wheaton Warrenville South's third-place finish by Don Tomes, Matt Brocious, Michael Kinfe and Carson Discher qualified by .07 seconds and drew a brotherly hug between Tigers coach Ken Helberg and Wheaton North coach Don Helberg.
That wasn't the closest nailbiter. Matt Burns of Willowbrook easily qualified in the 400, but in the 200 trailed the 1-2 finish of Wheaton North's Zach Gordon and Patrick Sharp; he met the qualifying time of 22.24 seconds exactly. Lake Park's 400 relay of Mike Amerlan, Tim Ehrhardt, Scott Filip and Marcus Jegede qualified by .01 seconds.
"It was enough to qualify," said Ehrhardt, also top pole vaulter at 15 feet, 3 inches. "We'll figure it out by state. We don't have much choice."
Glenbard North's Jon Heideman barely made it by .01 seconds in the 300 hurdles, third behind York's Jarvis Grace-Hill and following 110 and 300 winner Antonio Shenault, supersoph out of Lake Park.
Of Heideman, Glenbard North coach Mark Karwowski said, "He's an athlete that does all the right things you need to prepare for a race, so he deserved to go."
Wheaton North's Paul Steeno definitely deserved it after four years of highs and lows. Sprinting to a second-place finish in the 1,600, the lulls disappeared. Steeno thanked his distance coach and "mentor," Jeff Potter, and credited the Falcons for their support.
"This week I just wanted to make my teammates proud," Steeno said.
Along with Shenault and Burns, double qualifiers in individual events included WW South's Nolan McKenna in the 1,600 and 3,200 and Jegede in long jump and triple jump. Lake Park's Scott Filip joined Gordon as a triple qualifier, in high jump, long jump and the 100 dash.
Best event on the track? Maybe Gordon overcoming Filip in the last 20 meters to win 10.84 seconds to 10.90. Most inclusive? Glenbard East's Jack Peters going 1:55.34 in the 800 to pace six state qualifiers.
Mitch Siver's nearly 4-foot personal best to 55 feet gave Glenbard North its first shot put qualifier since former Indianapolis Colt Ryan Diem won state in 1997.
"I just got in a zone, I guess," Siver said. "I was confident I could qualify. I was throwing, like, 53 in practices."
After competing on the frosh-soph level the entire season, Wheaton North jumps coach Rob Graf added freshman Chico Jackson to the sectional lineup in long jump. Jackson, under pressure, punched his ticket to Charleston on his final attempt.
"Coach kept saying, 'You need to go to state,'" Jackson said. "I just had to do it."