Grant boys track and field coach Tom Evans spent Friday evening watching a parade of his Bulldogs qualify for next week's state meet in Charleston, but he continued pacing the infield nervously once the final event of the Class 3A Huntley sectional had concluded.
Runner-up sectional finishes the previous two seasons tend to have that effect on a coach.
Moments later his nervousness was replaced by excitement and pride as the North Suburban Conference champions were announced as sectional champions for the first time in school history. Grant garnered 83 team points to run away from Fox Valley Conference champion Huntley and NIC-10 Conference champion Belvidere North, which finished tied with 56 points.
"We had the motto at the championship part of our season for our kids to exceed their seed, whether they are seeded first or third," Evans said. "They did what we planned and they outdid themselves."
Freshman Octavian Wells was a prime example of a Bulldog who exceeded his seed. Wells entered the sectional meet with the fourth-best time in the 200 dash but surprised the field by winning in 22.24 seconds.
His older brother Jonathan Wells won two events. The junior cleared 6 feet, 9 inches to take the high jump title and he sailed through the 110-meter hurdles in 15.53.
Other Grant qualifiers included junior Kyle Hatton, who took second in the 800 (1:58.44), and the second-place 400-meter relay team of seniors Kris Smith and Keion Miller, sophomore Jeremy Bredwood and Octavius Wells.
The Bulldogs owned the throws, thanks to double sectional champion Brandon Lombardino. The senior attained state qualification in the discus for the third straight season with a winning heave of 201-6, an inch shy of his personal record and the fifth-best discus throw in state history. Senior teammate Luis Echeverria qualified with a sixth-place finish, nailing the state standard of 155 feet on the nose.
Lombardino also qualified in the shot put for the first time in his career with a winning distance of 56 feet. Senior teammate Brad Wasilewski took fourth in the event, beating the state standard by 11 inches.
Lombardino will descend upon Eastern Illinois University next weekend with a distinct goal.
"I'm looking for the state record this time and I think I can get it in the discus," he said of Lake Park graduate Dan Block's 2009 throw of 208-11. "I feel a big throw coming. I thought I would get it here. I didn't, but I got 201 and that's always a good throw.
"We're sending a busload of kids. It's the first time since I've been here we're sending this many. It's going to be fun."
Huntley qualified two individuals and three relays for Charleston. Pole vaulter Craig Lambert finished second (13-3) and senior Justin Herbert's third-place discus throw of 166-4 surpassed the Class 3A standard by more than 11 feet.
The Huntley 400-meter relay team of seniors Ryan Tharp, Tyler Schwartz and Mike Dollar and sophomore Connor Boos won the event in 42.74. The 800-meter relay team of Schwartz, Boos, Dollar and senior John Walker triumphed in 1:29.66, thanks to Dollar's anchor leg. He received the baton with a 3-meter deficit and won the race by .26 seconds.
"Once I got to curve I already knew," Dollar said. "I turned it on down the last stretch because I was pumping my arms. That let me finish. It feels really good to come in first in two relays."
Crazy statistic of the meet? Huntley's 3,200-meter relay team of Trevor Obecny, Sam Marcuccelli, Keagan Smith and Brendan O'Donnell finished seventh in 7:58.45. Their time was low enough to gain a state berth but not low enough to score a point in the meet. Points were awarded to the top six finishers in each event only.
Jacobs opened and closed the meet by qualifying relay teams for state. The all-senior 3,200-meter team of Nick Matysek, Tyler Estell, Patrick Nerja and Ryan Ross won in 7:54.02.
"This is a big deal for us," said Nerja, who last year teamed with Matysek, Ross and William Hennessey to form the sixth-fastest 3,200 relay in Class 3A. "I'm glad we're able to go two times in a row."
The Jacobs 1,600-meter relay team of seniors Jake Gierlak, Matysek, Estell and freshman Dylan Rogers gained a state berth by placing second behind Cary-Grove in 3:23.69. Gierlak, a Northern Michigan football recruit who joined the relay only three weeks ago, showed no effects from running the second half of his split with his left shoe untied.
"This week was my first time training for this," Gierlak said. "It was definitely a PR. I'm real excited to go downstate. I never thought at the beginning of the year I'd be going downstate in the 4x4."
Cary-Grove topped Jacobs to win the 1,600-meter relay. Seniors Daniel Speer, Alex Bussan, Michael Gleeson and sophomore Michael Saxon prevailed in 3:23.43.
Gleeson, who last year placed eighth in the state in the 400, overcame a season of adversity to win the 400 title (50.35).
"I've been injured about half the season so I'm still not where I was hoping to be at this point, but I felt pretty good," Gleeson said.
Saxon also qualified with a second-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles (39.75), and Cary-Grove sophomore Ricky Hurley took second in discus (176-8).
Crystal Lake South qualified its fourth-place 3,200-meter relay team. The foursome of seniors Duncan Henderson and Ian Meador and juniors Drew Kopfman and David Lenzini finished in 7:56.70.