Girls track and field: Lake Zurich eyes 4th straight conference crown

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 4/28/2022 4:14 PM

The Lake Zurich girls track and field team is firing on all cylinders heading into next week's North Suburban Conference meet.

Indoors, Lake Zurich won the Wheeling invitational, took second at the Maine South Hawks Relays and took third at the 20-team Lakes invitational.


Outdoors, the Bears were runners-up at the 12-team Barrington invitational (highest finish there since 2008) and took seventh out of 18 teams in a loaded Glenbard West invitational field. "We had limited lineups at Glenbard West, so I was pleased," Bears coach Jeremy Kauffman said. "The team is pretty strong when we put a full lineup in. We hope to win our fourth straight conference championship next week."

Sophomore Baelyn Zitzman is ranked ninth in the state in the high jump by one statistical service. She won Glenbard West with a jump of 5-5. Junior Brooke Johnston is ranked fourth in the 3,200. She went 10.42 to win at Barrington and ran a 4:57 in the 1,600 at Distance Night at Palatine. She's ranked ninth in the 1,600. Zitzman ran 13.09 in the 100 at Barrington (fourth place).

Sophomore Riley Betz is one of the state's top returning sprinters and went 12.7 in the 100 at Glenbard West. Freshman Avery Cooper went 16.1 in the 100 hurdles to get third at Glenbard West, while sophomore Olivia Verden's 16.7 in the 100 hurdles earned fifth place.

The Lake Zurich 800 relay team of Audrey Pratt, Riley Betz, Rayna Kauffman and Zitzman won the Barrington title with a time of 1:49.01 -- "a solid state time," Kauffman noted.

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Junior Allie DiCanio threw 103-0 in the discus for fifth place at Glenbard West.

Kauffman noted Zitzman and Johnston, in particular, are performing well of late. "Baelyn in the high jump and 100 and 200 has busted out this year in a huge way," he said. She has become our top point-scorer and is doing incredible. She is jumping state-final-level jumps and her 13.09 and 26.8 times in the 100 and 200 are massive drops from last year. It's really helped our team big-time. She has completely taken it to the next level, Humble, fun, hardworking and she's a phenomenal teammate. Brooke had an amazing No. 4-state 3,200 time at Barrington and has been running really good times in the 800 and 1,600 as well, and is helping us in the 4-by-4. She is far ahead of where she was this time last year."

Round Lake update:

Kaitlyn DeNapoli won the 400 (59.97) at Wauconda, while Jenny Cortes (12:16.54) won the 3,200 and Lilli Burton won the triple jump at 33-6.

Panthers coach Kristin Lilla said DeNapoli is consistently medaling in the 100, 200 and 400 with the 400 being her best chance to qualify for state. "For her first year running track, we are trying to fine-tune her running form and block work," she said. "Her natural ability has gotten her this far, and we hope with better technique she can go even further."

This also is Burton's first year on the Round Lake track team. "Before the Wauconda meet, I had to work with her a little bit to remind her how the triple jump worked and she ended up in first place, 10 inches away from the Round Lake record," Lilla explained. "She is the most talented athlete I have ever had in my program. Her ability to control her body, make adjustments on the fly and implement coaching is incredible. She's powerful, coachable and an intelligent athlete who should continue to turn heads at meets."

Vernon Hills update:

The Cougars came into the outdoor portion of the season swinging for the fences.

The Cougars won their recent Al Janulis Cougar Relays with 208 points, 48 better than second-place Lake Forest.


Already, the 400 relay team of Jenna Coty, Nicole Spytek, Kylie Spytek and Ava Lukyan ran 49.98 at a triple dual hosted by Grayslake Central. The state mark is 49.20. Also inching closer to the state standard is shot-putter Rachel Afulike, who went 11.62 meters at the Cougar Relays. The state mark is 11.76.

Cougars coach Jared Gustafson said Afulike has taken a major step forward. "Rachel is coming into form, throwing further and further as the season goes," he said. "She was at Deerfield last year where he PR was 9.78 meters. I would credit Rachel for taking training seriously and buying into training with a new coach for her senior year. Matt Clifford, our throws coach, has worked with her a lot helping take the great base of talent and work she had put in before her senior year and putting in work in the small things in her form to get her to these great marks."

Gustafson noted another eye-catcher has been Kylie Spytek, who took first in the 100 (12.87) at the Cougar Relays. She's also integral in the Vernon Hills sprint relays developing and inching closer to the state-qualifying standard. She's headed to Washington University in St. Louis next season to run track.

"Kylie works very hard and has found a passion in track and field," he said. "She does all the little things at practice to keep herself in form, not slacking on any drills. Juan Avila, our sprints coach, follows a program that works the kids hard in short intervals, preparing their bodies for the explosiveness of sprinting, and Kylie has bought in and continues to drop times, win races and earn team points."

Sophomore Sarah Kuczynski, who did not high jump last year, is constantly at 4-10 and placing in meets and invites. Gustafson is hopefully clearing 5-0 is in the future for her.

Carmel update:

The Corsairs opened outdoor invite action by placing second at Wauconda.

Coach Jim Halford said senior Anna Kegel and freshman Ella Dicara have been excelling in the short sprints (100 and 200). Those two along with Nora Christensen and Abby Hartzer ran 1:48.97 in the 800 relay at Wauconda, which currently ranks in the Top 10 in Class 2A, according to one statistical service. That crew also ran 51.2 in the 400 relay. Izzy Bing ran 11:44 in the 3,200 indoors, while Theresa Flor logged a first-place in the shot put and a second in the discus recently, while junior Angela Coe, Halford noted, has been a big surprise, developing into one of the team's top sprinters.

Wauconda update:

The big news for the Bulldogs came out of their own invitational where the 3,200 relay team of Jessie Pakaski, Emma Schuett, Sara Meyer and Ashley Chan broke the school record in that event.

Coach Emily Morzy also has been pleased with the development of Ruth Okedina and Hannah Rhowling. "Ruth has been quick to take feedback and is able to apply it back into her jumps and races," she said. "Where Hannah has shown a lot of growth is in the shot put and discus, and has had a positive attitude and has dedicated a lot of hard work at practice. It's showing."

Morzy, who noted a lot of the girls in the program did not have the opportunity to do track in middle school, is excited about where the program is headed. "The biggest surprise is how much our team has grown and how well our athletes are able to adapt and work toward improvements in track and field," she said. "The amount of hard work we are seeing with our team this year has been fantastic. It makes me very excited about the future."

Antioch update:

Weather has not been kind to the Sequoits, who had two invites and a conference dual wiped out. With two outdoor duals under their belt, coach Dan Oslage has been pleased with how Charlee Kempf has performed in the shot put. "Charlee threw 10 meters for the first time at the conference dual meet," he said. "She continues to put in the time in practice and the results are showing."

Julia Kraus ran a lifetime best of 16.95 in the 100 hurdles against Grayslake North. Oslage said a nice surprise has been the late addition of Shyanne Hernandez to the sprint group. "Shyanne came out for the team after dance and is now our top sprinter in the opens and will be anchoring our 4-by-1 and 4-by-2 relays," he explained.

Antioch's 3,200 relay team of Addison Lane, Hanna and Sarah Benes and Piper Ipsen continues to improve, Oslage said, and is closing in on the school record.

Stevenson update:

The Patriots were second at the recent Glenbrook South invitational.

Individually, Ella O'Neall rebroke her own school record in the shot put. "She remains undefeated in shot put this season," Patriots coach Emma Degen pointed out. "Ella is still tearing it up, consistently tossing over 13 meters."

The Stevenson 400 relay team of Alex Wu, Eve Traficanti, Ava Mecir and Ava Wilson have a 4-0 record in conference and took second at Glenbrook South.

Degen said the versatility Wu and Wilson have shown in the sprint events has been huge with Wilson also competing in the triple jump.

In fact, Wilson, a freshman, and Hadley Thomas combined for 48 points in that varsity-JV invite at Glenbrook South. "They are looking really strong going into the last part of the season and will be huge contributors at Lake County, conference and sectionals," Degen said.

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