Boys track and field: Northwest suburbs' teams have high hopes at sectionals
Coaches like to point out that there's no 'I' in "team," meaning that in team sports, individual priorities should be put behind the best interests of the team.
But when it comes to sectional track, which will take place Thursday for most Class 3A schools, that idea gets turned on its head.
A week after coaches in the Mid-Suburban League carefully crafted their lineups to squeeze the most points possible out of their best athletes so that they could win the conference team title, the focus now is on what is best for each athlete, even though a sectional "title" technically is at stake.
"At this point, you're really not trying to win anything as a team anymore," said Prospect boys track coach Jay Renaud, whose team edged Barrington last week for the coveted MSL conference title, its first since 2016. "The goal is to just get as many kids downstate as you can.
"And if you win the sectional, that just kind of happens along the way."
Nevertheless Prospect, which boasts 122 athletes across all levels of its boys track program, is one of the favorites in the Class 3A Niles West sectional while Barrington is a favorite at the Class 3A Buffalo Grove sectional. Fellow MSL heavyweight Rolling Meadows is a favorite at the Class 3A York sectional.
Athletes are using the sectional to try to qualify for the state meet next week at Eastern Illinois University. Teams do not qualify for state, just individuals (and relays), which makes a team sectional title secondary to individual success.
The Niles West sectional also includes fellow MSL teams Hersey, and Wheeling as well as Maine South and Maine East from the Central Suburban League.
Joining Barrington at Buffalo Grove are conference foes Buffalo Grove, Fremd and Palatine. Meanwhile Elk Grove, Conant, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg are at York with Rolling Meadows, along with Maine West.
Leyden is at the Class 3A Proviso West sectional.
"I expect that we will do well because we have good depth and we cover all of the events. We are able to score points in a lot of events," Renaud said. "And in some events, we are able to score two guys. Those points add up. Plus, we've had some really great kids this season who are committed to team goals, and that's made us a good team, too."
But again, Renaud is ready to do whatever it takes to help his athletes excel on an individual level at the sectional. He thinks he has multiple athletes who could qualify for state, starting with standout John Moellenkamp in the 200-meter dash and the long jump. He won the 100-meter and the 200-meter at the MSL conference meet.
Moellenkamp also was the anchor for Prospect's winning 4X100 meter relay at the MSL meet. Renaud believes the Knights will be in contention at the sectional in that relay as well as the 4X800 and 4X200.
Meanwhile, Michael Shafis of Prospect is a favorite in the high jump. He is already a three-time all-state honoree in high jump and is going for a fourth distinction.
"That is very rare for a kid to be a four-time all-state kid. You hardly ever see that," Renaud said. "But he just works so hard and he is very committed to putting the time in."
Renaud says that Andrew Diversey is also a threat in pole vault and triple jump while Erik Snell will compete for a top spot in the 1,600-meter run and Matt Kuleszynski is a favorite in the hurdles.
At Buffalo Grove, Barrington is the favorite but will be pushed in the sprints by Stevenson and in the distance events by Palatine, Mundelein, Grayslake Central and Grayslake North.
"I think we are a favorite because we have point scorers through every event, but at the sectional, you never know. There are a lot of good kids out there," Barrington coach Todd Kuklinski said. "Warren is also a team that is very well-rounded like we are. But really, the main goal every year at this time is to get as many individuals downstate as possible. And if you win the sectional in the process, great. But we are really trying to work with each athlete to make sure he can do his best in his best event."
Kuklinski believes that all four of his relays have a good shot of qualifying for the state meet. Last year, three of them (4X400, 4X200, 4X100) advanced downstate.
EJ Darlington of Barrington will be a contender in the 200 while Ryan Dykes is a favorite in the long jump and high jump and Michael Hendrickson will be pushing for a top spot in the long jump and the 800 run.
Finally, Mark Di Iorio is a top contender in the shot put and discus. He is coming off a victory in the discus at the MSL meet (164 feet) over fellow MSL heavyweight thrower Joe Boyer of Rolling Meadows.
Boyer, who will be throwing at Illinois State next year, will be trying to advanced downstate out of the York sectional so that he can get a possible rematch with Di Iorio at Eastern Illinois.
"I think Joe has an outstanding shot to win the shot put (at the sectional) and advance in the discus as well," Rolling Meadows coach Frank Schweda said. "I think it's going to take 63 to 65 feet to win the state shot put and Joe's best is 62 feet, 1 inch, so Joe is totally capable of winning it.
"We have a great chance of getting a lot of other guys downstate as well."
Tim Szylak of Rolling Meadows is a top sectional seed in the hurdles while Charlie Svoboda will be a contender in high jump and pole vault. David Zieba is a threat in the triple jump and Rolling Meadows should be competitive in the 4X800 relay but will be pushed in that event by York, Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South.
"We are a deep team and we can spread points out everywhere and score in a lot of different places," Schweda said. "I just hope everyone performs their best, because I think we can do well."