Boys track and field: Area programs feel disappointment of lost season

  • York teammates Ethan Kern and Michael Moriarty pace together in the 800-meter run at the DuPage County boys track meet last season. They were hoping to help their team to a state trophy at this year's state meet until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all spring sports state tournaments.

      York teammates Ethan Kern and Michael Moriarty pace together in the 800-meter run at the DuPage County boys track meet last season. They were hoping to help their team to a state trophy at this year's state meet until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all spring sports state tournaments. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Batavia's Joseph Knanishu starts the Class 3A 3,200-meter relay at the IHSA boys state track preliminary events in Charleston last year.

      Batavia's Joseph Knanishu starts the Class 3A 3,200-meter relay at the IHSA boys state track preliminary events in Charleston last year. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/30/2020 1:08 PM

York has won 17 state trophies in boys track and field and five state championships, most recently in 2014.

Would it have earned an 18th trophy Memorial Day weekend in Charleston?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Could the Dukes have won a sixth title?

Coach Charlie Kern certainly felt a podium finish was possible had not the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the Illinois High School Association state series.

"I've had plenty of people during the year, in the short amount of time that we had, say, 'Coach, you've got a good team,' and in my mind it's like, this may be the best team I've ever coached," Kern said.

York returned Charlie's son, Ethan Kern, Daniel Klysh, Mickey Vreeland and Michael Moriarty from a Class 3A fifth-place 3,200-meter relay.

Sprinters Jimmy Hoffman, Christopher Radcliff and Eric Sylvester, distance runner Colin Hill, hurdler Max Santiago and triple jumpers Richard Buehling and Kam Stearns all were aiming downstate.

All but Hill, Radcliff and Vreeland are seniors.

Ticking off the events, Charlie Kern named eight where he felt the Dukes might score at the 3A meet, including double-scoring in three.

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"It would have been great to know how good we could have been. That's all you ever want," Charlie Kern said.

That's a shared sentiment. A bunch of all-state athletes could have been looking at even higher finishes in 2020.

Charlie Smith of Antioch was the top returner in the 3A 1,600 after finishing second in 2019. Ditto Downers Grove South's Jayden Lambert (triple jump), Hoffman Estates' Jonah Walton (high jump) and Neuqua Valley's Matt Appel (shot put, discus).

Hersey's Josh Methner sought a second straight Class 3A 3,200 title. Lake Park's Zach Frye and Marmion's Andrew Saloga were psyched to resume their 3A pole vault competition after finishing 1-2, respectively, in 2019.

Seniors Alex Alva and Justin Splitt return from Grant's first-place Class 3A 1,600-meter relay. Batavia, Burlington Central, Dundee-Crown, St. Francis and Warren all return at least two members of all-state relays.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In Class 2A, Kaneland senior Austin Adams placed fourth in the 400-meter run, the top returner. St. Viator senior Patric Natindim was in the same boat in the 400.

Natindim's teammate, senior Athan Huelskamp, finished second to Mahomet Seymour's Hunter Hendershot last season both in Class 2A shot put and discus.

Huelskamp, an Abilene Christian commit, led all throwers indoors this year with a shot put mark of 58 feet, 4¾ inches on Feb. 29.

"It was really sad and kind of shocking when they suspended everything. I feel like we had a little bit of hope but I kind of knew it might be the end," said Huelskamp, who now hopes to attend the New Balance Nationals, July 16-19 in North Carolina.

"I was disappointed because I had second place in both events and I was hoping to come back and win it this year. I know I'd have to compete and grind, but that was my hope."

Batavia football and boys track coach Dennis Piron epitomizes "grind." His 2019 Bulldogs have the preferred base at 400-800 meters, plus a lot of other pieces.

Joseph Knanishu, Damian Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy all return from a Class 3A third-place 3,200 relay.

"It was just a good, solid, quality track team, strong in middle-distance, deep in sprints. Nothing spectacular, but good depth," Piron said. "I would have felt with a little bit of luck and health we could have scored 25 points."

That would have placed sixth last year in 3A. Now, he says his athletes would "seize upon" opportunities to compete in meets when public health guidelines allow it.

That's a big "when."

"This is a tough pill to swallow, but it is a necessary one," York's Charlie Kern said. "We can't put ourselves above the needs of others."

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