Boys track and field: Mitchell's 3 wins help Neuqua Valley take sectional
After losing the entire 2020 season due to COVID-19, Neuqua Valley boys track and field coach Mike Kennedy was hoping for a reboot this season.
Could his Wildcats prove to be as tough as they have been in recent years?
They did. Neuqua Valley won the Class 3A Naperville North sectional Thursday with 92 points, besting the host Huskies with 81. Naperville Central was fourth with 60.
"It is a redemption in some ways," Kennedy said. "It's nice to know we could resurrect this sport and resurrect our performances in it. We broke some traditions when we had COVID last year, and we weren't sure ... could we reboot it?"
The Wildcats were led by junior sprinter Max Mitchell, who qualified for state in three events, all winners -- the 200-meter dash, which he won in 22.17 seconds; the 400 dash, another winner in 49.17; and a leg on the 400 relay, a first-place finish in 42.69 with Christian Allen, Kevin Saju, and Patrick Conniff.
"All the work throughout the entire year paid off, and I'd like to thank my dad for pushing me this entire time," said Mitchell of his father, Dwight, who first began training his son in fourth grade. "He pushed me harder and harder this year. He set a high bar for me."
The host Huskies proved to be tough at home, what with being just five points behind Neuqua Valley heading into the final event, the 1,600 relay, an event won by Hinsdale Central in 3:21.63.
Naperville North was led by senior Andrew Li, who qualified for state in four events: The 100 dash, which he won in 10.96; the 200 dash, second to Mitchell in 22.54; the 400 relay, which took second in 42.84; and the 800 relay, third in 1:29.84.
"Four events, four state qualifications ... a good day of work," Li said, noting that being at home did have its advantages. "Especially in those relays, we've been drilling those exchanges on our own track. In a sectional meet, the exchanges are really intense."
Naperville Central got a lift from freshman thrower Maverick Ohle, who looks like an upperclassman with his build and his well-trimmed beard. He easily won the discus with a top throw of 158 feet, 8 inches, which was well ahead of Neuqua Valley senior Elijah Darden, second in 142 feet, 1 inch.
Not bad for a kid who is ranked second in the nation among freshman in the discus.
"Competing against the other guys, you get a little nervous sometimes," Ohle said. "In the coming years, I plan on getting bigger and better and better."
Metea Valley took seventh as a team with 32 points and was paced by junior Jalen Johnson, who won the 300 hurdles in 38.93.
"It's just trusting God and trusting my training," Johnson said. "It's trusting the coaches and what we've done in practice."