Girls track and field notes: Huntley, Neuqua Valley among teams to watch heading into stretch run

After placing fifth in the state in Class 3A last year, the Huntley girls track team is definitely hoping to bring home a top-three trophy from the IHSA state meet May 18-20 at Eastern Illinois University.

The No. 3-ranked Red Raiders' squad (previously ranked No. 1) has a lot of star power to fall back on as Arizona State-bound senior Alex Johnson is the defending state champion in both the long jump and triple jump. Younger sister sophomore Dominique Johnson is the No. 2-ranked triple jumper in the state and she also be competes in the long jump, 4x200 and 4x400.

Top-ranked Prospect (third in 2022) is looking like the team everyone will be focusing on for the 2023 state title. But teams like Kenwood, Huntley, Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley and others could also be in the hunt for any one of the top three trophies.

Huntley coach Jason Monson knows his team can always count on points from Alex and Dominique Johnson, but there will be many other key contributors if the Red Raiders are going to bring home some hardware.

"You know we are going to get the points from Alex and Dom, but we also have Ally Panzloff who broke a 20-year old school record in the discus, and she has the No. 2 mark in Class 3A in the discus," said Monson, whose team missed out on the powerful Homewood-Flossmoor Invite last weekend which was canceled due to bad weather. "And we really like her (Panzloff's) chances of being a state champ if she performs on the day of the meet."

Huntley's depth is impressive with Sophia Amin (100 hurdles, 4x100, 4x200) joined by teammate Vickey Evtimov (three relays) ready to help lead the team in the upcoming big meets.

"Alex is doing well. She has not lost an event all year," added Monson. "I think it's going to be a race to 60 points (at state) between Prospect, Kenwood, us and Neuqua Valley."

Cary-Grove is going to have its work cut out trying to battle with a powerhouse team like Huntley in the Fox Valley Conference. But the Trojans have top competitors in senior state qualifiers Lindsey Kownick (100 high hurdles) and Annika Nordin (shot put) poised to get back to the state meet.

"Lindsey Kownick has run about a second faster than the state qualifying time in the 100 hurdles. She just missed making the finals last year at state so she's worked hard and she's running really well," said Cary-Grove coach Mark Anderson, whose 1,600-relay team has been strong. "Our hope is to get Annika and Lindsey back downstate again and maybe get two relays down there if everything goes well."

Neuqua Valley tied for sixth place in Class 3A last year, and the Wildcats have been led by elite junior Zawadi Brown who is currently ranked second in the state in the 200-meter run (24.67) and third at 100 meters (12.09).

"We're competitive with each other, but we're also very supportive of each other," said Neuqua Valley coach Gretchen Parejko of DVC rival Naperville Central. "Definitely Prospect is up there, they are strong in everything, and Naperville Central for sure. We're just going to do the best that we can do, get as many kids to qualify for the state meet as we can, and work together."

Notre Dame-bound Grace Schager of Glenbard North is definitely looking like the front-runner to win the state title with a 10:03.27 clocking in the 3,200-meter run while Naperville Central's Liv Phillips ran a 10:38.40 in the 2-mile at Distance Night in Palatine last weekend. The Redhawks are one of the few teams that didn't lose any elite seniors to graduation after they won the DVC outdoor title last year and now the DVC indoor crown this season.

Neuqua Valley's 4x200 relay team is ranked No. 1 in the state while Naperville Central's Kait McHale is ranked third in pole vault (3.76 meters).

This Friday's 45th Annual Tiger Invite hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South will be a huge test for the Redhawks as well as Huntley which won the meet last year in its first appearance in the meet.

The 21-team meet will be a who's who of powerful teams like Naperville North and Metea Valley hoping to make an early statement as the 2023 season continues to unfold.

Naperville Central has seven state qualifiers back, including McHale, Sophie Kusserow (200/400/relays), Abby Wood (200/400/relays), Ava Hendren (1,600/3,200), Brooke Sawatzky (jumps/hurdles/sprints), Lola Satre-Morales (400/800/relays) and Brooke Bilik (sprints/relays).

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