The initial Power Rankings by MileSplit Illinois said 1. Edwardsville, 2. LaGrange Lyons Twp., 3. Minooka. The final season rankings Edwardsville, E. St. Louis, and Bloomington as the top 3 favorites to walk home with a team trophy. These are virtual team and paper rankings. The athletes and the coaches have to go out and produce in real time.
Edwardsville did not have the best day at the Moline Sectional despite winning by almost 50 points over ESL. The Tigers did not advance their IL#7 relay nor did then top ranked long jumper senior Devonte Tincher make it out. Those are potential big points for this weekend that Edwardsville would like to count on. The Tigers were still able to advance most of their top figures. Big time seniors AJ Epenesa and Travis Anderson move along in the throws and hurdles. They will become crucial to their team winning another trophy on Saturday.
E. St. Louis Sr. have quickly retooled after graduating a ton of seniors. Among the newcomers are freshmen Willie Johnson and Marcus Lampley. They have run well under 50 seconds this season. One of the few veterans returning is junior Deonte Anderson. He has been a top force all season for the Flyers in the 400 and 4x400 relay. He is the top seed out of sectionals in the former. The Flyers have plenty of fire power to go around as they qualified all four relays, which expect to advance at least three of them to the finals.
Don't forget about Bloomington who has come on strong over the past few weeks of the season. Cary Lockhart has returned with a vengeance by burning the track on relays and in the short sprints. He has had no issue in carrying his team along with some pretty capable and confident teammates like his younger brother sophomore Terry Lockhart. The 4x200 is top ranked in the state at 1:26.61 earlier this season. The 4x1 has blazed 41.59 for second in the state. Add in top ranked pole vault man Zach Bradford and you have the makings of a great day. Bradford happens to be the state's best pole vaulter as well US#8 17-0. That mark could increase inside the top 5 which is 17-3. Overall, Bloomington should not be taken lightly this weekend.
Defending high jump champion Cameron Donatlan is ready to clear 7-0 this weekend.
The Field Events-
Some athletes did not advance that were supposed and there were some that ran well out of nowhere. The sectional leader in the long jump now happens to be the state leader in Demetri Lomnick (Sr., Buffalo Grove). He jumped over a foot further than his previous best to sky 23-11.75. Now the pressure could be tight for a kid who has never competed in the state championship format. DaVion Cross (Sr., West Aurora) and defending champion Cameron Ruiz (Sr., Lakes) is going to have something to say about things. Both athletes have mastered the 23-foot barrier and Ruiz has gone over 24-0. The question is 'Is the health in order?' The long jump overall is great shape health despite a large number of seniors.
Cross will return in his best event where he has placed second the last two seasons. He comes in with a state leading 48-11 from sectionals and the thought of dethroning defending champion Ruiz has to be going through his mind. Tony Rolfe (Sr., Chatham-Glenwood) and DJ Anderson (Sr., Hinsdale South) has come on late. Thomas Raggau (Sr., Lyons Twp.) has been consistent indoors and outside.
In the beginning of the season we thought there could be as many as six shot put throwers over 60-feet. There are three with the potential for three more this weekend. But the main man is John Meyer (Jr., Lockport). Meyer has elevated himself into the national spotlight with his 67-2 big time effort which is US #5. He may be gunning for 70-foot and an opportunity to be a big time standout on Saturday. His counterpart AJ Epenesa is just as stout in the discus with near US 10 stuff with a heave of 204'1".
For the distance races, Ray says go-
Teams to watch: Lake Zurich, Orland Park (Sandburg), LaGrange (Lyons) Palatine (Fremd), Naperville (Neuqua Valley), Oswego (H.S.), Hinsdale (Central), Northbrook (Glenbrook North), Mt. Prospect (Prospect)
Skinny: Lake Zurich's state-leading performance was easily the fastest sectional time run, a 7:46.91 blazer from Matt Pereira, Kyle Griffith, Kyle Fitzgerald and Brian Griffith which is also the US #6 time. The Griffiths will have 1600 prelims to run, but expect the Bears to be at the front gunning for a championship to end Pereira, Griffith and Griffith's high school careers. The defending champ and state record holder Sandburg returns only Dylan Jacobs from last year but qualified in 7:53.69 and have the pedigree to ride a savvy race to the top of the podium. Lyons only ran 8:03.54 in the prelim, but do not be misled- their IL #2 7:47.83 from the WSC Silver meet means they are also favorites, whose team consisting of Vince Zona, Alex Lynch and Daniel Palmer should be competing for the championship (a Danny Kilrea appearance is possible but unlikely with his entrance in the 3200 later in the meet). Glenbrook North approaches as a slight surprise with the #2 seed, led by CSL-North 800 champ Kyle Foley- they will be shooting for the final out of the outermost lane in Heat 1. Keep an eye as well on Danny Peterson and Ed Worthem on Fremd, and Neuqua Valley's distance depth anchored by the speed of Isaiah Robinson.
Athletes to Watch: Soren Knudsen (Sr., Minooka), Clayton Mendez (Jr., Chicago (Whitney Young)), Jack Aho (Sr., Grayslake (Central)), Danny Kilrea (Jr., LaGrange (Lyons)), Evan Mitchell (Sr., New Lenox (Lincoln-Way West))
Skinny: 2016 3A Cross country champ Soren Knudsen is entered in both the 3200 and 1600, so odds are he will be making a run at only the second distance triple crown since Sean MacNamara in 2005. Knudsen has to be considered the favorite in the 3200 with an 8:55.70 from a meet at Conant in early May. However, Clayton Mendez has broken out again this season and broke 9 himself winning the Palatine Distance Night 3200. Not far behind Mendez has been Lyons junior Danny Kilrea who ran 9:00 at Arcadia and has broken 9:10 thrice since then. Not to be lost in this mix is a another runner going for a triple crown of his own- 2A XC state champ Jack Aho, who is also entered in the 3200 1600.
What makes this particular race extremely exciting how this field mixes a great range of racing styles. Kilrea has established himself as a gutsy second half runner making a move with a mile to go in championship races, while Mendez has been known to make a strong move earlier on. Aho and Knudsen are most savvy tacticians, especially Knudsen whose blazing last 800 at Detweiller in fall won him the championship. Historically a mix of styles means a fast winning time-keep your eyes out for a possible sub-9 race.
Athletes to Watch: Soren Knudsen (Sr., Minooka), Jack Aho (Sr., Grayslake (Central)), Brian Griffith (Sr., Lake Zurich), Kyle Griffith (Sr., Lake Zurich), Alex Tam (Jr., Libertyville), Charlie Kern (Jr., Elmhurst (York)),
Skinny: This has been a strong year of depth for Illinois in the 1600, where 43 boys across all three divisions have run 4:20 or faster. Jack Aho has the fastest time with 4:12.05 from PDN, but was less than a second ahead of Brian Griffith in the same race, who came away with the IL #2 time. Close behind Aho and Griffith are Alex Tam, Kyle Griffith, Soren Knudsen and Charlie Kern. Tam is a relative newcomer to this level of competition, and has been consistent this year but is not as experienced in championship racing as runners like Kern and Knudsen, who in particular is a strong miler-this is the event Knudsen broke out in last year. The nature of both the race and the density of the pack this year makes this race difficult to predict, although the experience of the runners at the top suggests that we are unlikely to see a great deal of action early in the race until a move is made sometime during the 3rd lap or so. This could be a critical race for either Knudsen or Aho as well, especially if one of the two has won the 3200 previously, since the Triple Crown will still be in play.
Athletes to Watch: Chris Conrad (Sr., O'Fallon), Charlie Kern (Jr., Elmhurst (York)), Brian Kuehl (Sr., Geneva), James Riordan (Sr., Mt. Prospect (Prospect), Arthur Santoro (Sr., Chicago (Jones)), Antonio Davis (Sr., Chicago Heights (Bloom)),
Skinny: Similarly to the 1600, the 3A 800 has a couple of frontrunners with a gaggle of contenders close behind. Charlie Kern and Chris Conrad own the fastest times in the state this year (1:53.03 and 1:53.61) although Conrad's best was run much more recently at the Moline sectional. His best is also 1:51.99 from 2016 and was the 2016 3rd place finisher making him the top returner from that race last year. Each of the rest of the listed athletes to watch have broken 1:55 this year, and the entries from sectionals show a dispersity in qualifying times but the 800 runners in this class actually show a great amount of parity, with 29 athletes from 12th to 40th on the 800 lists separated by only 1.3 seconds. Look for the patience that comes with experience from older runners such as Conrad, Brian Kuehl, and James Riordan to make a difference in this race.
Plainfield North has kept their foes at bay during the outdoor season (Dan Chamness photo)
The sprints/relays will buzz with Marcellus Moore-
Everyone's favorite and marked man is going to be Marcellus Moore. The Plainfield North freshman has garnered a ton of attention for himself and his school. He kicked things off by earning a spot in the New Balance Indoor Nationals 60m final. No Illinois boy had ever done so before him. He has run the state's top overall times, all conditions in the 100 (10.48) and 200 (21.28). Those are good enough to challenge most state champions in the country. Moore has run on some fine relays as well. But the 4x1 and 4x2 are possible state championship calaber. Nothing worth great is given to you. So don't expect the likes of Cary Lockhart, Robert Ogbuli (Sr., Plainfield East), Dubem Anikamadu (Jr., Huntley), or Camron Harrell (Sr., Bradley-Bourbonnais) to hand Moore the title. Add Declan Rustay (Jr., Hoffman Estates) to the mix for both events.
Sprints are a crap shoot except for the 400 which has not been hot this year to date. We have yet to see anyone break 48.00 this season. The talent is there and perhaps state leader Deante Anderson can provide some fireworks. Or how about the pre-season fave Brad Garron of Evanston? The future Iowa Hawkeye only ran 49.65 at his sectional, but word is the conditions were not the greatest.
Homewood Flossmoor is the sectional leader in the 4x1 but we mentioned that Plainfield North is dangerous as is Bloomington. It is going to take a sub 42.00 to get to Saturday.
The showstopper is going to be a great one. Bloom, E. St. Louis, Bloomington, Homewood-Floosmoor, and several others will run under 3:19 in the prelims. It may take a sub 3:20 effort to make the finals.