The 4x800 relay should once again be heads and shoulders the deepest event in Illinois
Editor's note: IL ranked #1 in nation for 4x800; there were more teams in the top 100 than any other state including three teams ranked in the top 10: Chicago Lane Tech, Naperville Neuqua Valley, and Orland Park Sandburg.
2014 State Champion: Naperville (Neuqua Valley) 7:40.21
Season outlook: The 3200 meter relay was the most exciting 3A Boys distance event last year and after a cross country season where strong pack running dominated all year, the relay should be much of the same in 2015. Last year as a junior, Ty Moss anchored his Neuqua Valley squad to the state title in 7:40.21 (US#5 at the time, and missing the state meet record by just .19 seconds), outkicking Denis O'Callaghan and Sandburg, who ran a US #10 7:40.77. The race was deep throughout, however; Crystal Lake South grabbed the final all-state spot in 7:50.26, five seconds faster than the all-state cutoff the year prior. And yet the fastest time of the season was run by Chicago Lane Tech at New Balance Nationals, a US #8 7:39.76, anchored by then junior Pavlo Hutsalyuk. How will the relay look this season? As usual, most teams graduated many of their relay members but plenty of teams return their best runners as well. Here is a closer look at some of the major 4x800 players in 2015.
Naperville (Neuqua Valley) -- The Wildcats are the defending champions and return two of their top four from last year, junior Connor Horn and Ty Moss. Sophomore Isaiah Robinson, along with Moss, posted a sub-1:57 time at the AAU Junior National meet, and a smattering of Wildcat runners have PRs around 2:00-flat. If Robinson returns from off-season surgery in fine form and along with a combination of this team's depth and anchor strength makes Neuqua Valley the favorites, but that won't be easy.
Orland Park (Sandburg) -- The defending state runner-ups, Sandburg, returns one of the deepest distance squads in Illinois state history. Only twins junior Chris and Sean Torpy, both of whom have run in the 1:55-1:56 range, return from last year's runner-up team but Sandburg's distance crew has been training and racing as a pack of more than seven runners, among the crew of 8 16:00 5k runners (NXN Midwest), at least two almost variably will step up and push Sandburg to the top throughout this season. NOTE: junior Tom Brennan returns, and he ran on the prelim squad who won Section 2 with a 7:46.53
Downers Grove North -- The Trojans return three of their four runners from their 7:47 state finals team: senior trio of Zac Christiensen, Jack Diamond and Ryan Clevenger, and another sub-2:00 runner, senior Joseph Carter. DGN has run strong 4x800 relays in recent years, and this year returns almost as much firepower as any other team in the state. If Clevenger runs the relay, he can be a valuable asset as one of the best distance runners in the state.
Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West) -- One of the surprise teams in cross country this year, The Hilltoppers return all four state final runners from last year, when they finished 10th in 7:50. Senior Ben Hecht has one of the fastest returning 800m times in the state, a 1:54.5 at the Western Suburban Conference Silver meet.
Keep a close eye on some of these teams as well: LaGrange (Lyons Township), Winnetka (New Trier), Hinsdale Central, Barrington, Chicago Lane Tech and Crystal Lake South.
Jesse should be untouchable in the 3200m
2014 State Champion: Jesse Reiser (Sr., McHenry) 9:03.60
Season outlook: For the first time since 2000, the returning 3200m champion in the highest division is back to try to repeat--yes, Jesse Reiser was the first junior to win the 3200 in AA/3A since York superstar Don Sage won in 1999. But as this year's state cross country meet showed, the individual talent in distance this year is exceptionally deep, and the favorites should not take anything for granted (last year's favorite did not win the 3200). So who's the favorite, and who are the chasers?
Jesse Reiser (McHenry): Reiser is the favorite by every measure; last year he won the 3200 state championship, pulling away from favorite Patrick Perrier of O'Fallon over the final lap 9:03 -- 9:07. He ran the fastest 3200 time of all Illinois athletes last year, 8:54 at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in April. And of course, Reiser won the 2014 3A Cross Country title by 10 seconds, and qualified for both Nike Cross Nationals (by winning the Midwest Region race) and for Footlocker Nationals. Reiser has already done the improbable by winning this race as a junior and is the clear cut favorite after this fall.
Zach Dale (Sr., Hoffman Estates Conant): Dale finished 3rd in last year's 3200 and second in 3A Cross Country this year. Dale had a disappointing post-season and failed to qualify for either national race, but do not expect that to slow him down at all this season. Dale ran a couple of incredible races in June, namely a 14:29 5K at New Balance Outdoor Nationals and just breaking 4:10 for the full mile at the St. Louis Festival of Miles. Dale's strong mile performance may motivate him to focus on the 1600, but if he does decide to run the 3200, he has shown that his 3200 chops are up to par with Reiser--Dale ran 8:56 at the same Arcadia race.
[Twin duo] Jake & Luke Hoffert (Sr., Yorkville): Last year, the 2A state cross country champ Jake elected to run the 1600 while his brother, Luke, ran the 3200 and finished fourth. I hate lumping the two into the same description because both runners are incredible in their own right but fact of the matter is that they are of almost identical ability and it is difficult to predict what races they will choose to run. Jake ended the year a nationally ranked runner and never raced against the 3A guns outside of Palatine, where he and Luke finished only barely behind Reiser. Jake's 3200 PR is 9:10 and Luke's is 9:11, both in a race they ran together last year at Niles West's Gans Zeedyk Invite. Either one of the twins has the ability to challenge for the win in this race, as Luke proved last year (Luke missed his PR by just .2 seconds, on a very hot day).
Matt Pereira (So., Lake Zurich) -- It was last May at the Palatine Sectional when Pereira really broke out with a 4:16/9:12 double, becoming the only 3200/1600 double qualifier from that section. Pereira elected to run just the 3200 at state and finished 7th in the fast heat, 8th overall. Pereira thrust himself on the national scene this year in cross country, finishing behind just Reiser and Dale at state and finishing 30th at Nike Cross Nationals, just one of two sophomores in the top 40. Pereira looks to still have a massive curve of improvement ahead of him and should be able to hang with Reiser for at least seven laps.
A few other names to watch: Connor Horn (Jr., Naperville Neuqua Valley) may want to run the 4x800 with his Neuqua Valley teammates, but his 7th place at state shows he is strong over distance in his own right. Elmhurst York super freshman Charlie Kern Jr. has yet to compete in a high school track season but he has the largest upside of any runner in the state. Sam Oh (Sr., Lincolnshire Stevenson) ran one of the most remarkable breakout performances at state this year and he will be a mainstay as a distance elite this spring. Joseph Suarez (Sr., Plainfield East) dropped a 9:12 at the Joliet West sectional last year but has struggled with injury and tough races since. Suarez should be taken seriously as a potential contender. David Rodriguez (Sr., Arlington Heights Hersey) has thought of himself as an 800 runner with previous aggressive relay totes in the 4x8. But in reality he would best be served to lay back and slay his competition in the 8-lapper. Irvin Loud (So., Oak Park-River Forest) is a very impulsive distance runner. It has hurt him and aided him but the long-term projections will benefit him greatly. We did not forget about Kevin Salvano (Jr., Buffalo Grove). He will be making alot of noise this spring.
2014 State Champion: Patrick Perrier (O'Fallon) 4:10.34
Season outlook: Unlike the 3200, last year's champ, Patrick Perrier, has graduated so there will be a new champ this year. This race promises to have a wider range of contenders and features several runners with sub 4:10 personal bests.
Jesse Reiser -- Reiser was one of the few athletes who doubled last year, so he will almost certainly do so again this year. Reiser ran a solo 4:09.5 at a Jacobs Triangular and was the fastest time during the regular season run by a returner. It is unlikely that Reiser will run only the 1600, which means he will have to run this race with a 3200 in his legs. Reiser finished seventh in the 1600, and that doubling experience should prove to be valuable. However, the double is still incredibly hard to pull off, and Reiser will have his hands full especially with the fresh legs in this race.
Matthew Plowman (Sr., Elmhurst York): Plowman has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career but validated all the work he has invested by running a 4:09.13 full mile at the Festival of Miles in June. Plowman has typically been a 4x800 contributor for York and an 800 runner, but after his Festival of Miles performance, it would be wise for Plowman to recognize the 1600 to be his best shot at a state title, especially this the final season of a storied York career.
Zach Dale -- Despite his supreme ability over 3200, Dale may have the same approach as Plowman. Dale also broke 4:10 for the full mile (4:09.96) at Festival of Miles and this may be his strongest PR. However it is equally likely that he will double along with Reiser. Either way, Dale will want to prove that he is not just one step behind Reiser. Because of the two runners' geographic proximity, the rivalry should continue to be strong and entertaining all year round.
Ryan Clevenger (Sr., Downers Grove North)-- Clevenger finished 3rd in the 1600 last year, missing 2nd on a lean by just .005 seconds, and he is the top returner from that race. Clevenger was quietly consistent all cross country, gapping almost every field he ran against. If Clevenger elects only to run the 1600 then he is just as much a favorite as any other runner. Clevenger wasn't mentioned in the 3200, but he is clearly one of the best in the "deuce" for obvious reasons. He will threatened the 9:00-minute barrier after posting 9:07.22 in a sample sized effort last season.
Jake/Luke Hoffert -- As I said in the 3200 preview, both Jake and Luke have shown to be able to hang with the 3A cross country classification runners. Last year it was Jake in the 1600, and he finished 5th right in the tight pack following Perrier. This year, it could be both or either, just as in the 3200.
There are many other runners, both mentioned and unmentioned, who will contend. Keagan Smith (Jr., Huntley) notched his first top 10 state cross country performance and ran a series of consistent 1600s last year; he is talented and a rising star. Graham Brown (Sr., Palatine) suffered sickness during last year's state meet, and will want to finish his career on a high note. Dorrian Gordon (Sr., O'Fallon) ran 4:18 last spring, and has strong 800 speed so could be a factor at the end of a slow race. It is likely that Matt Pereira will double and he is obviously one of the best runners in the state, he will always be competing with Dale and Reiser. Charlie Kern ran a 4:29 1600 time trial with his father last fall, and it will be fascinating to watch him run a mile in his first high school track season.
c = Mile times converted to 1600m using 0.9942 conversion ratio. Disable conversions.
2014 State Champion: Johnny Leverenz (Danville) 1:52.00
Season outlook: There is significant turnover from last year's 800 race to this year; only three runners return from 2014's final. And yet there is incredible talent still in this event, which will hopefully revive what has been an event coming off a couple of slow years.
Ty Moss -- Moss is the leading returner from state, finishing 3rd at state amid a tough triple. But it wasn't until very late in the summer when Moss broke out with a 1:50.52 at the AAU National Junior Olympics. Because of the top-end talent in this event and the heavy loaded Neuqua Valley will likely assign Moss, he is not the prohibitive favorite but is probably the leading candidate preseason.
Pavlo Hutsalyuk (Sr., Chicago Lane Tech): The Indians grabbed the fastest 4x800 time of the year among Illinois teams and Hutsalyuk was a large reason for that, running the anchor leg in the 1:49 range. The Indians may want to try to qualify another team but surely Hutsalyuk is thinking about an individual title either here or in the 1600. However, the decision will be made by the maturity of a new relay supporting cast. It's that simple. Hutsalyuk has been a top 800 runner for several years now and he is just as dangerous as anyone else running for this state title.
Watch out for that fella Matt Plowman of York....
Bryce Richards (Sr., Mundelein) -- On a rainy day in 2012, Richards finished runner up to Johnny Leverenz in the 3A 800 State Championship as a sophomore in a personal best 1:53.69. Richards has since not broken that best and failed to move out of prelims at last year's championship amidst a 1600/800. He is not mentioned in the 1600 preview but his 4:17 from last year's Palatine sectional may motivate a commitment to the 1600. Either way, Richards is far too talented not to end up in at least one state final this year, and is definitely a contender in the 800.
There is a big of an accomplishment gap after these guys but there are still plenty of capable runners. If Matt Plowman decides to invest his efforts in the 800 then he can compete for the title. Carl Klamm (Sr., Evanston), like Richards, ran the state final as a sophomore and is ultra-talented with incredible top end speed (48.31 400m) and can compete if he chooses to run the 800 rather than the 400. Wes Schoenthal (Sr., Edwardsville) is the final returner from last year's race and has the competitive experience a lot of others do not have.