Distance Night In Palatine Rocked The House

Andrew O'Keefe (right) mired in another heart attack finish, but he did not throw his hands up...

Palatine HS; Palatine, IL-

If you were in the Palatine area Saturday evening and heard the screams or felt the energy emitting from Chic Anderson Stadium, don't be mistaken. There was a happy earthquake of sorts inside the stadium and the hearty crowd appreciated every minute of it. Alongside the amazing performances was perhaps the best weather that Chicagoland has seen this team of the season in a long time.


Freshman Boys 1600: The yearlings kicked off the undercard and it did not disappoint. It was a close affair throughout each circuit, but Ryder James of PBL held on to win in a personal best 4:30.28.

DMR: The Distance Medley Relay is an important event in distance specialty meets. At the national championship level, this is a prime event. Kudos out to meet manager Chris Quick for implementing the DMR. Defending champion Downers Grove North was a late scratch and Deerfield had to bow out due to Passover. A last minute invitation was extended to Chicago Lane Tech and they gladly accepted the offer. The Indians did not disappoint. Right away leadoff leg junior Jack Burns went to work for his teammates in the 1,200 meter leg. After a somewhat comfortable two laps that passed in 2:10, Burns bolted from the party and Oswego East chased but Burns kept motoring -- his split read 3:10.5 at the exchange -- before handing off to teammate, senior Jon Cattan. The final two legs, efforts at 800m and 1600m, spit out 1:59.5 and 4:23.7 for seniors Frank Burke-Olson and Julian Higueros. The winning tally was 10:28.01-- the second fastest time in meet history.

800: The first two sections of the 800m netted winners by Jeremy Roe (Sr., Huntley) 1:58.02 and Will Houser (Jr., Glenbrook South) 1:58.19. There were no big names leading up to the main event section, but we were expecting some faster times. Conservative lap racing was the culprit. Would section three prevail with the likes of Riley Wells (Sr., Rockford Christian) and Grant Jensen (Sr., Prairie Ridge) in the field? Nope. Wells allowed the pace to string him along in 59.2 for the first lap. The field was basically intact at 500m. Braedon Gilles (Jr., Middleton, WI) led through 600 and later 700, but with less than 100 to go the "crowd thriller" Wells took off and left the field in his wake winning in 1:55.50.

3200: There were two sections and the undercard version produced a winning effort by Dawson Smith (Jr., Rock Falls) who kicked past late leader Erik Snell (Jr., Prospect) 9:25.64-9:26.34. The race had been set up by Chicago Jones junior Anthony Maida who pushed the pace through the middle laps and the first half in 4:44.

The "championship section" was one that hearty fans had been waiting for some time. Defending champ Josh Methner (Jr., Hersey) had indicated during the latter stages of his national cross country stroll that he would take some major time away from racing during the indoor season. He kept his word by only competing in less than a handful of races. Thus far this outdoor season the total tally of 3200s was ZERO. How could a kid whose goal is to run sub-9:00 not have a long distance race or two in the books? It's probably a process and with such competitors as Mathias Powell (Sr., Mahomet-Seymour), Jared Kreis (Jr., Lincoln-Way Central), Tommy Brady (Sr., Maine South), Sam Rivera (Sr., Whitney Young), and Garrett Dixon (Sr., Monticello), it's hard to say he wasn't ready coming in.

The opening pace did not show any signs of the first sub-9:00 effort by an Illinois kid. Rivera snatched the early pace with Methner and a throng of runners nestled together. The first half was 4:35 and the P.A. announcer Fred Miller appeared to indirectly suggest that they get moving. Methner took over leading chores at the end of lap five. Kreis was next to move out front. Brady was there but fading as was Rivera. It came down to Kreis, Methner, and Powell in the final chase. Kreis was able to hold them both off with a big personal best 9:02.47.

1600: The last event of the day still possessed the energy of the first two sections if not more. The first race winner was John Walls (Sr., St. Ignatius) 4:25.03. His victory was followed up Ben Rosa (Jr., Lake Forest) who kicked home to a win in section two at 4:19.05.

The fans were encouraged to take part in the festivities trackside in an almost hands-on appeal. Right away the star-studded field which included out of state participants Drew Bosley (Sr., Homestead, WI) and Carter Cheeseman (Sr., Ft. Worth, TX). The pace was brisk with Bosley opening the field up in 61, 2:03- meet record pace. Cheeseman was right on his hip until the third lap when Andrew O'Keefe (Sr., Granite City) crept up. With 300 to go O'Keefe took off in his patent all-out getaway caper. Bosley appeared to rebound with 100 remaining and actually passed O'Keefe who desperately tried to get to home base. But O'Keefe had one final gasp remaining and he leaned across the line first: 4:08.98-4:09.02. The real Thomas Shilgalis (Sr., Naperville Central) re-emerged with a third-place 4:09.63. In all, there were ten finishers at 4:15 or better. The field was so deep that all but two of the 16 finishers broke 4:20 and last place was a respectable 4:26.

It was a battle of top national talented underclassmen in the main event 1600m


DMR: Unlike last year when Naperville North can in and demolished the field in a record-breaking 12:12.45. It is believed to be the fastest time ever run by an Illinois team. This year the Huskies returned with a younger outfit to show off the depth of the program. It was quite a battle throughout the affair against Geneseo and Oak Park-River Forest. But ultimately, it was the defending champs that prevailed by the slimmest margin 12:41.87-12:41.89. OPRF took third in 12:42.19.

800: An unknown Kennedy Calcagno (Fr., Immaculate Conception) came and ran the race of her young life winning section one in 2:20.89. 

The second section winner Marissa Valentini (Sr., Prospect) dueled with Breena Shreeves (Jr., Knoxville) and others before taking the win in 2:19.73. She was the only runner to dip under 2:20 prior to the fast section.

The championship section featured some proven and unproven talent. Among them were Olivia Schmitt (Jr., Lakes), Marne Sullivan (Sr., New Trier), Claire Hill (Sr., Naperville North), Mikenna Robinson (Sr., Neuqua Valley), and Payne Turney (Jr., Clinton). Hill controlled the race for quite a while- first 400 in 64.4- and it appeared as though she would pull out the victory. Kaylie Politza (Fr., Lemont) hung tough with Hill and Sullivan. Hill and Politza started to fade on the homestretch as Sullivan tried to take the victory. But Schmitt had been mounting her assault with 250 to go, breezed by the trio for the win in 2:13.29.

3200: Ailey Mitchell (Jr., Shelbyville) ran a masterful opening first section race to win in a personal best 10:57.66. 

The second section was classified as the championship race. The defending champion Jenna Schwartz (Sr., Waterloo) scratched out. Alex Morris (Sr., Naperville North) did not compete in the Sue Pariseau Invite in the morning so she could be fresh and fight off against a tremendous field. Morris got out front and controlled every aspect of the race. The first big challenge was from Fatima Giron (Jr., Round Lake) who hung on tight through the first 1600 in 5:08. Morris eventually shook Giron from her as Abby Lopez (Jr., Argo) clawed her way into the picture. Morris would take the win in a personal best and statement-making 10:25.95. Lopez finished second in 10:30.52. Giron was third in 10:32.68. In all, there were five girls under the old record by Dakota Roman (Batavia-10:42.38). There were a total of 12 runners that broke 11:00 making this the best year for the event.

1600: The final event of the day was a great one. Former soccer player and cross country all-stater Mia Gianfrancesco (Jr., Batavia) won her first track invite section in a personal best 5:08.52 by sprinting past early leader Souleya Ibrahim (Sr., Chicago Mather). 

The second section was a tab bit faster with freshman Rebecca Corbett of Oswego winning a close bout over Prospect senior Julia O'Grady in 5:06.77.

It wasn't until the third stanza that we got our first sub 5:00 clocking. Alyssa Norris (Jr., Barrington) bowed her head down the final straight and got a big personal best 4:59.88. What's most impressive of her effort is that she competed at full scale during the morning with her team at the Sue Pariseau Invite. She ran on the winning 4x800r as well as the 1600 in 5:14.

The final race of the day lived up to the hype. New Balance Nationals Indoor 800m champion Roisin Willis was in the building to duel battle against some of the best talent in Illinois. The super freshman from Stevens Point, WI went right to work with fellow stud freshman Katrina Schlenker of Batavia. The first lap was respectable in 71-72 seconds. Willis, a somewhat novice in the mile, didn't seem out of her realm leading as the pace picked in 2:23. Schlenker was like a pitbull attached to her leg. She would not let go and Willis knew it. The bell was reached in 3:40 and it was obvious that this dogfight would play out till the very end. Schlenker was able to wear out Willis and power home for the win in a new meet record 4:51.36. Her US #12 mark is sure to get her noticed on the national scene now. Willis barely held off another state freshman pitbull Ava Parekh of Chicago (Latin) 4:53.26-4:53.75. There were nine girls under the watershed mark, eight of them from the state of Illinois. This is indeed the deepest event on the docket statewide and it did not include "Ms. You Know Who" either.