This past Saturday was a magical day on several fronts: 1) A staple in track and field in the state of Illinois was ushered by the way in terms of a distance running treasure, "Distance Night In Palatine"'; 2) A sense of normalcy where fans can enjoy a great event and express organic feelings toward their favorite athletes; 3) It was great seeing brotherhood and sisterhood of coaches being able to support their athletes at ground level as they should be able to.
KEY GIRLS HIGHLIGHTS-
800m: After seeing the state lead drop to 2:14.48 in the penultimates section by Lincoln freshman Becca Heitzig, all eyes shifted toward the main event "fast section." Stevens Point WI junior Roisin Willis, who was the national leader (2:03.85), still had Olympic Trial dreams. She also improved her pedigree mix of speed and distance in both the 400m and 800m disciplines.
The race unfolded very fast with Willis, the precocious freshman Ali Ince of Normal Community, and former Illinois standout Kaylie Politza of Valparaiso IN. Perhaps, Willis did not see it coming but she had them closely dogging her shadow. The opening circuit was just under 60 seconds and despite the cool climes, it was primed to be a hot one. At 600m, in 1:31.4 it was only Ince there and she could not be shaken as both entered the home stretch together. Willis tightened up badly and without a Plan B, she drifted toward lane two, which became a clear path for Ince to waltz home for the historic win.
Ince crossed in a meet record, school record, and all-time state record 2:04.10! Ince is a name that national pundits will have to mention now. The state as a whole dropped other gems like Marianne Mihas (Chicago Latin) 2:09.72, Katrina Schlenker (Batavia) 2:13.43, Megan Garrett (Charleston) 2:15.36. In all, there were 19 girls under 2:20 (12 from IL).
3200m: With the local star power missing, it was an opportunity for Wisconsin to step into the spotlight. Lauren Pansegrau (Middleton) and Kora Malecek (Onalaska) competed separately during the fall cross country season. Malecek won her state title in November. Pansegrau competed in and won the spring championship on Saturday morning. The future U of Illinois runner Malecek shifted in track and field mode months ago was well-rested.
Malecek opened the championship race like a pacer before Malecek joined her. They hit the first mile in 5:04 and well ahead of the field. They would go 1-2 with Pansegrau taking the gold in 10:13.91 PB. Malecek also got a career-best effort in 10:17.02.
1600m: The thought process coming in was that Ava Parekh (Chicago Latin) was going to have her way with the field. From the gun, it appeared as though the pre-meet analysis was going to come to fruition. After a tightly subtle opening lap in 71-seconds, Parekh opened up on the field and produced a nice separation. Later at the halfway mark, she hit in 2:26 and then the 1k in 3:02.
Elia Ton-That (Chicago Northside Prep) began her bold chase after Parekh. Ton-That pulled up even with a seemingly tiring Parekh at the bell lap in 3:39.8. Instead of surging past Parekh, Ton-That strode with her around the turn. That seemed to wake Parekh up and re-energize her. She pulled away into the back darkness and won in 4:52.81. In complete exhaustion, Ton-That was caught by Aly Negovetich (Grant) for second in 4:56.24. Ton-That's bravery was rewarded though. She took home the bronze medal in 4:56.60.
KEY BOYS HIGHLIGHTS-
800m: Brock Drengenberg (Dixon) warmed up the final #4 fast section with a section #3 winner in 1:56.71.
The opening pace of an evenly matched field had nearly the entire field come through the first lap under 57-seconds. The leader was at 56.4. Dan Watcke (Hinsdale Central) was plotting his move in and around the pack trying to find daylight. He got it with 200 to go and burned away from the scrum and beat home a late-charging Josh Delgado of Grant to the finish in a meet record/school record/personal best 1:52.72.
3200m: The race of the day reeked of excitement and the prospect of a sub-9:00 effort. Josh Truchon of West Alles WI had plans of disrupting the favorites Drew Rogers (Herscher) and Lucas Guerra (Highland IN). He opened 63.5 and 2:11. The gravy train ended there as Rogers and Guerra took over.
The first mile in 4:33 meant they need to take off if they wanted to get below the magical barrier. Fast forward to two laps remaining, Rogers and Guerra were back in their friendship battle mode. It was 7:58 on the bell and Guerra began to really force the issue. He turned it up to gear 5 with less than 200 to go. Rogers with his smooth running form hung in there and dropped a big gear of his own with 60 to go. The damage produced a new meet record of 8:57.78. Guerra once again in the runner-up spot clocked a sweet 8:58.75. Nine boys got under 9:10 which is amazing considering how cool it was during meet time.
1600m: The final race of the day had the unfortunate mission of matching the action-packed events. A Slew of sub-4:30 efforts proved that section #5 race would something good to watch. Unknown assailant Hunter Krepline of Brookline WI took the leading chores and didn't want to give it back. He passed the 800 in 2:05.7. The lead shorted to a few strides at 1200 in 3:11.4. Jake Myers (Lake Zurich) woke from his stupor and put the hammer down with a little more than 300 to. Myers opened up and came home to win in 4:15.22