What to Watch For at the 2023 #SmithStrong Invitational

Date: Saturday, April 15th, 2023

Location: Minooka High School, 301 S Wabena Avenue, Minooka, IL 60447

Meet Information: Link Here

Meet program: HEAT SHEET

Schedule: Field Events begin at 10a, Running Events- 11a

How to follow: TWITTER - @milesplitil


The sixth installment of the Minooka Smith Strong Invitational will begin in the afternoon on Saturday and conclude as the sun begins to set on the deepest field we have had in the Northern part of the state to begin the outdoor season. Relive many of those moments from the 2022 version of the meet on our page here. 

MileSplitIL will be on-site once again to capture all the best moments from this special event that commemorates the life and legacy of Minooka alum and coach Mark Smith, who passed away on November 9th, 2016. Rather than admission, the Meet Hosts ask for a Donation that will fund the SmithStrong scholarship for two Minooka seniors who will be departing for college soon. 

Here are the main storylines to follow this Saturday evening: 

3A trophy race looks to thicken, plus one key Field event for the race

Defending state champion Batavia is in the field at SmithStrong, and is once again one of the most well-rounded varsity groups in the state. A victory at SmithStrong for Batavia preceded their trophy.

But it's not the Bulldogs who have been the wire-to-wire #1 team in the state during the indoor season. That would be Neuqua Valley, who is in the field as well. The current #1 outdoor team, according to our Power Rankings, is Homewood-Flossmoor. And with other trophy contenders on the periphery, most notably Minooka and Plainfield South, the Varsity scoring this weekend could tell us a little bit about what to expect come state championship time. Pay close attention to event winners and performances that could score at the state meet. 

If we are looking at a linchpin event for the trophy race, how about the Pole Vault? There are valuable points to be had in one of the deepest years in recent memory for the event. Nick Pennington (Jr., Neuqua Valley), Kyle Eppenstein (Sr., Plainfield South), and Andrew Undesser (Sr., Minooka) also represent potential scores for their trophy-vying teams.

Where will they arrange themselves behind hands-on favorite Joshua Meister, who may lead dark horse Oak Park-River Forest in a trophy hunt?

Early Season Test for XC Runner-Up Liam Newhart

Liam Newhart was just tenths of a second away from being discussed as the clear favorite to win the 3200 at state. 

But instead, he was runner-up to Aden Bandukwala in the slosh at Detweiller last November. As unfair as it is to him, he has been considered just one in a litany of names to compete for the 3200 title.

Newhart's season has had a longer runway as he returns to full strength after the end of that strong cross country season, but now in just his second outdoor appearance, he matches up against 3A state leader Camyn Viger (Jr., Plainfield South) and potent Batavia speedster Quintin Lowe (Sr.). This will be a major test for Newhart as he navigates what should be a hard pace set at the start by Viger and a competitive finish where the likes of Lowe and Viger's older teammate Ethan Reynoso (Sr.) look to be kicking hard. A winning time should come close to Viger's seed of 9:13, which he ran at Lakes to kick away from Zac Close (Jr., Neuqua Valley) and Lowe.

Speaking of Close, he makes an appearance at SmithStrong in the 1600 along with a host of low 4:20 seeds hot on Newhart's heels. Newhart has the best time this season so far (4:20.01) but Nicholas Strayer (Jr., Lyons), Trent Anderson (Sr., Sandburg), Zachary Balzer (Sr., Minooka), and the Plainfield runners (BJ Sorg and Dylan Maloney) make it a crowded affair. 

Sprint Stars stretching out to the quarter

The four middle lanes of the 100 feature two Vikings and two Indians with seeds under 10.9, all from the Belleville West Norm Armstrong Invitational. This rematch features Cael Hiser (Sr., Minooka) trying to hold off Olusoga Adeyiga (Jr., HF) once again with Samuel Drey (Sr., Minooka) and John Gore (Sr., HF) pushing from behind as well. 10.70 is the state lead, can this group push each other to that figure?

The most compelling sprint field, however, looks to be the 400, another event with Hiser as the top seed with 50.50. Lurking as the 4th seed, however, is Neuqua Valley's star sprinter Austin Belle, who lived at the top of the indoor 3A leaderboards in the 60m and 200m. Belle carries a 400 and 4x400 event load, so these two data points will be key for Belle who may have a choice between supporting his team in the relay or chasing a 10-point total in the 200. 

Nolan Lamoureux (So., Lockport) and Jack Rempfer (Sr., Lyons) figure to be two other notable racers in the 400. The fastest section of the 400 is rounded out by Belle's relay partner Tyrek Campbell (Sr.) as well as Drey.

Has Miles Granjean emerged as the class of the 3A hurdles field?

The 3A classification lacked real star power in the hurdles during the indoor season. 1A hurdler Daryl Okeke outperformed the rest of his upper-classification competitors.

At Illinois Prep Top Times, Miles Granjean (Sr., Evanston) won a thin 60h race where no other competitor broke 8.25 seconds. 

Early in the season, however, Granjean has shown to be determined to prove his victory is legitimate dominance, and not just because of a weak field. Granjean joined his Wildkit teammates at Highland Park on April 12th and blazed a 14.72 state-leading 110 hurdles time. He is the prohibitive favorite against a much stronger field, which includes Darvell Smith (Jr., Minooka) and Jake Lansdowne (Jr., Neuqua Valley). We may be in store for a real statement made by Granjean. 

Lansdowne sports the only sub-40 seed in the 300 hurdles. He holds the middle lane next to Eric Evans (Sr., OPRF). But will Granjean push Lansdowne from the outside lane in this event?

4x400 Powers will try to put their stamp on a deepening event

The effects of the pandemic on team training and performance were evident in a few events more than the 3A boys 4x400 the past two years. Only a single team ran under 3:20 in each of those past two years.

In mid-April, with five teams already turning in 3:25 4x400 marks or better, the state seems to be getting back to its full strength in the show-stopping relay. 

SmithStrong represents the best 4x400 race to date outdoors. 3:31.33 was the required seed to make the fastest section.

Neuqua Valley may be the slight favorite, featuring Campbell and Belle on a team that includes horizontal jumper James Ammenhauser (Sr.). 

Homewood-Flossmoor will have something to say about that, however, and is anchored by Nelson Speaks (Jr.).

Batavia is the defending state champions but has young blood on this relay including two underclassmen. 

Sleepers in this race may be Oswego (H.S.), featuring Jett Breed (Sr.), and Lyons Township with Rempfer, Matt McGovern (Sr.), and Strayer.

The field has the depth and competition to produce a 3:23 winner. No one should be leaving SmithStrong early!