Distance Night In Palatine Expects To Be A Great Affair

Relive last year's amazing girls' mile, featuring Scout Storms, Anna Harden, Juliet Frum, and Annika Swan.



Every year, fans and athletes renownedly hope that the Distance Night In Palatine will be accompanied by good weather, something favorable in the lower 70s or upper 60s. But Mother Nature seems to always douse the faithful with a mixture of snow, rain, wind, and cold. Regardless of the climes, the extremely warm vibe of the event has become a mid-April pastime for distance running fans throughout the state.

The eighth installation of Distance Night in Palatine kicks off at 5:30 pm CST at Palatine High School on Rohlwing Rd. Although Distance Night (DNIP) is a staple event for distance runners in Illinois, this year's setting includes runners from four other states, including Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. This is the second year the event list consists of the full two-mile and one-mile (with 3200 and 1600 en route times recorded) and the typical 800-meter metric half-mile. Let's start the discussion of Saturday's festivities with the 'Undercard' races that begin the evening.

The Undercard

There are 14 Undercard races: two 800s, two 2 Miles, and three one-mile races for each gender. The first Boys' Mile features 23 of the best freshman milers from Illinois.

Landon Harris (Fr., Granite City) is the headlining runner in the Boys' freshman mile. Harris got regional acclaim for his performances in middle school against elite Missouri competition, which included a 4:28.2 full at the HOKA Festival of Miles. In February 2024, he bested that mark with a 4:23.3 indoor mile in Louisville. He's in great form, as proven by the 4:26 1600m run he ran just last weekend. The field will have their hands full against Harris, but some names to watch from the field as potential upset winners include cross country all-stater Thomas Jochum (Glenbard South), trophy contributor Alex Batsala (Plainfield South), and West Virginia transplant Bryant Lester (Vernon Hills).

The undercard sections aggregate into separate events from the Main Event, so all athletes running before 8:00 are vying for a title.

The Girls' 800m fastest seed is Sophia Lane (Sr., Lake Forest), but Lane is hardly separated from the field, with 30 girls seeded within 2.8 seconds of each other. Hampshire teammates Ella Perrone (Sr.) and Alyssa Garcia (So.) have the advantage of working together in the faster section. Sophie Rentmeister (Fr., Chatham Glenwood) earned her first cross country all-state medal in the fall and is carving her niche now in track. Lyons also has two girls, Anna Bylsma (Sr.) and Madison Findley (Sr.)) to work together. A time in the 2:18 range is probably needed to win the undercard 800m.

The Boys' 800m undercard's best seed is Austin Corey (Sr., Waterloo), who makes the trip from the state's southwest corner. The entire faster section is seeded under 2:00, bookended by Wisconsin athlete Layne Aurit (Jr., Dodgeville-Mineral Point). Last year, it took 1:56.00 to win the Undercard, and this year, with all 30 boys seeded under two minutes, it will probably take a time under 1:57.5 to win.

The girls' 3200m undercard required an 11:53 time to make the field and has 36 girls seeded to 11:30, with emerging Huntley freshman Haley Rahman of Huntley at the top of the fastest section. Some names to watch: Kylie Simpson (So., Honenegah) is seeded at 11:45 in section two but has an 11:10 best from last year and has shown 60-second 400-meter footspeed this year. Amie Gronert (Sr.) hails from Shorewood, WI, where she just opened her season and is looking to test herself against the deep field. Samantha Rowley (Jr., Barrington) is part of a deep Barrington contingent that brings ten girls and has collectively been running very fast in 2024. Ashlynn Lindt (So., Lombard Montini) has emerged recently for the Broncos and will be near the front of section two.

The Boys 3200m is an even tighter affair, with the sections seeding 36 boys between 9:33 and 9:47. Benjamin Wuggazer (Jr., Lyons) has improved rapidly since spring began and is a name to watch not just Saturday but through to the next fall. Zachary Bender (Sr., Downers Grove North) contributed to the Trojans' state title and just narrowly missed all-state, finishing 26th in under 14:50. Lewis O'Connor (Sr., Oak Park-River Forest) wasn't too far behind Bender, finishing 15:04 and has a 9:35 best to his name. Watch for Jake Younger (Sr., Yorkville) in section 1. Younger was the top runner for Yorkville throughout the fall.

The Girls' Undercard mile has three sections, and it took 5:28.82 to gain entry. Three girls enter with sub-5:17 times: Sofia Donner (Fr., Arlington Heights (Hersey)), Madison Twarling (Sr., Lake Villa (Lakes)) and Camille Mavis (Sr., Mt. Zion). Angelynn Kanyuck (Sr., Waterloo) is coming off her best 1600 ever run just last week (5:17). The XC 1A class is represented in the top section by Savanna Franzen (Jr., St. Joseph-Ogden). Maria Polyakov (Jr., Glenbrook North) sports one of the best PRs in the field with a 5:12.15 1600 time. Any of these girls or many others can win, with 5:15 likely being the requisite time.

The Boys' Undercard Mile includes the two non-freshman races. The top seed is Jackson Summy (Jr., Lakes), whose 4:23.14 was run just last week at Stevenson and a narrow miss of the school record. HeHurtado contends with Josiah Narayanan (Jr., Wheaton-Warrenville South), a force during the cross-country season. A few other names that could take this race include Barrington's Justin Hurtado (Jr.), Max Sudrzynski (Jr., Jacobs) and Keeno DeAlba (Sr., Plainfield South).

The Main Event-

The first Main event to run its championship section is the Special Olympics Men and Women's 800m. We will have ten athletes line up to compete: John Garcia, Hugh McNamee, Ryan Hendrix, Elijah Badeuax, Ben Bluemond, Caleb Nelson, Luke Rowen, Jack Peretz, and Danica Chaon. Normal Community, Lincoln-Way West, West Aurora, York, and Deerfield are among the teams represented.

Shortly after this 800m finishes, "Ali" Allison Ince (Sr. Normal Community) will toe the line in Section 4 of the Girls' 800m. Ince is a two-time defending champion and is expected to grab her third title. What will her tactic be this year? Last year, it was a hard effort because the gun ran away from Becca Heitzig (Sr., Lincoln) and the field.

This year, Wisconsin native Charlize-Trinity McKenzie (Cedarburg, WI) makes her DNIP debut as the second seed in 2:09.81, the only athlete who has run within 13 seconds of indoor national champion Ince. The best recent races have come from Bella Domier (Sr., Grayslake Central) and Janellisa Oceguera (Sr., Joliet West). Expect Gabi Walker (Sr., DePaul College Prep) near the front of the fray.

Mia Forystek (Fr., Lincoln-Way Central) is a breakout athlete and part of a good freshman group this spring. Katie Roche (Sr., Sandburg) and Lola Satre-Morales (Jr., Naperville Central) will have consequential races as they play essential roles on favorite 4x800 teams in the spring. Finally, watch what Ince's teammate Lily Cavanaugh (So.) runs in this field. The Ironwomen's 4x800 prospects carry immense weight in pursuing a state trophy. The first section, 800m, is led by Abby Machesky (Sr., Crystal Lake South), who recently ran her seed time of 2:20.09 at Schaumburg.

It took 1:58.58 to get into the Boys' 800m Main Event. There are six boys under 1:55: Foster Shelbert (Sr., Naperville Central), John Ihrke (Sr., Glenbrook North), Owen Horeni (So. Yorkville), Payton Whitehead (Sr., Lakes), Marcellus Mines (Sr., Joliet West) and Karsten Grundahl (Sr., Lakeside Lutheran in Lake Mills, WI). Shelbert is working back to his form from last year when he ran 1:54.2 at the 2023 state meet. Ihrke won a deep Batavia Distance Madness race in 2024 and ran 1:53.99 at the state meet last year. Horeni and Whitehead, despite being different ages, are both veterans at 800 (Horeni was the freshman Mile runner-up the previous year). Whitehead was all-state in 2A. Mines recently debuted for Joliet West by running the 800 last weekend. Although he's most accomplished in the mile, this will be a great litmus test for him. Patrick Hilby won 1:52.32 at this event last year. It's unlikely that the winning time this year will be as fast, but 1:53 is certainly in play.

The girls' 2 Mile features 14 girls who have broken 11:00 for 3200, and the cool forecasted temperatures bode well for this group that is running for something fast. The championship section is rich with underclassmen who run hard from the gun. The current outdoor state leader, Barrington frosh Mia Sirois, is the top seed with her 10:28.51 PR from Barrington's Gitelis Invite. She seeks her first significant invite race win. Last year's 2A 3200 runner-up to Tatum David, Sundara Weber (So. , Sandwich), also brings her 10:31 to the party. She went toe-to-toe with Natalie Bierbaum (So. Normal University) in the fall, which was good enough for both sophomores to post 16:41, 3-mile times or better.

Bierbaum is joined by Pioneer teammate Zoe Carter normal, whose indoor season was highlighted with a 17-minute 5k run in New York. Finally, 1A front runners Molly Farrell (So.) and Kate Foltz (So.) were sub-17 runners in cross country and factored into the front pack somehow in the DNIP 2 Mile. Naperville North throws its three best girls into the fray: Shania Tandon (So.), Rianna Tandon (So.), and Julie Piot (So.) all 10:57 or better. Finally, look out for out-of-staters Sophia Bablitch (Sr., Rosholt, WI) and Alexandra Volkart (Sr., Southern Boone, MO) to factor in. The winning time should be around 10:30 for two full miles.

Dale Johnson (Sr., Sterling) has the best two-mile seed by a strong margin with his 9:08.77 3200 performance, finishing runner-up to Ethan Hogan at 2A state in 2023. But, with how his competitors have been running, he is unclear about the field. Jackson Barrett is 33% of the Tuscola attack that dominated Top Times and made their influence known at Arcadia.

Tommy Nitz (Jr., Huntley) PR'ed in the 1600 at 4:18.48 to win a highly competitive race at the Minooka #SmithStrong sectional. Few runners are hotter than Jack Jennings (Fr., Palatine Fremd), who forewent the chance to run the Freshman Mile for an opportunity to win this 2-Mile Main Event. Proven runners on the cross country course in this race include Mohamed Abdullahi (Sr., Mather), Ryan Eddington and Grant Schroder (Sr. and Jr., Downers Grove North), Dylan Ybarra (Sr., O'Fallon), Joe Bregenzer (Jr., Barrington) and Sean Heetland (Sr., West Aurora). An emerging runner to watch is Luis Flores (Jr., St. Laurence), whose Viking team will look to him to find some points in the state series at this event. The second section is headlined by Matthew Conroy, who ran 14:40 for three miles in the fall. 9:15 for 2 miles is a good ballpark estimate for this race win.

As is usually the case, the headlining events at DNIP are the Mile fields. On the girls side, all three Top Times 1600 champions are represented: Elena Rybak (Jr., Fr. McGivney) won 1A, Becca Heitzig (Sr., Lincoln) won 2A, and Annika Swan (So., Chicago St. Ignatius) won 3A. Add to that trio defending champion in this event Scout Storms (Jr., Barrington), Missouri middle distance star Elyse Wilmes (Jr., Father Tolton), and five other sub-5 girls, and this race will be fantastic. Storms has the most gaudy resume over this distance with a 4:50 Full Mile PR and is also a cross country state champion, as is Heitzig, who is still in the early stages of her track season after basketball ended. The favorite may be Rybak, though, as Rybak has the highest profile wins at this distance in 2024, taking down Isabella Keller (Fr., St. Anthony) twice and running 4:51.05 to do it the first time at Eastern Illinois.  Rybak's tactics will be interesting to watch, as her middle distance prowess (2:10 PB) is neutralized somewhat by the field with Heitzig (2:08 PR), Swan (2:14.4 SB and fastest time on IL soil in 2024), and Wilmes (56.9, 2:08) are all proficient speedsters.

Don't discount all-stater Sophia Ramirez (So., Washington), who has shown she is back from an injury that hampered her fall. How do endurance beasts Mia Kotler (Jr., Latin) and Liv Phillips (Sr., Naperville Central) fit into the tactics of this race? The winning time had a wide variance and could be anywhere from 4:50 to 4:55, depending on how it is run. An athlete to watch: Sophia Baumert (Jr., Streamwood) is one of the most rapidly improving athletes in the state and squeaked into the fast section with a 5:07 PR last weekend.

If The Girls Mile is a must-watch, then The Boys Mile is true appointment-watching. Arguably, the five most proficient milers in the state of Illinois all face off in this race. The 2022 champion was Gavin Genisio (Sr., Benton), and this 4:07 Miler is also the fastest this year over 1600 with a 4:04 FAT split in the DMR in Boston. The 2023 3A champ, Aden Bandukwala, gained internet notoriety with his 54-second last lap to win in 4:10 last May, joins and runs the highest profile Mile he has run since that race. Runner-up to Bandukwala was Camyn Viger (Sr., Plainfield South), who ran 4:08.8 for the Full Mile in March in Boston and recently joined the sub-9 3200 club in Arcadia. Trey Sato was also all-state in that race and enters with a 4:12 Mile best and a 1:50 800 recently run at Arcadia to follow up with a Top Times 800 win.

However, it has to be Patrick Hilby (Sr., Aurora Central Catholic), who is the supercharger for this race. Hilby is the national 800 champion from New Balance, running the fourth-fastest time ever indoors in 1:48.7. Hilby did this with his trademark fast start (24.85 opening 200) but held firm to kick in the final 200. How does this translate to 1 Mile for Hilby? This 800m followed his Mile PR of 4:10.10 on February 4th at the New Balance Grand Prix. Hilby was eighth in that national elite race, so how does he tactically handle having the target on his back in this race? Even at his caliber, it will be difficult to erase the images of Bandukwala or Sato with hard kicks at the end. This race seems ripe for a fast early pace catalyzed by Hilby, Genisio, or Viger. In the cold, the winning time was only 4:11 last year, but sub-4:10 almost seems like a certainty this year.

The rest of the field deserves credit as well. Newcomer Brady Golomb (Sr., York) gets his first crack at competition in Illinois outside of the WSC. Genisio's teammates Gabriel McLain (Jr., Benton) is no slouch running 4:15. State leader in the 3200m Dylon Nalley (Sr., Marion) is primed for his best Mile, which would be any effort under 4:19. Parker Dewey (Eau Claire, WI), Charlie Vater (Iola-Scandinavia WI) and Connor Burns' younger brother Brian Burns (So., Southern Boone MO) are out-of-staters that are pretty capable of spoiling the party. Watch also Julian Baker (Sr., Mt Zion) and Rory Gaan (Jr., Fremd).