One of the most anticipated and respected individual years (nationally) in several years. This will be one time when the individuals will overshadow the teams. Jesse Reiser and Zach Dale are among the top returning distance runners in the state. With just 8 of the top 25 runners coming back is a big underrated fact. Many of the returners and some not listed had very good track seasons.
Despite a harsh winter that has put the kabash on quality training outside, the distance arena will still be the crème de la crème in Illinois track and field land. Aside from the Big Three of Zack Smith, Jesse Reiser, and Patrick Perrier, the deck of cards have changed and new leaders will emerge from last season to cross country and finally through the winter training prologue. The three events: 3200, 800, 1600 should exhibit some very stout performances throughout the year. So, it would be wise to keep an eye on the form charts from the indoor season to outdoor as they will change a bit.
This season will carry many hopes and dreams for teams and their fans who love relays. It allows the whole team to feel that sense of team and” family.” There will be opportunities for the traditionally strong squads as well as emerging units to move in and earn their place in IHSA annals. The premier of all relays in Illinois is the 4x800m relay. This video called the “Boys 4x800 Premier Event” proves that fact.
2014 should be a year in which the sprints and hurdles collectively experience a big jump in performances as many of the emerging stars return. Pekin's four event star Cole Henderson returns for a senior year that is expected to wow the fans of track and field in this state. It has been a very long time since boys sprints and hurdles have gained the sport's attention in this state. It will happen this season for sure. The tracks all across the state should see some fine performances that the girls have had for the past five years.
2013 wasn't as good in the field as 2012, but it did have its moment in the sun with some great seasonal performances. For example, Roselle (Lake Park) some an emerging athlete or two step up and produce some great performances. In turn, the Lancers won their fourth team championship in a row. 2014 will be a challenge for Lake Park as well as the events themselves to shine and standout. The journey to another great and maybe at times outstanding season is already underway.
There is no doubt that 3A Girls sprints have been hotter than a stove top over the past four years thanks to some speedsters like Morolake Akinosun (Aurora Waubonsie Valley), Aaliyah Brown (Frankfort Lincoln-Way East), Shamier Little (Chicago Lindblom), and Cessily Jones (Plainfield North) are among the very top that elevated the state game to the national level and even international. The girls will undoubtedly be missed, but at the same time their performances and and extreme dedication to countless Illinois girls will never be forgotten.
When it comes to big league relays things can be fierce. Over the past several years Illinois has made a name among the national conscious. For example, in 2012, Wheaton-Warrenville South and Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West) proved that a friendly rival can produce dividends for all. It produced a state record and national spotlight for the land of Lincoln in the 4x800m relay. Relays can also be used as a prop for coaches to lull their competition in for other causes. For years, teams like E. St. Louis, Chicago Morgan Park, and Evanston would use relays in their quest to win a state championship. Sometimes the tactics worked and sometimes it didn’t. The 800m medley was an event that smart coaches with deep pockets would use as a throw away event. To them it didn’t make sense to run their best athletes in an event that would tax them too much later. Evanston coach Fenton Gunter has always felt that using a top 400 runner on a medley would kill that athlete’s ability to perform up to standard in other events later. For a team battling for a team trophy, quick decisions have to be made. Remember that relays only count for 10 points in Illinois- not 20 as they do in Texas. But then again that same runner could also be used to bait other teams in thinking they will be spent on a relay when it isn’t true. But remember that every quality sprinter must be able to run the 4×400 relay.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a girls distance running renaissance nationally with all-time performances led by Mary Cain (Sr., Bronxville, NY), Alexa Efraimson (Jr., Camas, WA), and Sarah Baxter (Sr., Simi Valley, CA). But locally where things matter more, the homegrown girls have done very well in recent years. There have been long-time state records broken to All-American status in cross country and track achieved. No longer are the Illinois distance girls used as a door mat. Instead they will do the stepping on. Expect that to continue this season in all three events.
The quality of the state championship is going to be interesting on many fronts this season with major team and individual implications on the line. As it is frequently mentioned, team championships are often won in the field. 2012 state champion Edwardsville started the formula of winning in the field and it was taken by last year’s champ Lincoln-Way East (despite their sprint prowess). This same blue print will happen again as their other classification peers are eyeballing the opportunity to rack up points before a single track event is run. This formula is similar to a baseball team scoring in the first inning. It allows the beneficial starting pitcher to stay settle down and just throw strikes.
Distance running fans better get their 2014 school classification chart cheat sheets out. There are going to be so many classification changes, it will be virtually impossible to track your favorite runner. For example, 2A cross country individual state championship senior John Wold of Glenbard South will not face cross country foe Johnny Leverenz (Sr., Danville) in the state final because Leverenz’s school was bumped up to 3A. The league will also see other big names such as junior twin brothers Jake and Luke Hoffert (Yorkville), Ryan Pitner (Sr., Crystal Lake Central), and Peter Schaible (Sr., Chicago Jones)- top ten finishers in the 2A meet moving up to 3A. It’s really unfortunate that the fall’s premier runners will not be able to compete against the crème de la crème in late May. But on the upside there will be some emerging athletes ready to be great athletes. This is the kind of thing that makes high school distance running the crown jewel of the sport.
The relays will be fun to watch this season as all four events will feature traditional power Cahokia managing the food chain from now until infinity. However, there will be some teams on the scene to disrupt the flow. The Chicago Public League is ready to shine again and put their names in the medal chase hat. Chicago Dunbar trades places with brethren North Lawndale Charter in the two sprint relays- 4×1, 4×2. Two-time 4x1 champions Jacksonville will experience the feeling of a free fall after Reggie Bratton and gang gone to graduation. However, relays are very unpredictable as to who will be coming back and committing to the team cause. So let the fun begin
2014 is going to be vastly different from 2013 because of classification defections. For example, Martel Hunter moves up from 1A and should be a dominant force in his league in all three flat races. Several other highly touted speed demons and hurdlers climbed the stairs to 3A. As well, the graduated talent such as DJ Duncan, Reggie Bratton, and Marcus Greer will be felt. At the same time, it gives a bevy of emerging athletes an opportunity to step forward and make a name for themselves and their schools.
The field event arena will experience some growth and growing pains this season. The jumps and pole vault will be must see all year long with the likes of superstars Ja’Mari Ward of Cahokia and Alex King of Massac County. But on the other side of the spectrum, the throws will be very lean due to heavy graduation losses.
The most difficult events in Class 2A to predict are relays. It seems that there are so many classification changes that it keeps the head spinning. It will be interesting to see how well Springfield Southeast will perform and load their relay units without graduated legend Charday Crawford. Upstart Kankakee will be a team relying heavily on teamwork in their chase for a team championship. We can’t forget the likes of E. St. Louis Senior who moved up to 3A this season. Also, can former power Chicago Morgan Park return to glory? This season has lots of possibilities and it should be interesting to explore.
The loss of the German import Mailin Struck will be felt not only in this classification but also in the state of distance running as a whole. The 2A state cross country champion junior from Riverside-Brookfield returned home to her native country during the Christmas holiday break to finish up her studies. There are other defections and additions due to IHSA enrollment classification cutoffs that will affect this event
The landscape of this season is going to look incredibly different than it has in recent years. For the first time in three years the classification will not have Shamier Little or Charday Crawford to look forward to. There will not be a speedster or hurdler from East St. Louis Senior High School to project in the team scoring. So, who should the fandom look out for during the 2014 campaign? There are a number of emerging names out there to choose from. As the season unfolds, someone will step forward and be heard from. They always do in the world of Illinois girls track and field.
The more things change the more they stay the same. It is true that some familiar and very talented young ladies who have elevated the field events in 2A to prominent status have graduated. But at the same time there are a few top draws to look out for. The shot put, triple jump, and pole vault appear to be the top events on the docket. Lena Giger of Highland will be the spotlight athlete in this arena, but she will not be alone. Watch for Haleigh Knapp do her magic in the high jump pit all season long
The relays are the life blood of a track meet in that it involves teamwork, precision, and good timing. It also provides excitement and entertainment for the fans- particularly the 4x400 which has often times been called "the showstopper." This season in Class A all four relays should experience a new state champion crowned down on the Big Blue track in Charleston at Eastern Illinois University in late May.
Former Beecher great Grant Nykaza has graduated and taken his talents to Tallahasee, Florida to compete and study at Florida State University. But before he departed, he mentored several lads in training. One of those lads is Nick Hess from Champaign St. Thomas More. More on More to come...
The landscape of Class A sprinting is going to be vastly different than it has been in recent years mainly due to heavy graduation and classification movement. All five sprint events experienced a major power outage. It will be interesting to see who will step up as the long season unfolds.
The Class A field events arena had been a strong suit for the classification in recent years with some very impressive performances that have rocked the national consciousness. That claim will more than likely slow down with the graduation of Kyle Landon (Chester). Landon was ranked among the very best in the country in the high jump with 7-0 efforts indoors and out last year. It may be just the Adam Coulon show in the pole vault all season long.
The state of distance affairs will be interesting because a ton of mainstay athletes have graduated. However, the league will not be void of talent as it always seems someone will step up and produce some great efforts. If this past fall’s cross country season is any indication of what is to come, the fans will not be disappointed. Only five out of last year’s top ten finishers return in this event. The “deuce” will feature a very strong freshman presence along with some fresh performances during the cross country season competitors.
There are some folks who think relays are for the fans, as if the coaches that put together fast units are doing it for fun or to supplement their egos. Yes, it is true that some schools pride themselves in being termed a “relay school.” But by and large relays serve a greater purpose of scoring points that help teams score crucial points. In Texas, relays actually count for 20 points in the state championship as to not let a superstar athlete go on a rampage. The relays in Illinois may be the deciding outcome of the three trophies in May.
Sprint-oriented events are the bread and butter of track and field whether you like it or not. There are a lot of coaches that will build their teams around just a handful of talent because they know points can be racked up very quickly in a championship setting. This year’s crop of talent will be wide spread forcing the power broker leaders to rethink plans of over-taxing their star athletes. We didn’t even factor in the play of relays to the mix. It will be quite interesting to see how the season will transpire in April and May.
The official high school season doesn't actually start until January 20, but it's never too early to discuss, debate, and speculate about the prospects of another season. Milesplit Illinois will be in the forefront of all of the above and it will start with a series of previews of each event for every class and gender. Enjoy!