It always comes down to the 4 x 400…and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
When the team shoved off for Charleston on Thursday morning, we knew we had the opportunity for a very busy Saturday afternoon, and, sure enough, that’s exactly how the IHSA State Championship meet played out for the team. With 8 events qualified for competition (and a double qualification in the 3200), 7 events through to day #2, and 5 All-State performances, including our first STATE CHAMPIONSHIP in the 4 x 800 Meter Relay, this was one of the best days in the history of Neuqua Valley Track and Field!
Friday’s busy day of competition can best be characterized as 3 victories, a shocker, and a blessing in disguise.
Friday began with a bit of a scare in the 4 x 800 Meter Relay. Isaiah Robinson (2:01) handed off to Jeremy Stern far behind the pack. But this team is full of chasers who rise to the competition over and over again. Stern fought to regain position in 1:57; Nick Rafacz then popped a 1:55 to put Ty Moss in tremendous position to take the victory in a season best 7:47.63.
Moss returned about an hour later in the 800 to show Danville’s Johnny Leverenz that he was the real deal. Not content with merely qualifying to day #2, Moss hung tight in this heat’s “hurry up and wait” style of racing, and kicked for the victory in 1:55.43.
The third and final victory of the day came in the 4 x 400 Meter Relay. Kyle Bender led off and was followed by the returning trio of Moss, Rafacz, and Espinosa, who punched their ticket to Saturday with a near 2-second win over Crete Monee.
Field events rolled our way as competition concluded in Pole Vault with a qualifying mark of 13′ 9″, a leap of relative ease for Adam Peterson. The shocker of the day came in the Triple Jump as Austin Parks was only able to register a jump of 44′ 1.5″. Just when everyone thought Parks was done for the weekend, the finalists were announced…by only half of an inch, Parks was the 12th and final man in.
Connor Horn had his work cut out for him in the 1600. Unlike last year, Horn entered the stadium healthy and ready to engage the race. He could not have expected the top 5 times in his heat to all fall at 4:14. Finishing in 4:21.75, he gave all he had and never let up. After emptying his stomach several times and nursing several blisters, the coaches met with him to gauge his health. Little did he know that not qualifying in the mile may have been the best thing to happen to the team in years.
When the sun rose on O’Brien Stadium on Saturday morning, the team competition was open to several teams, and thankfully we were one who happened to be in the hunt.
Our first event on the track was the 4 x 800 Meter Relay, and it was one of our proudest moments in team history. Robinson was replaced by Horn with the belief he could hold us closer to the pack. Handing off in 11th place, Horn had posted a personal best split time of 1:57.6. Stern moved quickly in his first lap from 11th to 6th and posted a 2-second best of 1:55.6. Rafacz (1:54.0) was the key to the victory. Within the first lap he moved us into 2nd place, well within striking distance for Moss who chased down Sandburg…and sat. Watching from the stands, the coaches knew he would not quit until victory was in hand. With 250 meters to go, Moss moved up, beyond, and through to a STATE CHAMPIONSHIP and a new school record of 7:40.21, the nation’s second fastest time and less than .2 seconds away from a State record. 10 points were on the board.
The 3200 Meter Run for both Nick Bushelle and Michael Widmann was an exercise in surviving the rapidly rising temperatures. While occasionally runners in Section 1 can place into the overall performances, Saturday was the ultimate exception with several morning racers achieving All-State places. Bushelle himself said that after only two laps, he felt like he was melting, and his feet were burning. Widmann was spent and his legs nearly gave out again. In the end Widmann was 16th overall in 9:33.30, and Bushelle was 18th in 9:37.12. Widmann will return next year as the ninth fastest overall competitor.
Moss’s second race of the day, his fifth overall of the weekend, got out tremendously fast. Caught in the pack for too long, Moss couldn’t mount a kick to catch Johnny Leverenz, who would not be denied. Moss achieved his second All-State performance with a 3rd place in a 10-year record-breaking time of 1:54.02. The team stood at 17 points.
The 400 Meter Dash was lightning quick, and if anyone blinked, the finish was a blur. All nine competitors were finished in under 49 seconds. From across the track, the coaches surmised that Espinosa was 6th…maybe 7th. When the results were posted, we were shocked and ecstatic that he blasted through in 48.18 seconds for 4th place. Add 6 more points to the team count…a total of 23.
With Parks unable to better his mark in the Triple Jump, taking 12th place, the pressure fell to Peterson to, literally, rise to the occasion. Leaping a season best 14′ 6″, Peterson added 4 more points with his 6th place finish. With one event to go, Neuqua Valley had earned 27 points.
It always come down to the 4 x 400…and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
York had secured 1st place. Lake Park and Edwardsville sat idle at 36 points. A victory in the 4 x 400 relay guaranteed us 37 points and a team trophy. Anything less left us in 4th.
Espinosa, Bender, Rafacz, and Moss ran their hearts out. They fought…they chased…they, as we always ask, left everything out on the track. East St. Louis could not be caught. Naperville Central was tremendous. And we placed 3rd with a season best 3:17.34, just .29 seconds away from a school record.
There will always be a touch of disappointment to come so close to a State team trophy, yet not realize that dream. That being said, this team left O’Brien Stadium with absolutely no regrets, knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had given of themselves to the utmost of their potential and talent. It’s an old cliche, but the sentiment rings true…pain is temporary, PRIDE IS FOREVER.
We are proud to have shared the track with so many amazingly talented athletes. In the spirit of competition, we all push one another to rise to our best selves.
We are proud to have exchanged such thoughtfully humble words with so many dedicated coaches. In the end, what we all truly want is for our young charges to achieve their dreams.
We are proud of and eternally grateful to all our supporters who traveled hours to Charleston, or sat by their computers, or followed us via Facebook and Twitter. Without you, none of this could have been achieved.
Finally, we extend a heartfelt congratulations and tip our batons to York High School Head Coach Stan Reddel. This ITCCCA Hall of Fame coach is retiring after more than 30 years of dedication to Track and Field. A team State Championship is the purest and most perfect way for his legendary career to end. Godspeed, Coach Reddel!
For full results of the 2014 IHSA State Track and Field Championship, check http://ihsa.org/SportsActivities/BoysTrackField/StateSeriesInformationResults.aspx?url=/data/trb/3result2.htm
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