Athletes Produce Magical Efforts in First Year

By Chris Quick, Distance Night in Palatine Meet Director

The number one fear we had when organizing this meet is that no one would come. It isn't always easy to get people to try something new. We worked hard to assemble some great fields and kept our fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate. It wasn't exactly warm, but the athletes, coaches, and fans streamed in. Despite the cool temps, the action on the track was fiery.

So many athletes were able to record personal bests, school records, or have big breakthroughs. It would be tough to highlight all of them, but here are some of my favorite moments of Distance Night in Palatine...Year One.

Sean Torpy and Jon Davis Go Head to Head in the 1600

We had decided to run the 1600 through "The Gauntlet" ever since we had found such success with it in our JV last chance meet the year before. Just prior to the two 1600 meter runs, we called the entire crowd onto the track so we could amp up the energy for the athletes. We roped off the four outside lanes of the track and gave the athletes four lanes to work with. The energy was high for the boys 1600 because on paper this looked like the most stacked race of the night. 

We were lucky that Sandburg High School had their prom on Friday night because all of their seniors were able to come and run in our inaugural event. Sean Torpy headlined their crew and it was a pleasure to see him face off against both the 1A and 2A state champions from cross country. Jon Davis had run 8:51.17 for 3200 meters two weeks prior at the Arcadia Invite while Jack Aho had scorched a 14:25 en route to winning the Class 2A state title the previous fall. Add in Blake Evertsen, Charlie Kern, Connor McCue, and Tyler Landon and the table was set for an epic mid-season distance race.

It did not disappoint. Jon Davis had e-mailed me earlier in the week to ask me to play "Indestructible" by Disturbed, and it obviously got him all fired up as he led the field through the 400 meters in a scorching 58 second split. The rest of the field laid back a bit, and it became apparent by 800 meters that Torpy had played his hand the best. He ran more evenly than the rest and was able to pull away for a stunning 4:08 clocking. That time is a Chic Anderson stadium record and did much to put a punctuation mark on our event. Davis, Aho, and McCue all finished sub-4:13. We can only hope to replicate the intensity and depth of this one in coming editions of the meet.

MSL Rivals Biddle and O'Brien Duke It Out in the Girls 1600

Like the boys race, this one was a thick field, and it did not disappoint. Seven girls ran 5:04 or faster and we ended up being treated to a classic Mid-Suburban League dual as the race unfolded. As fellow seniors, Palatine's Kelly O'Brien and Hoffman Estates' Megan Biddle had competed against each other since they were freshmen just finding their way in MSL West dual meets. Now here they were as fully grown seniors going against each other with two contrasting styles. O'Brien liked to charge hard and control a race from start to finish while Biddle was more comfortable measuring her effort and bringing it home hard.

It was a joy to see those two strategies play out. O'Brien held the lead at the gun, but it was Biddle who had the steam in the final 300 meters. She got to O'Brien's shoulder at 200 to go and unleashed her kick. I told her afterward that I had never seen her turn it over like that, even at shorter distances. Her reward: a 4:54.29 clocking and a new Hoffman Estates school record.

The Once and Future Champions Meet

Although the race between Karina Liz (Aurora Central Catholic) and Rachel Hickey (Lasalle-Peru) was an incredible one on the track, I will always remember the aftermath just a bit more. Neither of them could get up and walk. They sat 10 meters apart on the infield, head between the knees gasping for air. One of them later vomited and some random passerby marked the effort by graciously putting a trash can over the damage. They had truly met a good match in one another and had no more effort to give.

Just a month later, I watched the same dual unfold on my web feed as the two of them competed for the Class 2A state title. Liz faded late in her bid to become a three time state champion, and it was Hickey grabbing the crown to win her first. Both ended their careers as state champions.

Jailbreak Finish in the Boys 3200

I am always upset at the lack of quality 3200 meter fields during the regular season. One motivation for starting Distance Night was watching so many quality Illinois athletes fly to California to run the 3200 meters in the Arcadia Invite. One of my dreams is to provide a quality sub 9:00 opportunity for Midwestern boys every year. We didn't quite reach that barrier in year one, but the 3200 ended up yielding the best finish of the entire night.

At a lap to go, there were seven guys within a stride or two of the lead, and a jailbreak erupted around the curve with 300 meters to go. The race just exploded and the big group of guys who had been pacing along switched into their racing gears. Down the final stretch, four guys were competing hard for the win and ended up hitting the line inside of one second: Colin DeYoung (9:13.65), Evan Mitchell (9:13.85), Hunter Cobbley (9:14.27), and Heath Warren (9:14.45).

As they hit the line, I noticed one of the athletes throw his fist into the air. Afterward, I found out that was Hunter Cobbley, and when  I heard his story that fist pump made sense. The previous spring Hunter had become the first athlete in El Paso-Gridley history to break 10:00 for 3200 meters. He had since advanced that school record down to 9:36, but it took a race like this one - one that brought together a thick field of athletes across multiple classes - to bring the big breakthrough. This event was designed exactly for such occurrences. Dropping a small-town kid's PR from 9:36 to 9:14 in one fell swoop was exactly what we were after when we started the meet.

Lauren Kubinski Unleashes the Beast

It is always an athlete's hope that encountering the best competition will bring out their best. All athletes hope to be in the fastest section, but that isn't always possible. One of my favorite stories was watching Lauren Kubinski discover what she truly had within her - but from the Undercard rather than the Main Event. She entered the meet with a solid 5:20 seed, but that was not quite fast enough to better the 5:16 that became the cutoff for the Main Event. 

Lauren took this placement as an opportunity, and I remember just watching her dominate the field over the last 150 meters of her race. It wasn't until a bit later when Coach Parks jogged down all excited that I knew what she had run: 5:04.89. That time ended up being the ninth fastest of the night. Whether you end up running in the Undercard or the Main Event, the big times are always out there when the best all get together. Lauren and her Schaumburg teammates went on to place second in the Class 3A 4 x 800 meter relay just a month later.

York's Macgregor Finds His Footing in the 3200

One of our hopes is that we can provide opportunities for emerging athletes. Elmhurst York was not able to bring their varsity athletes because it happened to be on the same night as their Senior Prom. Instead, they brought some of their emerging frosh-soph guys who were able to make the time cutoffs. None profited more than Sean MacGregor. I had always thought him a star in the making since watching him run at the York Indoor Invite as a freshman. With that in mind, it was fun to watch him win the Undercard section of the 3200. His time of 9:36.69 was a nice PR and a great time for a sophomore. He later qualified to state in the 3200 meters, but it would take until his junior cross country season to see his true progress. Sean came on to finish 10th in the Class 3A state meet and is now an established star in the state. We are happy to give athletes like Sean a chance by fitting them into our Undercard, Freshmen, and Emerging races.

We HEard of Him First

One of the real joys of a meet like this is meeting the athletes and coaches. As I was setting up the meet last year, the crew from Sterling was the first to arrive. Most people probably don't know where Sterling is (unless you are Neuqua Valley coach Paul Vandersteen who ran there in the 1980s). For me, though, Sterling is home turf. I grew up in Geneseo so Sterling was our primary NCIC rival in all sports. I spent many a night at their football and basketball stadiums and was lucky to see so many of my dad's track athletes have success in the track sectionals that they often hosted. If you have been lucky enough to run at the Sterling Invite, you know that they also have one of the best cross country courses in the state.

One of my goals was to make sure that all areas of the state were represented so I was happy to see Jacob Gephardt, Isaiah Moorman, and Mikio Martinez represent the Warriors in my meet. While the latter two athletes ran in our freshmen 1600, Jacob Gephardt made it into the Undercard 1600 with a seed of 4:30. He acquitted himself well, running 4:24 for a new PR and a 17th place overall finish. It was only this fall though that I realized what caliber of athlete I had met. Jacob was able to finish 7th place in Class 2A cross country in 14:41 and will be an early favorite to be state champion next year alongside Matthew Richtman from Maple Park Kaneland. When I watch him compete for that state title next year, I will be proud to have met him first. At least at the check in table of my meet when no one really knew who he was. It pains an old Maple Leaf to say this, but...go Warriors!

Special Olympics 800

The idea to have a Special Olympics race happened rather late in our preparation, but we were really excited to pull it off. We gathered steam from a lot of random places. After introducing the idea online, I heard from Isabelle Christensen (who was signed up for the 1600 meters) that her brother was interested in competing. Then, we got Tyler Starnes from Elmwood Park involved. He was already an avid competitor on their high school team so this was a natural fit. Next we pitched the idea to Jen Garofalo at Palatine High School and gained her support. Jen is the lead teacher in our adaptive physical education program so she got four of our Pirates to sign up. Drew Mau was a veteran runner from our own track team who had aged out of high school competition so it was great to give him another opportunity to run. From there, the ball just kept rolling and we ended up with a full field 15 athletes.

This race was a meet highlight in more ways than one. After laying off the pace, Tyler Starnes charged hard in the final 200 meters to take the victory. Just behind him was Greigh Wells, a 7th grader from Barrington Prairie Middle School, who may end up being a future Bronco athlete! It was heart-warming to see the crowd and the athletes rally to the support of everyone racing. They all got cheers - from Tyler who was crushing it to win the race, to Ryan Christensen who wore his Bulls jersey and flexed for the crowd at the finish line, to Hannah Kaczor who did her best just to complete the two laps. I was proud of all of them and hope that we can continue to provide this racing opportunity.

Next up...a wheelchair race. We do it at the state meet so why not get the best together at our meet as well? Hit me up at cquick@d211.org if you know of any wheelchair racing prospects. 

Costume 4 x 400 Meter Relay

I have two words for you: Fast Food. This quartet of youngsters from Yorkville High School proved to all that they were the fastest food around - even faster than the quartet running in Jimmy Johns uniforms. We were happy to get eight teams of fully costumed elites and would love to fill this fun race with 12 teams this year. Even better, we hope to combine across schools and genders so that the best in the state get an opportunity to also be some of he wackiest in the state. Just remember, you've got to be fun to have fun! Come for the serious racing but remember never to take yourself too seriously. I can't wait to  see what costumes all of you nerds bring for this year's edition!