Top 20 Distance Night in Palatine Moments

As we count down to the opening of registration on February 15, 2018, we will also be counting down the Top 20 moments from our first two years. This year's edition is on Saturday, April 21 at Chic Anderson Stadium in Palatine, IL.

1. Sean torpy and jon davis square off in the gauntlet 1600

Jon Davis (Oakwood, IL) was one of the hottest runners in the United States in 2016. Hailing from just outside Champaign, he had taken the Class A distance world by storm before traveling to the Arcadia Invite where he ran 8:51. He had won our Palatine Invite cross country in the fall, and getting him to run at the inaugural Distance Night was a huge coup. We will always appreciate his commitment to travel north and help us get the meet off the ground.

Sean Torpy (Sandburg, IL) couldn't be properly described as an underdog, but he had flown under the radar in a couple of senses. Firstly, he was one half of a powerful twin duo with his brother, Chris. Secondly, he had dedicated his fall to a team effort which resulted in a Class 3A state title for Sandburg and a 4th place team finish at NXN. Already an accomplished team runner in CC and in his school's 4 x 800, he was just on the cusp of breaking out as an individual.

This duo joined Grayslake Central's Jack Aho and West Aurora's Connor McCue to front a stellar field for our first ever Gauntlet 1600. We invited the entire crowd out onto the track to provide the energy, and left it to these fine athletes to do the rest. From the gun, the race smoked. Davis hit the 400 meters in 58 and attempted to take the field by storm. A savvy veteran, Torpy tracked him beautifully, drawing even by the 800 mark as they came through in 2:04. From there, it was a master class in pacing for Torpy. He clicked off two more 62 second quarters to run away with the victory in a meet and stadium record of 4:08.64. Davis crossed two seconds later in 4:10 while Aho and McCue ran huge PBs at 4:12. They put on a show that was fitting for the vision we had laid out for the meet.

The aftermath was interesting. Torpy celebrated the new PB, his group's momentum, and a momentary one upping of brother Chris, who had skipped the meet after going to prom the night before. Later that season, the brothers would celebrate together with a 7:37 state record for the 4 x 800 meters, individual state championships (one apiece) in the 800 and the 1600, and twin scholarships to Miami (Ohio). They graduated as two of the finest runners in Illinois state history.

Jon Davis that night was one of the last guys to leave the stadium. He cooled down for a long time, and I could feel him stewing and angry. Even in defeat, I came to admire his intensity. True champions never like to lose, and they know how to turn temporary setbacks into progress. Jon would win double state titles in the Class A 1600 and 3200 before moving on to run for the University of Illinois. Two weeks ago, he became the first person ever to break 4:00 in the U of I Armory, setting a school record of 3:58.46. 

Torpy. Davis. Aho. State champions all. We can't thank them enough for helping make Distance Night an ongoing opportunity for all the champions to come. Here's to the many more great moments to come!

2. Clayton mendez breaks 9:00

It would be easy to see Clayton Mendez's 2017 track season as an answer to all the haters. He burst onto the scene as a sophomore in the 2015 cross country season, placing 12th in the Class 3A state meet in a time of 14:37. And then...nothing...for the better part of a year. Mendez qualified to state track as a sophomore with a 9:29 in the IHSA Sectional, but then was a DNS at the IHSA State meet. In cross country the next year, he finished 79th in a time of 15:17. Rumors abounded among those who didn't know the story. But meanwhile, the chip on his shoulder grew and grew. It just took some time for Clayton Mendez to get it right.

The 2017 track season was a return to form from one of the nation's most talented and hungry athletes. He stunned the state - and the nation - with a 9:03 clocking indoors for 3200 meters. But the real hunt was on. Mendez wanted that sub-9:00 time for 3200 meters, and he chose Distance Night as his showcase. From the gun, he attacked right on the pace: 67 second lap after 67 second lap. As he came to 400 meters to go, the crowd rose in unison and urged him on. He rose to the task alone and out front with only the chip and his dreams to power him. He crossed the line in 8:59.46 and his return to the state and national scene was complete.

Since then, Clayton has gone on to establish himself as a national force. He finished runner-up in the Class 3A IHSA State meet before moving on to finish 18th at NXN and 9th at Foot Locker. As good a student as he is an athlete, Clayton will move on to run for Stanford next year, but we will always remember him as the first athlete to break 9:00 at Distance Night.

3. Karina liz and rachel hickey give it all

I have written about the epic dual between Karina Liz (Aurora Central Catholic) and Rachel Hickey (Lasalle-Peru) elsewhere on this web site, but I recap it here for one reason: because the ultimate running quote comes from Steve Prefontaine, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Pre had a flair for the poetic, and I certainly see the romance of honorable struggle written in some form at every track meet I go to. That poetry often becomes more stark when it involves a race between two bona fide elites.

At Distance Night 2016, Karina Liz was the defending Illinois Class 2A statechampion in the 800 meters. Two times over in fact. She didn't win those state titles by cruising on her laurels. State champions know that a hungry challenger can arise at any moment. And arise she did in this race in the form of Rachel Hickey. Rachel was certainly an athlete on the rise, but she had never really gone up against the best. Down  the final straightaway of the 800 meters, the champion battled the challenger. She pulled away only in the final few meters to win 2:13.32 to 2:14.29. But Liz had to know at that moment that a new challenger had emerged. Both girls sat 10 meters apart on the infield, vomiting and laying stricken. Both had given their absolute best. Not a month later, in a reprise of the same matchup, it was Hickey who prevailed to become the 800 meter state champion. So the romance goes. Always a champion. Always a challenger. 

4. Three Foot locker finalists contest the 1600

One of our goals at Distance Night has been to attract the best athletes from the Midwest for a low-cost night of elite racing. Everything came together in 2017 when Finn Gessner (Madison LaFollette, WI) agreed to come race Jack Aho (Grayslake Central) and Brian Griffith (Lake Zurich). The three athletes had met each other at the Foot Locker cross country nationals where all three represented the Midwest region. Gessner placed 2nd overall at Foot Locker, and two weeks prior to Distance Night he had run 8:47.57 for 3200 meters at the Arcadia Invite in California. On this night, he agreed to step down in distance to take on the two Illinois distance aces.

Aho and Griffith had run each other a great deal in their careers, and adding Gessner to the equation just thickened the plot. The three superstars went at it early and often during the race, but the last lap held all the fireworks. Playing to his strength rather than his speed, Gessner cranked the pace at 500 meters to go and tried to take the sting out of the kickers. It nearly worked. Only a final surge in the last 50 meters allowed Aho to sneak by for the win. The results were stellar: Aho 4:12.05, Gessner 4:12.14, and Griffith 4:12.93. The final 100 meters was a classic battle. The crowd had been invited onto the track to create a gauntlet. The music blared over the stadium speakers. And two great state champions - athletes with national resumes - battled to the final inches. May we keep engineering such moments in the years to come!

5. biddle and o'Brien revisit an old msl rivalry

Rivalries are the essence of sport, and they are often the lifeblood of great track meets. At Distance Night 2016, Mid-Suburban League rivals Megan Biddle (Hoffman Estates) and Kelly O'Brien (Palatine) squared off in the 1600 meter run for what felt like the 100th time. Ever since freshman year, the two had seen each other: at local cross country dual meets, in conference meet clashes, and in the Illinois state finals. Sometimes a big race - even a state or national level one - can feel just like home when it involves an old, cozy rival.

Biddle and O'Brien ran with contrasting styles. Biddle liked to run more even or negative splits, engaging in a thoughtful style that had brought her great success. O'Brien often liked to charge to the lead and use her guts to hang on in the latter stages. On this night, it was Biddle who ran her race style to perfection. She tailed the hard-charging O'Brien into the last 200 meters before unleashing a savage kick. Her victorious time of 4:54.29 was a school record and lifetime best. O'Brien would exact revenge as she grabbed the state title later that year, but this was Biddle's moment. I told her afterward I had never seen her with that kind of kick. Both athletes continued on to run in college - Biddle at Illinois State, O'Brien at Northwestern - but it was these early rivalries that planted the seeds of greatness for both.

6. freshman stephanie kriss runs a state leading time

I am not sure that anyone knew who Stephanie Kriss was before Distance Night 2017. Sure, the Highland Park freshman had run 2:24 at her indoor conference meet, but that did not make many waves outside of the Central Suburban League. She advanced her seed and punched her ticket to Distance Night with a 2:21 clocking just a week before our event. This won her a spot in our Undercard 800 meter race.

When the gun went off, she blasted to lead and just kept pouring it on. At the finish the clock read 2:12.83. It not only was the fastest 800 meter time ever run at Distance Night, but also the fastest time in the state of Illinois. The buzz around the stadium was palpable. Mike Newman, from, was beside himself. Had that really just happened? Did an unknown freshman just run 2:12 in the Undercard - the supposedly slower heat? She had, and her time would hold on as the fastest of the night when even Rachel Hickey and Abby Fioresi, both 800 meter state champions, were unable to unseat her. Stephanie did not end the season as the state champion, but she fired a powerful warning shot that her career would be one to watch. She also finished the year as an All-State athlete. We look forward to more of these moments to come from both Stephanie and whoever the next anonymous freshman is that shocks the world.

7. hunter cobbley throws his fist in the air

To quote John "Cougar" Mellencamp, I was born in a small town (Geneseo, IL to be exact). I grew up watching my dad, Jeff Quick's, Geneseo boys and girls cross country teams take on the best in the state throughout the 1980s.  With an enrollment of only 900, both his teams managed to place top five in the state in Class 2A during that decade. So I have always appreciated the small town man who finds greatness when up against the big school kids. Enter Hunter Cobbley.

In the 3200 at Distance Night 2016, a group of five athletes hit the 400 meters to go together, and it was like a jailbreak occurred. They had been out in 4:41 and now all five chased negative splits, a great time, and the win. Heath Warren from Springfield shifted gears as he sought his school's record for the event. Colin DeYoung (Illiana Christian) and Evan Mitchell (Lincoln-Way West) battled for the lead down the backstretch and around the final curve. And right in the thick of things, on the race of his life, was Hunter Cobbley of El-Paso Gridley. As they all crossed the line in 9:13-9:14, I saw Hunter throw his fist in the air. He finished third in 9:14.27, and I asked his coach afterward what that was all about.

So here's the story. As a junior, Hunter was the first person in his school's history to break 10:00 for 3200 meters when he ran 9:56. As a senior, he advanced that record down to 9:46 during the indoor season. But to run 9:14...that is on another planet entirely. It is the type of breakthrough that only happens once for an athlete. Heck, it is the type of breakthrough that might only happen once for a program. To set up a race that brought that moment to Hunter Cobbley and the El Paso-Gridley program fills me with pride. May there be many more just like it. Pump those fists!

8. tyler starnes wins inaugural special olympics 800

State champions come in all shapes and sizes, and our meet has been a breeding ground for quite a few champions in waiting. One of my favorite athletes was Tyler Starnes from Elmwood Park. When I started recruiting a field for our first ever Special Olympics 800, Elmwood Park coach Patrick Sheridan got back to me right away and said he had a great kid for us. In 2015, Tyler ran for his varsity team as a sophomore - in the Illinois state cross country meet. He finished that race in 16:57, but was building toward bigger things - a sub-5:00 mile and state titles in the Special Olympics.

During his Distance Night race, Tyler hung back early, and I wondered whether he was as good as advertised. But in the second lap, he just turned it on. As the crowd rose to its feet and the tears welled in my eyes, Tyler Starnes came from behind and stormed to victory in 2:32. The next year, he won the Illinois Special Olympics state title in both the 1500 and the 3000 (in times of 4:40 and 10:20). We have been privileged at Distance Night to see many champions have a breakthrough race before moving onto bigger and better things. But I will always remember Tyler Starnes as one of the first - and one of the best ever. Read more about him from the Chicago Tribune:

9. olivia niziolek dominates in 4:54

We were privileged in our second year to welcome a ton of new programs and elites who had missed out on the fun in year one. I first saw Olivia Niziolek (Maine South) and her teammate, Maddie Dingle, charging to the lead in the middle stages of the 2016 Richard Spring cross country invite at Detweiller Park. I knew then and there that I wanted both them and their program involved and was excited to add them to the mix.

What I couldn't have known is that Niziolek was ready to run 4:54 for 1600 meters. It used to be that the sub-5:00 mark was almost mythical in girls high school distance running. Increasingly, marks under that barrier have become normalized, and it is one of our goals to contribute to that trend. Even better, we hope that we can start setting new bars. Girls can and will regularly run under 4:50 for 1600 meters when given the chance. Previous to our meet, Olivia had never run under 5:03 for the distance. She left with not just a small breakthrough against an aging standard of greatness, but rather with an advancement toward the new bars that we all hope to set. If we continue to give great athletes access to prime racing opportunities, we can set the new standards.

10. dakota roman blasts a meet record 3200

Heading into our inaugural meet, the hardest event to recruit for was the girls 3200. We ended up with a field of 19 girls, many of whom had solid reputations but had not yet delivered an elite time. It was an opportunity ripe for the taking, and the race played out wonderfully. Lake Zurich's courageous front-runner Caitlin Shepard stormed to the lead and wound up the entire field. This bold move actualized the field, and it was Dakota Roman (Batavia, IL) who saw the opening and took it. Over the last 800 meters, she poured it on, driving herself to a huge PB of 10:42.38.

The time was a huge improvement for Dakota, and she led eight other girls under 11:00, many of whom surpassed that mark for the first time. This race taught me that within a group of so-called "'solid" athletes, there always lurks an elite - or eight. Watching Dakota Roman find a new gear was a true pleasure. She continues to run in college for Illinois State.

11. hall and mcintyre duel for class a supremacy

More than anything, our intent at Distance Night is to give great athletes access to deep and elite fields that mimic the experience of championship racing. For guys like Logan Hall (Arthur-Lovington) and Wyatt McIntyre (Athens), finding a field that can actualize their talents is not as easy as driving to the next suburb over. Both guys hail from small towns in down-state Illinois so getting to run against the star suburban athletes who dominate Class 3A is a rarity.

In 2017 both Hall and McIntyre were dragged into the jet wash Clayton Mendez created as he sought a sub-9:00 clocking for 3200 meters (more on him in the days to come). The duo locked up with Lake Zurich star Matt Pereira in a spirited battle not just to emerge as the top runners in the state, but to declare supremacy over each other in Class A. Hall outlasted McIntyre and Pereira by just enough as the three hit the finish in 9:11.06, 9:11.32, and 9:11.79. Hall carried that momentum to the Class A state title in the 3200 meters later in the season, but McIntyre responded by coming back in their senior cross country seasons to earn his first state title. Theirs will be one of the rivalries to watch throughout the 2018 track season. Hopefully, these soon-to-be University of Illinois teammates will square off again at Distance Night 2018.

12. isabelle and ryan christiansen team up

Over the past two years, Isabelle Christiansen (Oswego, IL) has built herself into one of the best distance runners in Illinois. She placed 9th in the Class 3A state cross country meet as a sophomore before returning this year to finish 27th as a junior. She was also 6th in the Class 3A 1600 as a soph in a blazing 5:00.60. However, in 2016 she wasn't even the biggest star of her own family at our Distance Night event.

That's because little brother Ryan stole the show. Entered in our Special Olympics 800, Ryan took to the track in a Chicago Bulls jersey. If I had to guess, he weighed in at a mighty 70 lbs and stood about 4' 6". He competed hard, though, and entering the home stretch, he felt the noise of the crowd and started to celebrate with 100 meters to go. When he got to the finish line, he turned to the crowd, flexed his muscles, and broke into a wide smile. He just stood there and soaked up the standing ovation. Isabelle ran 5:03.99 later that night in our Main Event 1600, but she had to go home as the lesser of two stars.

In all seriousness, the opportunity to have both Christiansen kids competing their best in the same venue on the same night was a dream come true. Seeing our Special Olympians competing side-by-side with the best in the Midwest is truly a special experience and unique to Distance Night. Let me know at if you know a Special Olympian who might be interested in racing.

13. arthur santoro sets new 800 meter record

Over the past 10-15 years, there has been a distance running renaissance in the city of Chicago. Athletes from Whitney Young, Jones, Latin, Northside College Prep, and many others have once again become players on the state and national scene. No program epitomizes that rise better than Andrew Adelmann's group at Chicago Jones. They have been team state champions in Illiniois Class 2A cross country and a force in Class 3A track.

Andrew has worked hard to make sure that his athletes have access to the best races, and Arthur Santoro was able to take that opportunity and spin it into a big win last year. He had been a capable 800 meter runner for the past couple years, but his 1:54.86 was a big PB and the highest quality win of his career. It was also an improvement on our previous meet record. The opportunity to give all kids access to top flight races - whether from the big city or a small town - is part of our founding vision. We could not be more proud to see these kids get the big results that their talent deserves.

14. Jacob Gebhardt breaks through to 4:14

Sometimes the major drama in the race is not between the known quantities duking it out at the front. It lies within the brave challenger, taking a ride and testing his or her mettle. Last year, there was really no logical reason for Sterling's Jacob Gebhardt to challenge Jack Aho, Finn Gessner, and Brian Griffith in the Main Event 1600. All three were Foot Locker National finalists and state champion caliber athletes - out of his league on paper.

But races exist in the heart as well as on paper, and Gebhardt was determined to challenge, unafraid to attach himself to a pace he had never experienced before. As the race unfolded, he kept hanging in, hanging in. In some ways, there is nothing more pure than the impulse to go where you have never gone before in a race. Gebhardt was not awarded the win on this night as the furious kicks in the last lap left him out of the top three. But he did finish fourth in 4:14.51 - a staggering new PB. In doing so he once again proved my favorite part about distance running - the races happen on the track rather than on paper. On any given night, given the right field and the right slant of light, you might be the one to catch the magic. In doing so, we get to see the new champions appear right before our eyes. 

15. Lauren kUbinski storms to a 5:04 1600 - from the undercard

As a long-time distance coach, I always arrive at a track meet and hope that my athletes are in the "fast" heats of the distance races. I hate when my athletes do not get to test themselves against the best a meet has to offer. In starting Distance Night, one of our goals was simple: create a meet with such incredible depth that there simply were no "slow" heats. Every race would have depth and quality.

This point was best proven in 2016 when Lauren Kubinski of Schaumburg High School toed the line in the Undercard 1600. She came in with a seed in the 5:20s, but ten minutes later she walked off the track with a glowing new PB of 5:04.69. I remember talking to Joe Parks, the Palatine girls coach, soon after that race and seeing the glow in his eyes. We had created a circumstance that allowed Kubinski to reach far beyond what she had accomplished before, and it didn't have to be the fastest heat of the day. Getting the best an elite athlete has to offer is often much more about putting them in the correct competitive circumstance than anything else. At Distance Night we hope to seed kids in deep fields near their previous bests and then let them take their games to the next level due to the stimulus. Many thanks to Lauren Kubinski for showing that greatness can come from anywhere if work together to set up the right circumstances.

16. Palos Heights shepard sweeps distance medley relays

We added the Distance Medley Relay (1200-400-800-1600) as a means of getting more kids into the meet. Our hope was that the event would eventually turn into an elite level showcase that enabled teams to take rare shots at school records in this rarely run event. In 2016, Palos Heights Shepard took the DMR title behind the strong anchor leg from junior Caleb Washington.

They returned last year with a vengeance and a clear goal: to bring the ladies along and sweep the Distance Night DMR titles. Mission accomplished. A team player until the end, Washington forswore an individual race to help his team defend their title. He ran a scorching anchor leg to take his foursome to the win in a meet record of 10:30. The ladies held up their end of the bargain, winning by 5 seconds in a new record of 12:47.

We imagined the DMR as a showcase for up and coming programs that did not have individuals in the meet. It would be a place to gather experience. Consider that done. The past two years have helped put Shepard distance running on the map, and we look forward to them defending their titles against increasingly tough fields this coming year.

17. Greigh wells finishes second in inaugural special olympics 800

The addition of a Special Olympics race happened rather late in the game in planning for our inaugural Distance Night in 2016. Since we were donating most of the gate proceeds to Special Olympics, it was only natural that we might include a race gauged toward these athletes.

My brother, Chad Quick, has been relegated to a wheelchair since birth due to cerebral palsy. He participated in Special Olympics throughout his younger years, and I knew that we might be able to give our Special Olympians a chance to race alongside the best in the Midwest. After putting out feelers to area coaches and parents, I received an email from Dana Wells, stating that she thought this race might be a good one for her seventh-grader, Greigh.

We signed him up and he ran great, placing second overall. In 2017 Greigh didn't run because he was too busy racing for his junior high team at Barrington Prairie Middle School. In 2018 Greigh Wells was one of the fastest freshman on a loaded Barrington team, placing 56th in the Palatine Invite freshman race in 14:37 for 2.5 miles. Perhaps this year, he will improve enough to make our freshman 1600 race. If not, he will always have a home at Distance Night, competing to bring the Special Olympics 800 title back to Barrington High School for the first time.

18. Three Freshmen Break 4:30 for 1600 Meters

When I was a freshman in 1991, it still felt like breaking 5:00 was a big deal. Coaching distance running in the new millennium has certainly disabused me of that notion. Now, it is routine for 7th and 8th graders to make the leap and for freshman to reach the truly spectacular.

Our 2017 freshman 1600 was loaded as it took a seed of 4:47 just to make the field. The tough York duo of Ethan Kern and Daniel Klysh were pitted against Batavia's Damian Rodriguez, Hersey's Josh Methner, and the Wheaton Warrenville South duo of Jacob Kluckhohn and William Hauenstein. In the end, Ethan Kern laid down the law in the final 200 meters and shattered the meet record, running 4:28.67 for 1600 meters. Rodriguez and Klysh also dipped under 4:30. Behind them, Noah McIntyre (Athens), Methner, Kluckhohn, and Aidan King (St. Charles East) all ran under 4:34. Twelfth place? Still 4:40 and some change.The next generation of distance running stars had been declared.

Methner went on to finish Top 10 in Class 3A cross this past season. Hauenstein and Kluckohn? Both Top 7 on Wheaton Warrenville South's first ever state trophy team. McIntyre? Heir apparent to his state champion brother. Rodriguez? One of the top men on Batavia's up and coming XC program. We can't wait to see the next generation of stars again at our meet this year.

19. The Magnussen Family Comes Full Circle

Claudia Magnussen made a great name for herself at Pana High School. Running for the small school just south of Decatur, IL, she developed into one of the state’s finest distance runners. After placing 12th in Class A cross country as a junior, she improved to run 17:20 and finish runner-up during her senior year. Only Illinois All-Time Great Anna Sophia Keller stood between her and a state title.

That term All-Time Great also applied to Claudia’s dad Mark as well. Hall of Fame Palatine coach Joe Johnson used that term to describe any man who gave his all as a distance runner in our program. Mark is remembered at Palatine for his desperate charge to the lead in the 1980 Class 2A state. Emboldened by a fiery speech from Coach Johnson on Friday night, he set a new PB in the mile en route to leading the state meet at halfway. He ultimately finished 30th as our team claimed a second place finish - our program’s first trophy finish.

Now, Claudia and Mark Magnussen returned to Chic Anderson Stadium to watch her run 5:02.65 in our Main Event 1600 meter run. On hand were her grandparents and quite a few Palatine All-Time greats, including her dad Mark. Distance running is all about deepening relationships and building family. To see one family’s story come full circle made us proud. After a successful senior year, including All-State finishes in the Class A 1600 and 3200, Claudia continued her family’s running tradition at Notre Dame.

20. Fast Food wins the inaugural 4 x 400 meter Costume Relay

Everyone knows that distance runners are a wacky bunch. Zany. A bit off. Quirky. The best of us choose to embrace that and let our freak flag fly. So, at the end of a serious night of distance running with the best in the Midwest, we like to finish the night by dressing up as food products with our friends and battling it out in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Our 2016 winners of the costume relay were 2 boys and 2 girls from Yorkville high school who dressed as a banana, a hot dog (with mustard only), a taco, and a piece of pizza. I am not sure who exactly "won" the race, but the true victors were these screwy kids with the best costumes. Second place was the foursome who dressed up as Jimmy John's delivery drivers know...subs so fast you'll freak. 

The costume relay is open to the first 12 teams who sign up each year and is our last event of the evening. In 2017, we ran to "Tacky" by Weird Al Yankovic. The cost for this race is nothing, and athletes can sign up on the infield at the awards tent when they arrive. We encourage teams to be co-ed and from multiple schools if possible. The only requirements? You have to wear a costume and you've got to be fun to have fun. Let's make some new memories in 2018.