by Tony Jones
2012 was a special year in many respects for the relays. It was the first time in decades that the Chicago Public League came alive and became relevant among the state consciousness. The CPL won three of the four relays at the state championship. This feat may not happen again for a while, but for that moment in time it was very special.
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.
2012 State Champion: Chicago Lane Tech 7:47.92
Key returning teams: Minooka, Algonquin Jacobs, Roselle Lake Park, Palatine, Wheaton-Warrenville South, Elmhurst York.
Outlook: Illinois will be among the top three states again in this event this season. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to determine who will be the key returning teams this spring. The top four teams from a year ago each lose at least 3/4ths of their personnel. But somehow that doesn’t mean they cannot reload in a hurry. Let’s start with defending champion Lane Tech. The Indians appear to be a one and done team on paper after losing 1:51 and 1:56 legs in David Timlin and Lucas Beltran. But the squad will usher in some juniors who ran 2:00-2:02. That may not get them back to the mountain top, but it should make things interesting at the end of the season. Minooka was the 2011 champion and should be considered the favorite to go all the way with three returning legs from a fifth place team. Joey Santillo (Sr.) will lead the way for the Indians and a threat to win the 800 title. Jacobs enjoyed an awesome 2012 campaign that reminded everyone of the Evan Jager days. The Golden Eagles lose anchor Will Hennessy but should be good enough to stay relevant this spring. Lake Park was the 11th team to qualify for the final last year, but the Lancers got the job done and earned eighth place in 7:52.90. They will have three returners to depend on this season. There is one team that everyone should fear this season. And that team is the Elmhurst York Dukes. For the first time in 25 years the Dukesters did not make the state final. This did not sit well with those in charge in Elmhurst where the standards are set incredibly high every season. It’s hard to imagine that running 7:55 is considered a failed season. According to assistant head coach Jim Hedman, the program will have a different mindset from day one. York, of course, can state this after producing a great cross country season that earned them another state title and national accolades. If any team plans to get the baton across the finish line first, they better have the mindset to run under 7:43 and going through Elmhurst York. This is one thing for certain.
2012 State Champion: Chicago Dunbar 41.92
Key returning teams: Oak Park-River Forest, Edwardsville, Roselle Lake Park, Wheaton North, Peoria Richwoods, Evanston, Harvey Thornton.
Outlook: This may be the year that many as five teams have a shot to run in the 41s. Of course, that will depend on what the coaching staff of contending teams want to do with their personnel. Oh, and the funky Illinois spring weather will play a major role in the production of fast times. Some pundits will debate on and off the record as who will have the fastest sprint squad in the land of Lincoln. Will it be Oak Park-River Forest or Edwardsville? That debate will be decided on the track in late May. One thing is for sure, it is going to be a strong year in this event. Oak Park will return its entire quartet that placed second in 42.19. The Huskies did run 41.92 last year and they expect to be much faster than that this season. Edwardsville, who finished .04 behind OPRF last year, lose two important legs. However, the Tigers camp don’t appear to be shaken by the losses. It seems they have built a very stout reproduction system that will restock their corps fast. It also does not hurt to have a budding superstar in Bennett Gray (Sr.) back. Gray placed third in last spring’s 100. He will be a monster to say the least. Other key teams to watch on the radar will be Lake Park, Wheaton North and Evanston. They all ran under 42.40 last year. Thornton will carry the pride of the southern Chicago suburbs on the back. The Wildcats return speedster Jalen Banks (Sr.) and two others that ran 42.44 in 2012.
2012 State Champion: Chicago Dunbar 1:26.01
Key returning teams: Wheaton North, Evanston, Oak Park-River Forest.
Outlook: The good times for this event may be gone in terms of national notoriety. There will not be a team as good as Chicago Dunbar was last year. They rocked a US#8 (1:26.01) at the time they destroyed their competition at state. The Mighty Men graduated its entire team and the proceeding six state finalists each lose at least two legs and one outstanding sprinter. The next best team would have to be Wheaton North. The Falcons are going to be stacked as all four speedsters return including the long jump champ Zach Gordon (Sr.). This will be a dangerous team looking to run in the 1:26s. Evanston ran 1:28.17 last season but didn’t make the final. The Wildkits have a strong history in this event and will return with a vengeance. Oak Park will have to decide how much effort they want to put in this event. If they think they can put together a junior varsity team and score state points then they will be in trouble. Otherwise, the Huskies will be in good shape with the talent they have returning with the likes of Zach Booth (Sr.) and Tariq Taylor (Sr.).
2012 State Champion: Belleville West 3:17.99
Key returning teams: Belleville West, Minooka, Chicago Heights (Bloom), Crete-Monee, Glenview Glenbrook South, Evanston, Glen Ellyn Glenbard West, St. Charles north, Orland Park Sandburg.
Outlook: Aside from the 4x8r this event is the easiest to replenish if there are at least two legs returning. The competitive balance that was presented last year will continue its run here; defending champion Belleville West lose two veterans, but they return their anchor leg Tevin Suggs (Sr.). The Maroons have relied on their frosh-soph system to reload in recent years and will need to do so again if they desire to get back to the top of the medal stand. Perhaps, it will be Minooka that will the strongest probability in becoming the state champion this year- with three legs returning. The Indians placed second last year and ran a season best 3:18.54 in the prelims. Can middle-distance specialist Joey Santillo replace the graduated Tevin Hopkins? It is a valid question that someone at Minooka HS should be investigating. Crete-Monee loses its superstar Rashad Hulbert to LSU, but the Warriors should be in shape with three experienced legs that earned the third place medal last year at state… watch out Glenbard West and St. Charles North who ran very respectable 3:21s in their prelim heats last year at state but narrowly missed the finals. Both squads return three legs in a mad quest to make the finals. Also, Sandburg will return its entire fleet that ran 3:22 last season.