Minooka is looking to build on its first boys track and field sectional championship in the 22 years outgoing coach Joe Urbelis has been at the helm.
Seneca cannot come close to matching the eight state qualifiers of the Indians, nor can the Fighting Irish equal some of Minooka's lofty seeds, but their three state qualifiers still have high goals for this weekend's boys track and field state meet.
Two Irish athletes advanced out of last Friday's Seneca Sectional via second-place finishes, and a third qualified for state by placing third.
One of those runners-up was not "supposed" to make state in the 800-meter run, but sophomore Ben Barnett shrugged off his sectional seed and did anyway. Barnett's time of 2:04.567 trailed only the 2:01.266 posted by Aurora Christian's Jake Gehman.
"I was ranked fourth coming in, but I knew the three in front of all had really close times, so I knew it was going to be a close one. Whoever had a good sprint at the end would probably come out ahead," Barnett said.
Junior Cameron Ward cleared the bar in 12 feet, 0 inches in the pole vault, which was second only to the 13 feet, 6 inches of another Aurora Christian athlete, Billy Howorth. It was also a new personal best for Ward — officially, anyway.
"That is his personal best in meets, but he's jumping better than that in practice," Seneca coach Kim Sedlock said. "We're thinking he should P.R. (at state)."
The third Irish qualifier, sophomore Tommy Lovett, finished three-hundreths of a second behind second-place runner Allan Cook of Momence in the 110-meter high hurdles but qualified anyway with a time of 15.52 seconds. Lovett is a state qualifier in consecutive seasons. He also made the Class 1A Wrestling State Tournament in February.
"I was pretty nervous, but I wanted to go to state. I didn't want one of my teammates to have to go and be the only one going. I wanted to do it for us underclassmen," Lovett said. "I just thought of it as wrestling and track were the same exact situation — win or I'm done."
None of the Irish are, according to seedings, a favorite to place at state, but their goals are high anyway. Lovett, who had the 11th-lowest sectional time in the state, in the 110-meter hurdles, wants to place in the top four. Barnett hopes to shave five seconds off his time, which he believes will allow him to advance to Saturday's finals.
"Seeing the boys and how excited they are — and they have some big goals — I think it's a good thing," Sedlock said.
"On the other hand, I don't want them to be disappointed if they don't reach their goals. It's their first time being there, and they should be happy just with that. One thing with our kids, they're going to do what they need to do to get there. Regardless, we'll all be very very happy with them — we're already very happy and proud of them."
Though Minooka matched its 2012 total of eight qualifiers last spring, only one Indian — then-sophomore Kurtis Zumbahlen — made it to Charleston in a field event. This year, the Indians have four such qualifiers. The Indians exceeded their 2011 field total in the high jump alone, as both Zumbahlen and freshman Peter Andreatto advanced with identical marks of 6 feet, 3 inches.
"It's definitely huge. For Minooka to win both spots, that's almost like a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. I'm not sure that's ever happened in school history," Zumbahlen said. "That just shows we have two great jumpers."
Minooka junior Ethan Crane won the long jump at last Thursday's Naperville North Sectional with a distance of 22 feet, 7.5 inches, and senior Alex Wielbik's mark of 13 feet, 9 inches was good for third place in the pole vault. Those marks not only secure state berths, they also helped the Indians top Neuqua Valley atop the sectional team standings, 80 points to 78.
"I figured we would land in the top three," Urbelis said. "I didn't expect to win it. Things fell into place. It was a point here and a point there, and the next thing you knew, we were in position to win it."
One area in which the Indians are no stranger to success is relays. They will defend their 2011 state championship in the 4x800-meter relay in Charleston after Alex Pierce Pierce, Chris Wilson, Joey Santillo and Dan Popek won the sectional in 7:50.71.
Jake Smith, Wilson, Popek and Tevin Hopkins were second in the 4x400-meter relay with a time of 3:20.3. Devin Ingram, Nathan McGuire, Smith and Luke Stovall also qualified with a sixth-place time of 1:29.63 in the 4x200-meter relay.
"Our 4x8 and 4x4 are right there. It all depends on how they run," Urbelis said. "We're healthy, we're in a good position, but it's all going to come down to how they run that day."
The other event in which the Indians qualified is the 800-meter run, which Popek won with a time of 1:57.82.