High school track coach Doug Ecker (above) showing middle school summer campers how to get over a hurdle during last week’s youth track camp at Kaneland High School.
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) released the classifications breakdown for the 2015-16, and Kaneland will not see any changes to their sports landscape from the 2014-15 season.
• Baseball: 3A (four classes)
• Basketball (boys and girls): 3A (four classes)
• Cross Country
(boys and girls): 2A (three classes)
• Cheerleading: Middle
(three classes—small, medium, large)
• Dance: 2A (three classes)
• Football: Determined at the
end of the regular season
• Golf (boys): 2A (three classes)
• Golf (girls) AA (two classes)
• Softball: 3A (four classes)
• Scholastic Bowl: AA (two classes)
• Soccer (boys and girls): 2A (three classes)
• Track and Field (boys and girls):
2A (three classes)
• Volleyball: 3A (four classes)
• Wrestling: 2A (three classes)
Enrollment for the high school is up 19 students—1,310 to 1,329 —from the 2014-15 school year to the upcoming year. Since classification cut offs vary from sport to sport depending on the number of schools that participate in each sport throughout the state, the Knights had some close calls this upcoming season. Kaneland was 49 students away from moving up to 4A in basketball, 17 students away from moving to 4A in volleyball, and 11 away from moving up to 3A in track and field.
Knights finish 6th in Class 2A
CHARLESTON, Ill.—At the State track meet, it’s all about making the finals. Advancing out of Friday’s preliminary rounds is what positions you to be a medalist—and thereby gain All State recognition—and scores points for your team on Saturday.
That was the goal for the seven individuals and three relay teams that the Kaneland boys’ team sent to the big dance in Charleston, Ill., after a great meet at the IHSA Sterling Sectional Championships.
Unfortunately, Friday was not kind to the Knights. On the track, it began with a 4x800m relay team of juniors Drew Franklin and Sean Spaetzel, senior Jim Walker, and junior Matt Kainrath, placing 10th and not advancing from their heat in 8:37.01. Next, in heat two of the 4x100m relay, the Knights’ third-place finish in 43.10 missed advancing to the finals by the smallest of margins—eight hundredths of a second—with a team of seniors Ben Barnes and Issac Swithers and juniors Tanner Robertson and Brandon Cruz.
It was ditto in the 4x200m relay, as Barnes, Swithers, junior John Delach and Cruz finished fourth in their heat, and out of the finals, in 1:31.15.
A black cloud continued to hover over the Knights in the 300m hurdles, where Robertson finished third in the second of four heats in 40.87—just four tenths away from the ninth and final qualifying spot. But the sun shone over the 1600m where, in heat one, Matt Richtman capped a stellar 2015 freshman season by finishing fourth in 4:34.21. Then, in heat two, junior Austin Kintz looked great in winning by two seconds in 4:26.05 to give the Knights their only Saturday finalist on the track.
Meanwhile, things were going better for Kaneland in the field events. While senior three-sport star Zach Thielk did not make the finals in the shot put (45 feet, 4.5 inches), sophomore Danny Walker cleared the 13-06 qualifying height for the finals in the pole vault. In the long jump, Ben Barnes advanced to the finals from flight three with a jump of 21-08.25. Then Barnes uncorked a personal-record jump of 45-09.75 in his flight of the triple jump to claim a place in the finals on Saturday.
Saturday dawned overcast, warm and muggy, with rain predicted for the afternoon. But that didn’t deter Walker from pulling off one of the biggest surprises of the meet by winning the state title in the pole vault with a personal-record height of 14-09. In doing so, he became the fourth State champion in the history of Kaneland’s vaunted pole vault program. Heading into the meet, Walker said his goal was to match or break the sophomore school record of 14-06 set by Sam Kranz in 2005. Instead, after clinching the State title, he had two good attempts in rarified air at 15-0.
In the long jump, Barnes placed sixth, with his 21-08.5 mark in the prelims. The meet was then suspended for two hours around noon because of lightning in the area, and the remaining field event finals in the pole vault, triple jump, and high jump were moved indoors to the Eastern Illinois University fieldhouse. There, Barnes’ 45-09.75 mark from the prelims held up for eighth place in the triple jump.
When the track events resumed outdoors, Kintz broke the 28-year old Kaneland 1600m record, running 4:19.21 en route to fifth place. That gave the Knights 21 team points for the meet and a tie for sixth place with Illiana Christian.
“We are very excited about Danny Walker winning the State pole vault title and Austin Kintz setting a new school record in the 1600m,” head coach Eric Baron said. “Ben Barnes didn’t have a great meet, but still won All State honors in both the long jump and triple jump. He finished his career as our best long jumper ever and a four-time All State performer. He has done so many things for our team in the past four years, and will be missed.
“Overall, I was very pleased with our State meet performances. On Friday, most of our non-qualifiers did well, but not well enough to make finals. They all gained valuable experience for next year. Team-wise, our sixth-place finish was an outstanding performance for us,” Baron said.
Senior Ben Barnes will get a chance to defend his State title this weekend in Charleston, Ill. Photo by Laura Gampfer
Knights qualify nine events to IHSA State Meet
STERLING, Ill.—A year after placing second at the 2014 2A State Track Championships, the Kaneland boys team went to the IHSA Sectional Championships with a bunch of underclassmen, plenty of confidence and a lot of determination to punch its ticket to the State meet. The top-two finishers in each event, plus anyone who met the automatic qualifying standard in that event, would advance to the Illinois State Championships the following weekend on the big blue track at Eastern Illinois University.
On the track, the meet started with the Knights qualifying for State with a sixth-place finish in the 4x800m relay with a time of 8 minutes, 13.74 seconds, under the 8:15.24 qualifying standard. Juniors Drew Franklin and Sean Spaetzel, and freshman Matt Richtman (2:02.3 PR), were on the carries, with junior Austin Kintz anchoring in 1:57.5. That was immediately followed by a second-place finish in the 4x100m relay in a season-best time of 42.99 by a team of seniors Ben Barnes and Issac Swithers, and juniors Tanner Robertson and Brandon Cruz.
In the 110m hurdle finals, junior Tanner Robertson placed eighth, but ran a personal record (PR) 15.64 to put him on the “watch list” for 2016 in the event. The Knights went through the 100m finals and 800m without a qualifier, but then filled more seats on their State meet bus with a second-place finish—in a season-best 1:30.83—in the 4x200m relay by a team of Barnes, Swithers, junior John Delach and Cruz. Next, Robertson punched his ticket to State with a fifth-place finish in the 300m hurdles in a PR 40.41—just under the 40.44 qualifying standard—despite crashing the second hurdle and almost falling.
In one of the most exciting races of the day, Kintz won the 1600m in 4:26.10, and Richtman bettered the qualifying standard with a fourth-place finish in a PR 4:29.62. Kaneland’s final tally on the track was three individual State qualifiers and three relay team qualifiers.
In the field, Barnes, the defending State long jump champion, first won his specialty with a season best 22 feet 6 inches—once again, on the last jump of the competition. Later, he came back to win the triple jump with a best of 44-011, and all his jumps measuring over 44 feet. In the pole vault, sophomore Danny Walker won with a jump of 13-09, and senior Zach Thielk in the shot put placed second to earn a trip to State with a PR toss of 47-09. Deserving honorable mention was senior Tristan Kinder placing fourth in the discus, but not advancing, with a PR throw of 140-0. With four State qualifiers in the field events, the Knights are sending a total of seven individuals and three relay teams to the big dance in Charleston, Ill.
In the team competition, Kaneland placed second in the 16-team field with 74 points behind 87 for Burlington Central, which won its first 2A Sectional title and will head to Charleston with senior Lucas Ege favored to win both the 110m and 300m hurdles.
“Once again, Ben Barnes nearly gave us a heart attack in the long jump. Going into the last jump, he had had a couple close scratches that were over 24 feet. But he was sitting in third place without the qualifying standard when he went 22-06 to win on his last jump,” head coach Eric Baron said. “This was a really strong Sectional field, and as a team, we exceeded our expectations in advancing so many to the State meet.
“Last year, we went to Charleston as a contender to win the team title. This year, there will be no such expectation, and no pressure, so we’re going to make it a fun weekend and try to come back with as many All-State performers as possible.”
IHSA Sectional Championships
5-22-15 at Sterling High School
1. Burlington Central 87
2. Kaneland 74
3. Freeport 68
4. Sycamore 61
5. Rochelle 47
6. Dixon 36
7. Winnebago 35
8. Erie-Prophetsville 27
9. Galena 24
10. Sterling 23
11. Rockford Christian 22
12. Genoa-Kingston 18
13. Belvidere 14
14. Stillman Valley 9
15. Rock Falls 8
16. Rockford Boylan 5
AURORA—Elburn resident and Marmion Academy junior Andrew Burroughs qualified for the IHSA State Finals in the 3200m run at the Class 3A West Aurora Sectional May 21.
Teammate Brady Bobbitt won the event in 9 minutes, 35.41 seconds, but Burroughs was only .14 behind for runner-up honors in 9:35.55. The State-qualifiyng mark in the event is 9:29.04, but the top two finishers in each event earn automatic bids to the State meet.
The 3200m is run as a two-heat final at the State Meet, meaning Burroughs will automatically advance to Saturday’s State Final. He will likely compete, along with Bobbitt, in the first heat of the 3200m, which is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m.
Knights tie Geneseo for 3rd consecutive conference title
ROCHELLE, Ill.—While they didn’t necessarily upset top-seeded Geneseo, the Kaneland Knights—with help from a big night in the throws—tied the Maple Leafs for the Northern Illinois Big XII title. The Knights’ 91 points matched Geneseo Friday night in a close meet that saw the top four teams separated by just 9.5 points.
The 2015 Kaneland squad lost 10 State qualifiers from its 2014 State runner-up team to graduation. Before the season, head coach Eric Baron said the 2015 team’s goals are the same as always: win the conference, county and Sectional team titles.”
“The bottom line is, we have a very young team with great talent and very little varsity experience. We are usually a better team outdoors with a longer dash and high hurdles race, and the addition of the 4x100m relay, the 300m hurdles, and the discus,” Baron said after placing fourth at the NIB-12 Indoor Championships last March. “With continued improvement and more big meet experience under our belts, we can be a factor.”
On the track, Friday’s meet started with the Knights placing fourth in the 4x800m relay in 8:13.07 with an all-junior team of Austin Kintz (who led off in 1:57.2), Drew Franklin, Jim Franklin and Sean Spaetzel. Next came a second-place finish in the 4x100m relay in a season-best 43.08 with seniors Ben Barnes and Issac Swithers and juniors Tanner Robertson and Brandon Cruz on the carriers. Robertson then eked out two fifth-place points in the 110m hurdles final with a new personal record (PR) time of 15.93. In the next two events, the 100m and 800m, Kaneland didn’t score, but sophomore Matt Kainrath ran a PR 2:10.64 in the 800m. In the 4x200m relay, however, a Knights foursome of Barnes, Swithers, junior John Delach and Cruz placed second in 1:31.55.
Kaneland was shutout in the 400m, but countered with Tanner Robertson placing second in the 300m hurdles in 41.13. Next, Austin Kintz ran a five-second PR of 4:22.32 for second place in the 1600m, putting him in the mix to score in the State meet. Not scoring in seventh place—but far from unnoticed—was freshman Matt Richman, running a nine-second PR of 4:32.60. The Knights didn’t score in the 200m final, but won the final event of the meet, the 4x400m relay, with a team of Spaetzel, sophomore Cody Delarme, Robertson and Cruz in a season-best time of 3:28.98 for their only win on the track. The running events points tally was Geneseo 54, Kaneland 48.
In the field, Connor Peterson scored a point- placing sixth in the high jump at 5 feet 9 inches. In the pole vault, juniors Mike Rinella and Mitch Groen put 10 points on the score sheet, placing third and fourth at 13-06 and a PR 13-0, respectively. In the long jump, defending state champion Barnes (21-07.5) lost to Antonio Tate from DeKalb by 3 inches, but Delach placed fifth with a PR leap of 20-09 to give the Knights another 10 points. Barnes then rebounded to win the triple jump in 43-01 to post yet another 10 points. In the shot put finals, senior Zach Thielk placed fifth at 46-05, and in the discus, junior Tristan Kinder threw a PR 139-02 to place second. Final tally: 53 points in the field plus 48 points on the track equals conference championship.
“The throws were huge for us today. We were not seeded to score any points in the shot put or discus, but we scored 12,” Baron said. “Our whole team really stepped up. This conference title gives us a lot of momentum and confidence heading into the Sectional meet next Friday at Burlington Central.”
In the freshman/sophomore meet, Kaneland placed second with 75 points behind Yorkville’s 87. The performance of the day was sophomore Danny Walker winning the FS pole vault in 14-0—the No. 4 jump on the state Class 2A best list. Other highlights for the Knights included winning the 4x100m relay in 46.10, placing third in the 4x200m in 1:37.50, sixth in the 4x400m in 3:45.39, and fourth in the 4x800m in 9:00.19—all season bests. Freshmen Drew Gould and Tyler Nance placed sixth and seventh in the 110m hurdle finals after running PRs of 18.02 and 18.01 in the prelims, then Nance came back to place fifth in the 300m hurdles in a PR 45.51. Sophomore Noah Duffey broke the 5:00 mile barrier with a PR 4:59.93 in 10th place.
In FS field events, freshman Drew Gould placed third in the high jump at 5-06, freshman Grant Wilk was second in the pole vault at 11-06, sophomore Delarme was second in the long jump at 18-09, freshman Clayton Hannula was second in the shot put at 40-04, then won the discus by 14 feet with a PR throw of 129-010.
KANELAND—Former Kaneland athletes Joseph Fisher (basketball) and Craig Lyon (basketball, track and field) will be inducted into the Kaneland Hall of Fame for Individual Athletic Achievement during the Senior Athletic Awards Night on Monday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m.
Knights 3rd at Kane County Meet
GENEVA—After torrential rain and thunderstorms forced the Friday postponement of the 96th annual Kane County Boys Track & Field Championships—the second oldest track championship in Illinois—the meet reconvened at Geneva High School on Saturday morning. Despite winning only three events, Kaneland scored in 14 of 18 events and had seven PRs (personal records) en route to a third-place finish behind 3A powers Batavia and West Aurora.
Leading a spirited defense of the Knights’ three consecutive county crowns was senior Ben Barnes, who scored 22.5 points in winning the long jump (21 feet, 5.75 inches), triple jump (PR 44-011.5), and anchoring the 4x100m relay to victory in a 43.91 season best. Barnes won both jump competitions, as is his style, on his sixth and final attempt.
“It’s not intentional,” he said. “I try to put down a meet-winning jump on every attempt. But since the State meet last year, that’s what’s been happening.”
Other highlights for the Knights were PRs set by junior Austin Kintz in the 1600m (second place in 4 minutes, 27.32 seconds) and freshman Matt Richtman in the 3200m (third in 9:53.66); a fourth-place finish in the 300m hurdles by junior Tanner Robertson in 40.80; and a fifth-place finish in the pole vault in a PR 13-03 by sophomore Dan Walker to add to junior Mike Rinella’s fourth-place points. Other Knights PRs set in non-scoring efforts were recorded by sophomore Adam Rivas in the 200m (24.26) and senior Mitch Reger in the 800m (2:09.15).
“I was really pleased with our team’s effort,” head coach Eric Baron said. “Ben Barnes showed he is one of the best horizontal jumpers Kane County has ever produced. Our 4x100m relay team winning from the slow heat was a very big surprise. Other outstanding performances for us was Matt Richtman breaking the freshman school record in the (3200m), Austin Kintz PR-ing again in the 1600m and Danny Walker scaling 13-03 in pole vault.”
Kaneland competes next in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference Championships on Friday, May 15, at Rochelle High School.
Strong week for boys track sets tone for late-season run
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill.—After looking over the seeding marks for the Crystal Lake Central Invitational, Kaneland boys head coach Eric Baron projected the Knights for 55 points, a score that would give them no chance to win their fourth-straight team title. He was a little off—41 points off—as the Knights posted one personal record (PR) after another, event by event, throughout the meet.
As it turned out, Kaneland nearly scored Baron’s projected point total in the field events alone, placing in all six jumping and throwing events and having two scorers in three of those events.
The Knights were as hot as the mid-70 degree afternoon temperatures, and leading the charge was junior pole vaulter Mike Rinella. Coming off an injured hamstring, he won his specialty with a new PR height of 14 feet, 6 inches, and just missed setting a new meet record with three great attempts at 14’ 9”. Adding icing to the cake, sophomore Danny Walker placed third with a PR jump of 12-06. In the long jump, senior Ben Barnes was coming off an injury that had kept him from jumping, for the past few weeks. In his return to the runway, he won the meet title with a jump of 21-03, while Kaneland junior, John Delach, placed third at PR 20-07.
“Mike and Ben really got our team going, “Baron said. “After both had missed several meets with injuries, seeing them come back and win the first events of the meet really stoked us up.”
After the long jump, Barnes came back to place third in the triple jump with a season best 44-0.5. Junior Connor Peterson added more jumps points in the high jump with sixth place in a PR 5-011. In the shot put, senior Zach Thielk and freshman Clayton Hannula placed sixth and eighth with throws of 43-09 and 41-08.75, respectively. Junior Tristan Kinder completed the Knights’ scoring in the field events with fifth place in the discus with a throw of 137-06.
On the track, Kaneland added 47 points to the 49 points they scored in the field. A foursome of junior Sean Spaetzel, senior Andrew Lesak, junior Drew Franklin, and junior Austin Kintz started things off by placing third in the 4x800m relay in a season-best 8:11.92, with Kintz clocking 1:58.5 on the anchor. The Knights followed with third place in the 4x100m relay in 44.48 with a team of senior Aaron Olson, Delach, junior Tanner Robertson, and, a new face for 2015, senior Issac Swithers. Freshman Matt Richtman finished fifth in the 3200m in a PR 10:00.33, and Robinson finished fifth in the 110m hurdles in a PR 16.03. In the 4x200m relay, the Knights switched Robertson for junior Issaih Baerenklau from their 4x100m line up and placed fourth in 1:35.06. Robertson, meanwhile, placed second in his 300m hurdles specialty in 41.37. Kintz doubled back from the 4x800m relay to take third in the 1600m in a PR 4:28.10. Kaneland then closed out the meet, and its team victory, with second place in the 4x400m relay in 3:29.05 with a foursome of Spaetzel, Lesak, Franklin, and Robertson.
“It was great to have some good weather for a change. We took advantage of it and created tremendous momentum for our young team going forward,” Baron said. “We had five freshmen in our lineup, and I told them it was the first time we ever had that many in a varsity invitational. In the second track event of the meet, Issac Swithers’ great anchor leg of the 4x100m relay was huge for us. We’ve been telling our team, ‘Be patient. Believe in our system. We are a program that blossoms every year in May.’ We preach that every athlete matters and every event matters—and we scored in 16 of the 18 events and with several new faces. It was a great team win and confidence-builder for us.”
The Knights will compete in the Kane County Championships at Geneva High School, starting at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8.
Photos by Laura Gampfer
Peterson Prep canceled for just second time in 46 years
YORKVILLE, Ill.—The Kaneland boys track and field team traveled south 19 miles on Route 47 on Tuesday, April 21, for its annual dual meet with Yorkville. Both schools use their Tuesday dual meets as a competition opportunity for their athletes who don’t compete in most weekend invitationals, which are mostly varsity-only competitions where entries are limited to two per event per school. Competition between the two Northern Illinois Big XII conference rivals was also tempered by the weather conditions, where winds gusting to 35 mph made the 53-degree afternoon temperature feel like 43. The pole vault and high jump were not contested due to the winds.
In a dual track meet, events are scored 5-3-1 for places first through third, and 5-0 for first and second place in the relays.
In the boys’ meet, the Knights won 9 of 16 events and placed second in 9 events to out-point Yorkville 77-51. On the track they split the four relays, winning the 4x100m and 4x800m, and swept the 400 and 1600 meters with one-two-three finishes in each. Junior Sean Spaetzel won the 400m in 57.0, and junior Will Kuipers won the 1600m in 5:04.0. Other highlights included a one-two finish in the 3200m by senior Mitchell Reger and junior Matt Kainrath in 11:12.0 and 11.13.0, a double hurdles win by junior Tanner Robertson in 16.6 (110m) and 43.7 (300m), and a 200m win by senior Aaron Olson in 25.0. In the field, junior pole vaulter Jared Matthys gave the Knights their only win, as he took long jump honors with a leap of 17’, 7”.
“It’s easy to lose your focus in weather conditions where all you can think about is how cold you are,” head coach Eric Baron said. “But our team did a really good job of rallying each other to keep their heads in the competition. We’re starting to see some really big improvements from our freshman, and that’s exciting.”
Four days later, Barron had to cancel Kaneland’s Peterson Prep Meet—only the second time the signature boys’ track and field invitational has had to be cancelled in the last 46-years.
“You have to question what you can accomplish in the rain with temperatures in the high 30s” he said. “With safety concerns in the hurdles, jumps and throws, it was the right thing to do … but it was still awfully disappointing.”
With the meet’s cancellation, Barron invited any team scheduled to be at the Peterson Prep meet on Saturday to come back on Tuesday, April 28, for Kaneland’s home dual meet with Oswego and try to recreate some of the match-ups they were looking forward to on Saturday. Results were not available prior to press time.
Later this week, the team will compete in the Crystal Lake Central Invitational on Friday, May 1.
Boys tie for 8th at tough Minooka Invite
MINOOKA, Ill.—A tough field at Minooka tested the Knights boys track team, as they finished tied for eighth at the second-annual Minooka Invitational Saturday.
Kaneland mustered up two fourth-place showings in both the 4x200m (1 minute, 36.04 seconds) and 4x400m (3:39.47) relays, while hurdle standout Tanner Robertson finished third in the 300m hurdles with a 41.51, and finished fourth in the 110m hurdles with a time of 16.37.
Up next, the Knights host the 46th annual Peterson Prep invitational this Saturday at Kaneland High School. Field events kick off the day at 10 a.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for students.
Western trek sees boys place fourth in 12-team meet
EAST MOLINE, Ill.—The Kaneland boys track team bus jumped on I-88 and headed west almost as far as it could go within state boundaries to compete in the Kiwani’s Invitational at United Township High School in East Moline, Ill., on Saturday. The meet has become a spring rite for the Knights, and a chance for them to compete with some teams they don’t typically see.
The unusual meet format consists of “A,” “B” and “C” heats and flights, with one athlete in each from each school. The A heats have the higher-rated athletes.
In the A-heat sprints, junior Brandon Cruz placed third in the 100m Dash in 11.71 seconds and sixth in the 200m in 24.28. Junior Sean Spaetzel was fourth in the 400m in 53.35. In the distance races, junior Austin Kintz was third in the 1600m at 4:34.95, and senior Brandon Park was sixth in the 3200m at 10:44.65. In the hurdles, junior Tanner Robertson was sixth in the 110m hurdles, then came back to win the 300m hurdles in 41.87 for the Knights’ highlight performance of the day on the track.
In the relays, Cruz, Robertson, junior John Delach and senior Ben Barnes made an express mail delivery of the baton once around the track to place third in the 4x100m relay in 44.34. In the 4x800m relay, junior Drew Franklin, seniors Andrew Lesak and James Walker and Kintz combined to place second, with Kintz running a lifetime-best 1:58.4 anchor leg to move them up from seventh place over the last two-laps.
In the A-flight field events, junior Mike Rinella won the pole vault at 12 feet. A less-than-healthy Barnes placed third in the long jump at 20’ 3.5”, and senior Tristian Kinder placed second in the discus at 137’ 11”.
In the B-heat distance races, Walker placed fourth in the 800m at 2:10.55, freshman Matt Richtman was fifth in the 1600m at 4:51.54, and junior Will Kuipers was fourth in the 3200m at 10:43.82. In the B relays, Kaneland won the 4x100m relay in 46.28. The Knights placed fifth in the 4x400m relay in 3:49.06, and were second in the 4x800m in 8:57.06—just .7 seconds behind first.
In the B field events, junior Mitch Groen won the pole vault at 12’ 6”—higher than the A-flight winning height. John Delach had a 14-inch personal record to place second in the long jump at 20’ 5”, and took fourth place in the triple jump at 37’ 9”. Senior Zach Thielk was second in the shot put at 45’ 6”, and freshman Clayton Hannula was second in the discus at 122’ 9”.
In the C heats, sophomore Cody Delarme was third in the 400m at 56.00, senior Mitch Reger was fifth in the 800m at 2:17.06, junior Matt Kainrath was sixth in the 1600m at 4:58.72, and sophomore Andrew Kantola was fourth in the 3200m at 10:58.88. Freshman Tyler Nance was third in the 110m hurdles in 18.81, and freshman Drew Gould was sixth in the 300m hurdles at 47.21 in his first race ever.
In the C-field events, Delarme was sixth in the long jump in 17’10” and junior Connor Peterson was fifth in the triple jump at 34’ 10”.
“I was very pleased with our performances in our first outdoor meet of the season,” head coach Eric Baron said. “After the indoor season, it was our first time running the 4x100m relay, the longer dash (100m) and hurdle races (110m and 300m), and throwing the discus, and we had some great performances in all of them. We experimented with some different combinations in the relays, and will continue to do so going forward to find our roles.”
This week, the Knights have a Tuesday dual meet at Sycamore and the Minooka Invitational on Saturday.
“We’re the smallest school in the Minooka meet,” Baron noted. “But we love competing with the bigger schools. We’ve been making progress meet by meet, every week since the start of the indoor season.”
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—Last weekend, nineteen Kaneland track and field athletes headed south to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill., to put an exclamation point on their 2015 indoor season at the annual Illinois Top Times High School Indoor Championship—the unofficial state indoor championship.
The meet features separate Class 1A, 2A and 3A competitions for both boys and girls, and they earned their way there by being among the top performers in their respective events during the 2015 season.
The meet started for the Knights on Saturday morning with a second-place finish in the boys’ long jump by senior Ben Barnes. The event was won by the national leader and field event “Athlete of the Meet,” Ja’Mari Ward from Cahokia, with a mark of 23 feet, 5.75 inches. Barnes, meanwhile, achieved his best mark of 22’, 2.5” on his final attempt to move from fifth place to second, with a mark that would have also won the class 3A meet title later that afternoon.
Elsewhere in the field events, Kaneland sophomore Lexie Guerra cleared 10’, 0” in the girls’ pole vault to place seventh, after which junior Mike Rinella placed ninth in the boys’ pole vault with a 12’, 6” effort.
On the track, junior Brianna Bower finished fifth in the 3200m with a 19-second season-best time of 11 minutes, 30.14 seconds, and senior Victoria Clinton ran a 10-second season best to place 13th in 12:11.42. In other distance races, junior Noelle Espino placed 10th in the 800m in 2:27.96—just .05 second behind fifth. In the sprints, sophomore Nicole Sreenan duplicated her 7.85 time in the prelims to place fifth in the girls’ 60m dash final, just two-thousandths of a second out of fourth. After not advancing to the 60m dash final, junior Allie Heinzer ran the 400m with a vengeance, placing fifth and dipping under 60-seconds for the first time ever with a new lifetime best of 59.66.
In the boys’ relays, a Knights foursome of junior Austin Kintz, senior Andrew Lesak, junior Drew Franklin, and junior Sean Spaetzel placed 11th in the 4x800m in 8:35.06. In the 4x200m relay, a team of Barnes, junior Brandon Cruz, senior Tevin Fitzgibbons and junior Tanner Robertson placed 13th after a poor first exchange put them in the back of the race.
“Ben Barnes came through with his patented last-minute heroics to move up to second place on his last attempt in the long jump, and Mike Rinella—and all our other juniors in the relays—gained some big meet experience that will be invaluable to us later in the season,” head boys coach Eric Baron said, “They do a great job with this meet, but it is chaotic with some 600 boys and girls trying to check-in, warm-up on a basketball court, and compete in a small, crowded fieldhouse with an event schedule orchestrated to the minute. The outdoor State meet is the same way, and there is no way to prepare for that other than to be part of it.”
The Kaneland girls, meanwhile, placed fifth in the 4x200m relay with a team of Nicole Sreenan, freshman Shanya Hurston, junior Olivia Galor and sophomore Carley Elliott. Their hotly-contested heat saw a Kankakee runner fall while making the final baton exchange, causing Elliott to have to stop, then leap over the fallen runner to avoid spiking her and, in doing so, lose more than a second to the heat winner and overall second place team, Springfield Southeast. In the final event of the meet, the 4x400m relay, the Knights finished on a high note, however, placing second overall with a four-second season best time of 4:09.62. Freshmen Jamie Martens, Heinzer, Espino, and junior Olivia Galor combined to wage another rousing battle with Springfield Southeast in the second and final heat of the race, which was decided in the final stride to the finish line.
“This was a good meet for us, with everyone performing at or above their season best marks,” head girls coach Doug Ecker said. “We had some bad luck in the 4×200 relay, but we closed the meet with a great race in the 4×400, where Allie Heinzer ran a superb 58.7 split on her second leg to move us into the lead.”
The Knights open their 2015 outdoor season with the girls taking on Oregon in an away dual meet on Tuesday, April 7, then hosting the Holmes Invitational at Kaneland’s Peterson Field on Saturday, April 11. The Kaneland the boys will open their outdoor season at the Kaiwani’s Boys’ Track & Field Invitational at East Moline High School April 11.
Photos submitted by Keith Snyder to email@example.com
Photo: Anthony Messina gives the baton to Mark Dohm during the 4x800m relay Saturday. Photo by Marshall Farthing
Boys track qualifies four events to Top Times
STERLING, Ill.—A junior-dominated boys’ track and field team acquitted themselves well at the 2015 Northern Illinois Big XII Conference Indoor Invitational, placing fourth behind DeKalb, Geneseo and Yorkville, and gaining some valuable big meet experience in the process. Sixteen of the Knights’ 24 individual event entries were underclassmen.
According to DyestatIL.com, the meet featured 33 elite athletes. One of those was senior Ben Barnes, who led the Knights by placing fourth in the triple jump, third in the 60m dash, defending his conference title in the long jump, and running a great leg of the second-place 4x200m relay—performances that scored a team-high 22 points in the meet.
“We were missing three major scorers this weekend who were out ill, including freshman distance runner Matt Richtman,” head coach Eric Baron said.
In their absence, highlights for the Knights included junior Sean Spaetzel’s third-place finish in the 400m, junior Mike Rinella’s third place in the pole vault, junior Austin Kintz’s fourth place in the 800m, junior Connor Peterson’s fourth place in the high jump, and fifth-place finishes in the 60, pole vault and shot put by junior Brandon Cruz, junior Mitchell Groen and senior Zach Theilk. Several of them were making comebacks after missing training with the flu.
“I was especially pleased with Ben Barnes long jumping 21 feet, 6 inches from well behind the board, dominating his heat of the 60 to take third overall, making major improvements in the triple jump, and running a great lead-off leg of the 4x200m relay for us,” Baron said. “As a returning state champion, expectations for him are high, and he has had no problem meeting them, meet after meet. I also have to mention Jim Walker, who missed most of the cross country season last fall with mononucleosis. Jim has turned that setback into a comeback and led off our 4x800m relay Saturday in 2:10. He will run 2-flat by the end of the outdoor season and is providing the vocal, visible senior leadership we need for this young team. He has truly established himself as our captain.”
Baron said he expects to have Ben Barnes, Mike Rinella and Kaneland 4x200m and 4x800m relay foursomes compete in the Top-Times Indoor Invitational next weekend at Illinois Wesleyan University—the unofficial state indoor track and field championships.
Baron also looked ahead a bit to competing outside.
“We are usually a better team outdoors than indoors, with a longer dash and high hurdles race, and the addition of the 4x100m relay, the 300m hurdles—where we think Tanner Patterson will be a star—and the discus,” Baron said. “With not having to train in hallways, our distance runners are going to get the mileage they need, and we will be able to practice on runways, jumping pits and throwing circles for the technical events. I can’t wait.”
However, a lot of talent and big meet points from the 2014 team were lost to graduation. Nothing will come easy as the Knights attempt to add to their recent winning ways, including the past three Northern Illinois Big XII indoor conference titles, the past two conference outdoor titles, the past three Kane County Team Championships, and the past six IHSA Sectional team titles.
To do that, the Knights will need big points from team members like Barnes, now a senior, and junior Brandon Cruz, a member of their state finalist 4x100m relay team who, last year as a sophomore, also ran one of the fastest 100 meters in the state by an underclassman at 11.17.
More sprint/relay points will need to come from Issac Swithers, another member of the Knights’ 4x100m and 4x200m relay teams in 2014. Middle distance points will be needed from junior Austin Kintz, who has been a star so far during the indoor season, and from Matt Richtman, who is proving himself to be one of the top freshman distance runners in the state. Kintz led off the Knights’ silver medal 4x800m relay at State last season as a sophomore, and also qualified for the State finals in the mile (1,600m).
Field event points are needed from Kaneland’s stellar pole vault corps, the depth of which is outstanding under assistant coach Andrew Drendel. Promising freshmen who could become varsity scorers this season include Clayton Hannula in the throws, Tyler Nance in the hurdles and Drew Gould in the High Jump. Bottom line, however, is Kaneland has a young boys’ team with great talent but very little varsity experience.
Looking around the NIB-12 Conference, head coach Eric Baron thinks the race fo the top spot is wide open.
“Our conference is very good and very balanced this season. It usually takes an All-State level performance to place in the top-three in any event at our conference meet. I believe a number of teams have the depth of talent to compete with us for the team title this year, including DeKalb, Geneseo, Sycamore and Yorkville. LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Sterling and Rochelle all return some state-ranked individuals. Our 2015 team goals, as always, include winning the conference, county and Sectional team titles.”
The Knights’ track and field program has a long-standing tradition of exceeding the expectations, and should be a force again in 2015.
Edit: Fixed error with Andrew Drendel mistakenly listed as “Ralph Drendel.”
March 6 @ Batavia (HS)
TEAM SCORES: 1) Batavia, 139; 2) Burlington Central, 87; 3) Bartlett, 65; 4) Lake Park, 62; 5) Kaneland, 54; 6) West Aurora, 55
LONG JUMP: 1) Barnes, 21-11.5
POLE VAULT: 3) Rinella, 12-06
HIGH JUMP: 5) Peterson, 5-05
TRIPLE JUMP: 4) Barnes, 37-08; 5) Delach, 36-10.5
4X800 RELAY: 5) Kaneland, 9:10.91
3200M: 5) Park, 11:12.93
800M: 4) Kintz, 2:03.51
400M: 6) Spaetzel, 55.9
1600M: 4) Ricthman, 4:53.2
200M: 6) Cruz, 24.80
4X400 RELAY: 5) Kaneland, 3:47.02
March 9 @ Mustang Relays
(North Central College, Naperville, Ill.)
TEAM SCORES: No team scores kept; 35 teams
4X200 RELAY: 23) Kaneland, 1:38.02
4X400 RELAY: 26) Kaneland, 3:41.31
4X800 RELAY: 17) Kaneland, 8:24.27
Frigid conditions keep track team confined
SYCAMORE—It’s far from uncommon to see coach Eric Baron’s track and field team sprinting through the hallways after school at KHS. It’s just what they have available after what is now considered the coldest February on record.
“We are struggling with getting quality training in due to the weather and lack of facilities to train in this time of year,” Baron said.
Of course, that didn’t stop the Knights from opening the season at their traditional late February stop at Sycamore.
The Spartans defended their home indoor track, winning the four-team meet with 70 points. Kaneland followed with 60 points, while Yorkville (58) and Grayslake North (34) rounded out the field.
Kaneland saw two events take home the win: the 4x400m relay team of Drew Franklin, Sean Spaetzel, Jim Walker and Brandon Cruz (3 minutes, 50.81 seconds), and Mike Rinella in the pole vault (12 feet, 6 inches).
Earning runner-up finishes were the 4x800m relay of Austin Kintz, Franklin, Walker and Spaetzel (8:54.33), and 4×160 relay of Ben Barnes, Cruz, Aaron Olson and John Delach (1:19.72). Also earning second place were Mark Dohm in the 800m (2:22.11), Cruz in the 400m (56.83), Connor Peterson in the High Jump (5-08), Jared Mathys in the Pole Vault (11-06) and Barnes in the Long Jump (19-11).
Earning third-place finishes were Mitch Reger in the 3200m (11:46.16), Andrew Lesak in the 400m (57.11), Kintz in the 1600m (4:46.63), Matt Vanderborn in the Pole Vault (8-00) and Logan Strang in the Shot Put (39-02).
“What we saw was good,” Baron said. “We just need to get some quality practices in once we can get on the track.”
The Knights will travel to Batavia Friday at 4:30 p.m. before heading to North Central College in Naperville, Ill., on Monday for the Downers Grove South Mustang Relays at 6:30 p.m.
KHS inducts 16 track and field athletes into Hall of Fame
MAPLE PARK—Kaneland High School on Feb. 7 and 14 inducted 16 track and field alumni into its Hall of Fame in recognition of their personal athletic achievements. All were individual State champions or members of State championship relay teams.
The class of nine tracksters recognized on Feb. 7 is the largest single Kaneland Hall of Fame class to be inducted in any sport. They were introduced during halftime of the Knights’ Girls Basketball Shoot-Out game versus Aurora Central Catholic following a reception and induction ceremony in the school library.
The inducted class included 1975 boys State champion 4x400m relay team members Marty Lyle, a Harley-riding, U.S. Navy veteran who now owns Marty’s Automotive Repair Shop in Aurora; Larry Will, a four-sport letterman who went on to help Illinois win two Big Ten Conference track championships, then, during his 26-years as an international airline pilot, became a national karate champion, multiple business owner, and private investment banker in Fort Myers, Fla.; Mark Claypool, founder and CEO of the global website company Optima Worldwide, who earlier at the 1975 State meet won the 440-yard dash and long jump, then in 1977 set the still-standing school 200/400m records before becoming a Big Ten champion, team captain, and NCAA All-America at Illinois; and Ron Ackerman, a three-sport star who also won the 1975 State title in the 880-yard run with a school record time that went unbroken for 38 years, then attended the University of Kentucky on a track scholarship before beginning a 31-year career as a West Chicago fireman, the last nine years of which he served as chief of the department before retiring in 2011.
Also celebrated on Feb. 7 were 1986 girls State champion 4x400m and 4x800m relay team members Amy Eddington-Fehrenbacher, daughter of Kaneland Hall of Fame track coach Larry Eddington, and herself a four-year State track meet qualifier, a six-time State track medalist, 1987 State 3200m champion, and the Knight’s first cross country State qualifier and All-State performer, who attended Marquette University on a track scholarship and is now a physical therapist, residing with her family in Batavia; Kerry Rink, an All-State performer in cross country, basketball and track, a three-time State champion in the 800m, and a third-place finisher in the State cross country meet before earning NCAA All-America honors at the University of Kentucky, and following from the Washington University School of Medicine, is now an occupational therapist who has worked for the Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego school systems; Heidi Hagberg-Modaff, a four-year State track meet qualifier and member of school record 4×400/4x800m relay teams who, after graduating from Parkland College as a dental hygienist, has been employed for the past 27 years at Fairview Dental in Aurora while residing in Sugar Grove with her husband and three daughters; Malora Carson-Baumgartner, a four-sport letter-winner who went on to graduate from Northern Illinois with a degree in interior architecture and work for RGLA Architects before becoming a full-time soccer/swimming/ orchestra mom, chauffer, and super-fan for her two children while organizing local art awareness and faith-based activities; and Shelly McManus-Kalmas, a three-sport athlete, Kanelands’ first State track medalist, a four-time medal winner and member of its first State championship track team, who, after graduating from Lewis University, has continued to run competitively and is a nationally-ranked marathoner in her age group while being employed as a director of operations.
The seven inductees honored on Feb. 14 brought the Knights’ track and field Hall of Fame membership to a total of 25. They began with three of the four members of the 1989 boys State champion 4x800m relay team: Jim Probst, a pastor at Eastview Christian Church in downstate Illinois who was an All-Conference performer at North Central College after setting the still-standing Kaneland freshman mile record of 4:45; Dave Beebe, who recently succeeded his brother Don as athletic director and head football coach at Aurora Christian High School, after graduating from Northern Illinois University following a career as a three-sport athlete for the Knights; and Jon Stultz, currently a high-level USSS softball player and coach who was an All-Conference wide receiver at Kaneland, starter on the basketball team, and track team captain and State qualifier in three events.
Also inducted Feb. 14 were Jerry Oksas, co-owner of Tailwind outdoor furniture manufacturers, who was raised in a Maple Park family of pole vaulters before placing third in the state in 1989, winning the boys’ State title in 1990, and going on to compete collegiately at Southern Illinois University; Marty Keifer, the 1998 boys State pole vault champion whose career began in sixth grade, clearing a bar suspended between two trees in his back yard, and culminated with him clearing a personal best height of 17 feet, 1 inch, at the Missouri Invitational as a University of Illinois senior, before joining the staff of Knights head coach Ralph Drendel and coaching multiple state pole vault medalists and champions himself; Kurt Long, 1999 boys State pole vault champion and member of the exclusive 15-foot vaulters’ club, a member of 1998-99 Kaneland State football championship teams who, with his wife Mary, now reside in Sycamore and enjoy supporting their three children’s interests in sports; and Janine Zylinski, owner of an Algonquin custom cake business who was the 2004 girls State shot put champion before going on to compete at Illinois State and then Ohio State, where she was a NCAA All-America performer with a best throw of 54’, 6.5”.
Sugar Grove native Fleck earns MAC Coach of the Year honors, contract
extension in 2nd year with Western Michigan University
KALAMAZOO, MICH.—After leading the biggest turnaround in Mid-American Conference (MAC) history, it’s no surprise that P.J. Fleck was recently signed to a six-year contract extension as Western Michigan’s head football coach, and named 2014 MAC Coach of the Year,
Fleck, a Sugar Grove native and 1999 Kaneland High School alum, was hired as the Bronco’s head coach in 2013 when he was just 32 years old, making him the youngest head coach in Division I FBS history and also one of only two college football coaches to have played and coached in the NFL. Fleck played for the San Francisco 49ers during the 2004 and 2005 seasons before an injury forced him to move from playing to coaching. He worked as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.
Under Fleck’s leadership, the Western Michigan Broncos last season staged a dramatic turnaround from their 1-11 record in 2013, Fleck’s first year as coach. Fleck faced widespread criticism from fans following his first season with the Broncos, something WMU Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard said was expected.
“I totally knew our first year we were going to have some issues with a coaching change and a culture change,” she said. “We only won one game. But that next year, we put together a recruiting class that was the best in the MAC, and the recruits were absolutely committed to P.J.’s philosophy. We were able to put together a year where we had the biggest turnaround in college football history.”
The Broncos went 8-4 this season—their best campaign since 2008—and played in their first bowl game since 2011. WMU lost the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to the Air Force Academy Falcons 38-24 on Dec. 20, but the Broncos’ seven-game improvement in 2014 was the biggest one-year turnaround in MAC history.
Fleck attributed the bowl loss to having a young team—most of the players, which he has recruited himself, are freshmen and sophomores—that lacks the experience and depth of other teams.
“We’re one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country, and we’re playing (an Air Force) team that’s mostly juniors and seniors, and they’re very well-coached,” he said.
For Fleck, though, the most important thing is not whether the Broncos won or lost—it’s about where they are headed.
“I have people ask me, ‘Oh, you’re 8-4. Did you exceed your own expectation of the program? Is the program way ahead of schedule from where you thought?’ I use the same answer I used last year. I knew where the program was developing,” Fleck said. “You saw 1-11, but the program was developing from within with a 12-0 type feel. You might have seen 1-11, but the program was really 12-0 inside.
“And it’s the same thing this year. We’re 8-4, and when you look at where our program’s headed, it’s exactly where I thought it would be. Wins and losses, that doesn’t really matter in terms of when you’re building a program from the ground up. It’s about where you’re headed, and for me, I think we’re on track.”
He’ll get that chance to continue building a program from the ground up. In addition to being named the 2014 MAC Coach of the Year. WMU on Dec. 18 extended Fleck’s contract through the 2020 season. Under the terms of his contract, he’ll make a base salary of $225,000 per year, plus other guaranteed compensation that raise his total compensation to over $800,000 per year.
Success-based bonuses and incentives could push his total income even higher.
Beauregard, who made the decision to extend Fleck’s contract, said the team wanted to lock him into a long-term contract because they knew he would be sought after. She also wanted new recruits to know that they’d have Fleck as their coach for their entire college football career.
According to Beauregard, when she originally hired Fleck two years ago, she specifically chose him to engineer a program turnaround. She hoped Fleck, who had worked as an assistant coach under Joe Novak at Northern Illinois and under Greg Schiano with Rutgers University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—both of whom had reputations as program builders—would be able to bring a winning record to the Broncos and transform the program’s culture.
“We made a coaching change, and we were looking for something different than what we had had,” Beauregard said.
Fleck’s experience as both a player and assistant coach at NIU, a fellow MAC school that has offered strong competition to WMU, is part of what interested the Broncos in Fleck, Beauregard said. But beyond that, the program was seeking someone who could bring a positive approach to coaching—something that Fleck has been so successful in creating, she said, that it was a major reason for extending his contract.
The change that Western Michigan sought included far more than just the team’s record. The school wanted to increase attendance at its football games, which had dwindled, and build a larger fan base. It was a long-term mission at the outset.
“Obviously, when you change a culture, it takes time,” Fleck said. “This wasn’t a football program turnaround (or) a win-loss turnaround, it was a true culture turnaround. It was the culture of the community, the administration, the alumni, the boosters who had never even been a part of Western Michigan before. So you talk culture, it’s everything—it’s a complete mindset and belief system.”
That total culture change Fleck has been working to instill at Western Michigan is symbolized by the “Row the Boat” mantra he’s brought to the Broncos—a metaphor from another sport altogether.
In rowing, Fleck noted, everyone on the team has to row together. Rowers face backward and can’t see where they’re going; they have to have faith that if they just keep rowing together in the same direction, they will reach their destination. It’s not just a mantra for the players, Fleck said, but for everyone in the Bronco community, from the administration to the students to the fans in the wider community.
“If we can get everybody rowing at the same tempo, same speed, same efficiency, same power, in the same direction, we’ll get from point A to point B quickly,” Fleck told fans when he introduced the mantra two years ago. “That’s the goal of this program: win a MAC championship, and win it now. Part of rowing the boat is changing a culture.”
He’s encouraged Broncos fans and community members to hang oars on their walls and in their businesses to show support for the team and to generate the kind of positive energy he wants to see surround the team, and he gives oars away to as many visitors as he can. He’s also brought in a new DJ to play music at home games to up the energy level of the crowd.
But the biggest piece of a culture change is recruiting, Fleck said, which he’s doing differently than most fellow Division I schools. Fleck tries to recruit new players almost exclusively from within a six-hour radius of Kalamazoo, Mich., an idea he picked up from Joe Novak, the Northern Illinois head coach he once played for.
“(Novak’s) belief system is that you’ve got to get mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, the guys at the local coffee shop engaged. They’re now following that team because they know someone on it,” Fleck said. “You have players who all have the same ethic because they’re all from the same area, and family and friends can come to see every game. That’s great support for the players, and your attendance goes up. We want to keep it local and recruit local talent.”
Beyond that, though, Fleck said that he cares as much about a potential player’s character as he does about his football prowess. The characteristics he’s looking for in his new recruits are more about the athlete’s heart than about football.
“We talk about three characteristics in our football program,” Fleck said. “That is a nekton mentality—always attacking, never full, like a Great White shark. I want to know, is he attacking life? Is he growing on a daily basis? Is he charismatic? Then we talk about a Prefontaine pace. (Steve) Prefontaine was the greatest distance runner of all time, and he could go the distance.
“The last part is our farmer’s alliance. We want players who have a very unselfish mentality. We want to know their friends; we want to interview their friends. That’s where we start, and we go from there. There have been plenty of big-time players who we’ve stopped pursuing.”
The character-based approach appears to be working. The Broncos in 2014 had the highest-ranked recruiting class in MAC history. Freshman running back Jarvion Franklin was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, and 10 Broncos were named to Phil Steele’s 2014 Postseason All-MAC team. Franklin, the top running back in the MAC this season, led the conference with 25 total touchdowns—24 of which were on the ground.
The focus on what Fleck dubs “heartwork” isn’t just limited to the players. Fleck wants to have total commitment from everyone associated with the Broncos, including the fans—something he’s encapsulated in his “Row the Bow” mantra, Beauregard said.
“There’s no doubt that when he first came, there was a lot of skepticism and criticism about ‘What the heck does rowing the boat have to do with Western Michigan football?’” Beauregard said. “But it’s about total belief; it’s about everybody being on the same page of wanting the best for our student athletes. Culturally, it’s been something our students have absolutely loved, and we’ve had more interest in it every day.”
Beauregard said that Fleck’s own experience with tragedy—he and his wife, Tracie, lost a son, Colt, to a heart condition in infancy—has spoken to many of the student-athletes, some of whom have experienced their own life struggles.
“One thing that’s exciting is that it’s not just about football,” Beauregard said. “It’s about keeping going in our lives; it’s a belief that things are going to turn around for you; it’s a commitment that everybody is making 100 percent effort. So they buy into it, knowing that there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel if you just keep rowing.”
It’s a philosophy Beauregard describes as “contagious,” noting that Fleck has led the Broncos players to do a lot of community service and also to have the second-highest GPA in team history. The team’s 2.91 GPA won it the MAC Sports GPA Trophy for a fourth consecutive year. Also, the team’s GPA has increased significantly from a 2.4 average in 2013 to the 2.91 average this season.
Fleck attributes his coaching philosophy today to the many people that influenced him throughout his athletic and coaching career, believing he’s learned something from every place he’s been, starting with Kaneland High School.
“I think Kaneland taught me to believe in myself,” Fleck said. “I was a freshman starting on the varsity basketball team, and you talk about people not liking you. Well, it taught me to believe in myself and that I truly belong, and that’s what Joe Thorgeson (the head football coach) did for me, and Ken Neahring, our track coach. Because as confident as people thought I should have been in high school, I wasn’t.”
Kaneland High School inducted him into its Hall of Fame in June, recognizing Fleck’s career achievements, as well as his leading the 1997 and 1998 Knights to back-to-back State championships. An All-State wide receiver, he set school records his senior year with 95 catches and 199 career receptions, then went on to play for Northern Illinois, where he still holds the school record for punt returns (87).
From Novak, the NIU head coach who offered Fleck a scholarship when no other Division I team was interested, Fleck learned the importance of taking a chance and giving people opportunities, he said.
From Mike Nolan, former San Francisco 49ers head coach, Fleck said he learned “how to be a class act”; from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who gave Fleck his first coaching opportunity, he learned “how to teach young men life”; from Jerry Kill, Novak’s successor as NIU head coach, who offered Fleck an assistant coaching position, he learned how to care for the players.
“And then I went to work for Greg Schiano, and he’s probably one of the hardest people to work for in the country,” Fleck said.
Schiano, who hired Fleck as an assistant coach at Rutgers University, brought him along to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Some of my hardest personal battles I faced (were) when I was working for him,” Fleck said, alluding to the 2010 loss of his newborn son. “He taught me how to push myself, how to never sacrifice what you really want.”
These are lessons Fleck intends to carry forward as he strives to make Western Michigan a nationally recognized program, and as he adjusts to being in a constant spotlight, something he never experienced in the relative anonymity of his previous assistant coaching positions.
“As a head coach, you get scrutinized; you get evaluated every day, whether through the media’s eyes, your community’s eyes, your players’ eyes. And the only profession you can compare that to, the everyday scrutiny, is a singer or an actor. There’s so few opportunities to be normal, and everybody thinks they own a part of you,” Fleck said. “That’s made me a better man, because my skin is so much thicker than it’s ever been. Every day, I’m learning about myself.”
Editors note: P.J. Fleck graduated from Kaneland High School in 1999, not 1998 which was mentioned in the original edition of this story. The Herald regrets the error.
MAPLE PARK—The Illinois Track & Cross County Coaches Association (ITCCCA) recently named Kaneland boys track and field coach Eric Baron its 2A Coach of the Year for 2014.
Baron began his coaching tenure at Kaneland in the fall of 1999, when he became an assistant cross country coach. That year, the Knights won a Sectional title and placed second at the IHSA State Championships.
In track, he coached the distance runners and helped out some with the jumping events as an assistant under head boys coach Ralph Drendel from 2000 to 2005.
After Drendel’s retirement in 2006, Baron was named Kaneland’s boys track and field coach. Since then, his teams have compiled a 75-10 dual meet record, and have won three NIB-12 outdoor conference titles (including the past two), the past three NIB-12 indoor conference titles, the past three Kane County Team Championships, and the past six IHSA Sectional team titles—from which they have advanced 55 individual athletes and 20 relay teams to the Illinois State Meet. At State, the Knights have won two second-place 2A team plaques and produced seven individual State champions.
Baron’s 2014 State meet team scored in 10 events and won titles in the shot put (Nate Dyer) and long jump (Ben Barnes), en route to placing second last spring behind perennial powerhouse Cahokia by a score of 90-84.
“During my nine seasons as head track coach, I have been extremely fortunate to have some outstanding assistant coaches,” Baron said. “In a sport with seven different broad event areas—18 events in all—and a team with more than one hundred members competing at two levels, that has played a critical role in the success we’ve had.”
Baron said his family is a huge part of who he is and what he does, and that he considers his wife, Deborah, his biggest supporter. Although she is not a runner, they met at a cross country meet (Deborah was an interpreter for a hearing-impaired runner) when she and Eric were both teachers in Tinley Park, Ill.
“Deborah understands the value of what I do, and her belief in me makes it easier to fulfill my commitment to a very time-consuming job,” he said. “My daughters, Nora and Ella, have been around the Kaneland track and field program all of their lives and enjoy watching our meets and cheering for our athletes.”
Eric’s personal running career began at Kaneland Middle School, where he was introduced to distance running in a sixth-grade P.E. class.
“That spring, a passion for running ignited within me during our annual track and field day,” Eric said.
His family moved to St. Charles when he was in the seventh grade. Later, at St. Charles High School, he was a two-time All-State cross country runner and a five-time State qualifier in track, setting school records in the 3200 meters,1600m, 4x800m relay and 4x400m relay. Today, he still holds the St. Charles East freshman mile record of 4:30.2.
After high school, Eric attended Eastern Illinois University on a track scholarship, where he was a 14-time All-Conference performer in cross country and indoor/outdoor track. His senior year, he was runner-up in his conference cross country meet and indoor conference champion in the 3000m run.
After college, he had a brief post-collegiate running career in which he ran a 4:02.7 mile indoors at Indiana University. Later, he finished seventh overall in the mammoth Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago’s Grant Park. Eric developed pneumonia after the Shuffle (held in 8-degree temperatures that March), which effectively ended his running career.
“I enjoy giving back to the sport that has given me so much,” Eric said. “I can’t thank the coaches in my life enough for what they have taught me. Most of all, I have been blessed to work with so many talented, dedicated young men who have been entrusted to me by their parents and our school. It is a great honor to be named ITCCCA 2A Track Coach of the Year—an honor I share with my family, our assistant coaches, and all the Kaneland athletes I have been privileged to coach.”