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Kaneland's Nathaniel Kucera competes in the Knights' dominant 3,200-meter relay. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
CHARLESTON, Ill. — They are champions.
Kaneland’s 3,200-meter relay team of Conor Johnson, Kyle Carter, Luis Acosta and Nate Kucera and Sandwich thrower Ryan Njegovan all stepped to the top of the awards’ podium Saturday at the state track meet at Eastern Illinois University.
Njegovan’s Class 2A record throw in the discus off 188 feet, 4 inches, stood up as the winner on a cold and rainy day where few field event marks were improved and the 3A high jump and pole vault competitions had to be moved indoors.
The Knight relay won in 7:50.26.
The meet went off at a frantic pace as officials dropped the scheduled format which includes some rest time built into the schedule of events because of concern for more inclement weather in the forecast.
“I guess it’s fitting, isn’t it, considering the spring we’ve had,” said Waubonsie Valley coach Kevin Rafferty as he watched 3A discus medal winners presented their awards in front of a nearly empty stadium.
“These poor kids have competed in weather like this all season.”
Kaneland didn’t realize its dream of bringing home a state team trophy, which goes to the top three placers, settling for a sixth-place finish with 24 points.
“That’s a new school record,” said Johnson, who ran the leadoff leg of the 3,200 and runnerup 1,600 relay (3:200.06), which also included Carter and Kucera and was anchored by Dylan Nauert.
Johnson found himself in fifth place in the midst of a big pack of runners as he passed the baton to Kyle Carter early in the 3,200.
One lap into his two-lap leg, Carter took the lead and the Knights never relinquished it. Acosta widened the margin to 15-20 meters and then Kucera cruised.
“It means so much,” Johnson said. “We set goals for ourselves. Yesterday (in prelims) it was just to qualify. The conditions were a little different but we came out to race. There’s always good competition here.”
The Knight quartet had set the school record at 7:55.09 in winning the sectional, took five more seconds off it and ran nearly 11 seconds faster than they had on Friday.
“We wanted to set Nate (Kucera) up for a good 400,” Carter said. “My goal was to just get the lead.”
In the 1,600 relay, Nauert couldn’t quite overtake the East St. Louis anchor down the stretch and Kaneland finished a second behind.
The Knights also got a sixth from Tanner Andrews in the triple jump and ninths from Kucera in the 400 and Nate Dyer in the shot put.
Aurora Central got two medals with Patrick Lefevre taking fifth inthe 110 hurdles in 14.97 seconds and Matt Meyers grabbing seventh in the 1600 in 4:24.95. Both moved up from their qualifying performances that had them both seeded ninth.
“I’ve been battling a strained hip flexor and didn’t have a very good prelim, but it felt better,” Lefevere said. “That was a personal best by .06 of a second and is the first time I’ve run in 14.”