Nick Mohrdieck cleared the biggest hurdle. He and his Vernon Hills track and field teammates overcame another one.
Mohrdieck, a determined senior, got permission from coach Mark Whitney to run the 800 meters this spring, instead of the 300 hurdles.
"I was running right around state time, but I wasn't going to get it there this year," Mohrdieck said. "So I told Coach, 'I put in a lot of training this off-season. I think I can run the 800.' "
Friday night in the Class 2A Vernon Hills sectional, Mohrdieck ran the 800 fast enough to beat every competitor and qualify for next weekend's state meet in downstate Charleston. At meet's end, Vernon Hills' entire team was celebrating, as the Cougars captured their third sectional championship in a row, despite competing without injured sprinter Nikolay Kravtsev.
"We had to really work for it this year," Whitney said after his Cougars totaled 97.5 points, comfortably ahead of runner-up Marengo (68), Richmond-Burton (65) and fourth-place Belvidere (64). "Last year we probably had our best team ever. We lost a lot of key guys. This year we knew we'd have to work for every single point. We knew every race was going to be close."
St. Viator (ninth, 30.5 points) advanced only junior Michael Steadman to state. Steadman finished second in the 400 dash (52.42), as he was edged out by Rockford Boylan's Eric Konitski (52.11).
"He's a team player," St. Viator coach Rodero Warren said of Steadman. "The last two years he ran relays when he could have been stepping out on his own. Anything to help the team. He's dedicated himself to track."
A familiar name to Vernon Hills fans gave the Cougars a boost. Kyle Hull, who quarterbacked the football team to the Class 5A state championship game last fall, anchored the Cougars' victorious 800 relay (1:32.98).
Hull played baseball his first three years of high school.
"I wanted to try something new senior year," Hull said. "I've done baseball my whole life. I was just ready to try something new, so I said, 'Let's try track.' "
Trey Hommer, another football player, also ran on the winning 800 relay and won a hotly contested 200 (22.61). Hommer edged North Chicago's Joshua Turner (22.76), Richmond-Burton's Mike Kaufman (22.80) and Woodstock's Brad Kohler (22.80). Hommer's win made it seven years in a row that Vernon Hills captured the 200 dash. He raised his hands high in the air after he crossed the finish line.
"I was really excited," Hommer said. "There was a lot of pressure this year because we've won (the 200) six years in a row. I was happy to carry on the legacy."
James D'Argo and Max Lyle also ran on the 800 relay for Vernon Hills. Mac Vincent qualified for state in both the shot put (first, 48-2¾) and discus (second, 127-5). It's the first time the Vernon Hills senior will be going to state.
"He had a fantastic year," Whitney said of Vincent. "To put it together like that in this meet is a huge accomplishment."
Mohrdieck ran a 2:02 the first time he raced the 800 this spring, and he hasn't slowed down. He went to state last year in the 1,600 relay.
"I got to give it to my teammates," Mohrdieck said after he won the 800 in 2:00.13. "Without them pushing me every day, I would never be able to be an 800 runner. I've been training with the distance guys, and they help me be the best that I can be."
Kravtsev was wearing a protective boot due to a stress fracture in his right foot suffered two weeks ago in the Lake Zurich invite. Kravtsev, who qualified for state last year in the 400 and two relays, got injured while running the 400.
"I didn't feeling it running," he said. "It was sore afterward."
Kravtsev learned before the Central Suburban League meet that he had a stress fracture. His 400 time of 49.46 had him ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 2A. The junior is graduating early, next Friday, and will attend Judson in the fall.
"I'm hoping that he continues to run because that's the kind of injury that he could heal up pretty easily from," Whitney said. "It's not like he ripped a hamstring or anything. He's a super talent.
"I told the guys, 'We got to put him in our hearts and try to win one for him today.' I'm really proud of these guys."
Vernon Hills started the track finals by winning the 3,200 relay (8:14.85) with Mohrdieck, Shane Williamson, Stephen Auw and anchor Tim Krashevsky. The Cougars closed the meet with their 1,600 relay team of Mohrdieck, Tyler Gonzalez, Daniel Nam and Krashevsky settling for second (3:31.74). Freshman Finnigan Schirmer overcame a 20-yard deficit on the final lap to lift Marengo to a dramatic victory (3:31.30).
Schirmer won the 110 hurdles (15.27), 100 dash (11.07) and 300 hurdles (40.54), as well.
Vernon Hills also advanced Aidan Williamson in the pole vault (second, 13-7) and Shane Williamson in the 1,600 (second, 4:33.14).
Carmel Catholic (12th, 13 points) did not have a state qualifier.