Driscoll grad Wilk is still on the run

Updated 2/25/2015 8:56 PM

Several times a year we run columns on "college achievers" -- former DuPage County high school student-athletes who made good at the collegiate level. Here we've got collegiates and beyond.

Keeping the pace


As Driscoll's last athlete to represent the since-shuttered school in a state final, Jeremy Wilk holds a warm spot in our heart.

Wilk, who placed fourth in the Class 1A 800-meter run his senior year in 2009, went on to an All-America career at Grand Valley State. He hasn't stopped.

Last June Wilk set a Grand Valley State men's 800 record of 1 minute, 49.40 seconds at the American Miler's Club meet in Indianapolis. On Feb. 13, indoors, he ran it in 1:49.36 running unattached at the Grand Valley State Big Meet. That qualified Wilk to run this Saturday at the USATF Indoor Championships at the Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center, Roxbury Community College, Boston.

(Meanwhile, the finance and marketing grad is a volunteer assistant coach at Ashland University in Ohio, working with middle-distance and distance runners and doing some recruiting. On Monday Ashland's men's and women's programs each were both ranked No. 1 by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, the first time they've simultaneously held the top spot.)

Since the USATF meet does not offer an 800-meter run this year, Wilk will run the 1,000. Should he advance, the finals are Sunday.

A look at the entries for the Indoor Championships reveals two superstars with local ties in the 2-mile run -- Jacobs' Evan Jager and Neuqua Valley's Chris Derrick. Earlier this month Derrick won his third consecutive USATF Cross Country title, in Boulder, Colorado -- among myriad honors the Stanford graduate has accrued.

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West Chicago graduate Annette Eichenberger, who went on to run at Air Force, had qualified for the USATF Indoor women's 1,000 meters but scratched out of the race.

Getting her kicks

What better time to be in La Manga, Spain, where it's 60 degrees. That's the current location of Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, the Waubonsie Valley graduate, 2010 Illinois Gatorade player of the year and former two-time Herrmann Trophy candidate at the University of Illinois.

On Feb. 19 the second-year pro was called up to the 22-member U.S. Under-23 squad for three friendly matches starting Thursday. DiBernardo and Co. play the U-23 teams from Japan on Thursday, Norway on Feb. 28 and England on Monday. U-23 is the last age group before the U.S. Women's National Team.

A corner kick specialist, DiBernardo has been called into senior camps before. In 2012 she helped her side win the U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan, playing in all five games and starting two with 2 goals and an assist.


The Bannister Line

Hearts fluttered Feb. 14 at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston. Twelve men, collegiates and professionals, broke the four-minute barrier for the mile.

Running sub-four is no longer as incomprehensible as it was when Roger Bannister became the first to break the barrier in 1954. In fact as of Tuesday Track & Field News listed 439 American men alone who have done it.

Still, the four-minute mile is literally a breathtaking achievement. Among the latest batch of Americans to do so was Glenbard West graduate Mike Lederhouse, a junior at Georgetown.

Pacing with that front group in Boston, Lederhouse sliced nearly four seconds off his personal best in the mile, and that had been as part of a Hoyas relay, often timed slightly more liberally than an open event. Lederhouse finished the Valentine mile in 3:59.54, the best 10th-place finish anyone could want.

It's not verified, but we'll suggest Lederhouse may be the first Glenbard West graduate to break four minutes since Ken Popejoy, who did it multiple times, first in 1972 in a manually timed 3:59.7.

In the money

Wheaton's Jeffrey Swider-Peltz, a member of the US Speedskating men's long track World Cup roster last fall and the World Cup roster this winter, finished eighth in the mass start event at the World Single Distance Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands, on Feb. 15. He was the sole United States skater in the field of 24.

Jeffrey Swider-Peltz is part of the celebrated multitude, Team Swider-Peltz. His mother, Nancy Swider-Peltz, was a world record-setter and four-time Olympic speedskater; Nancy Jr. was a 2010 Olympian, ninth in the women's 3,000 meters and fourth in team pursuit.

That's the skating side of Team Swider-Peltz, which has also included one of Nancy Sr.'s trainees, 2014 Olympian Brian Hansen.

Jeffrey's father, known as Jeff, is the defensive line coach for Wheaton College's football team. His other son, Johnny, plays quarterback for his uncle, Thunder head coach Mike Swider, who also has a son on the squad, Mikey -- who recently won a wrestling title at the College Conference of Illinois-Wisconsin championships.

Phew. Back to Jeffrey Jr.

A senior at Wheaton College, he and Nancy Sr. drove to a training facility in Milwaukee for a morning skate, then back so Jeffrey could attend afternoon classes.

The great news for this hardworking student-athlete is, as the website for the International Skating Union stated in its Heerenveen recap, his eighth-place finish "secured funding for next season." Unless you're Apolo Ohno with your picture on a Wheaties box, that's important.

Hail the Pin King!

Before the end of the wrestling season our pal Al Sears announced he was stepping down as wrestling coach at Belleville West after 14 years. The 1981 Wheaton Central graduate ended with two wrestlers on the podium -- and acknowledgment of his April induction into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame.

Sears is known as the "Pin King" for his 122 falls (pins) at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville from 1982-85, acknowledged as the NCAA record. He was the Cougars' heavyweight on national champions in 1984 and 1985.

Sears was informed of his IWCOA honor earlier this year by his SIUE coach, Larry Kristoff -- "an honor in itself," Sears said.

Coincidentally, Kristoff was announced as an IWCOA hall of famer at the 1981 IHSA state meet, when Sears placed third at heavyweight for Wheaton Central.

"I had just signed with him and never imagined it would happen in my future," Sears said.

His Belleville West teams went 208-99 in duel meets. Sears produced 16 state medalists and four who advanced to a championship match, including Class 3A 138-pound champion Mech Spraggins in 2013.

At this point Sears prefers to spend more time with his wife, Tonya, grown daughters Mateja and Kiarra, and the deer he hunts.

"I'm a blessed guy who got a lot of help from patient parents, coaches and teachers, and now from my wife, kids and principals, athletic directors, assistant coaches and athletes," the Pin King said.


Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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