Boys Track Preview: Neuqua Valley’s Derrick And Bender Among Local Contenders At State Meet

Runners get ready for the 400 relay at last week’s Naperville North sectional.

When Neuqua Valley seniors Mark Derrick and Jacob Bender step onto the blue track at the boys track and field state finals in Charleston this weekend, they will be looking to improve on their top-six finishes at last year’s state meet.

Both have a good shot.

Derrick – who finished sixth in the 3,200 last year – comes into this year’s meet with the third best 3A qualifying time (9:12.37). And Bender – last year’s runner-up in the 400 – enters with the second highest qualifying time (48.94), just .04 seconds behind Stepfan Thelemaque of Plainfield East.

The North Carolina-bound Derrick could place in two individual events.  He finished first in the 1,600 at the Naperville North sectional with the 11th best 3A qualifying time (4:18.30).

“Running both, it’s always tiring, but it kind of depends on the day. I ran a double at DGS and felt great after both of them,” Derrick said last week. “After the mile (at last Thursday’s sectional), it was like ‘Oh my God, this second race is going to be rough,’ but I was able to pull through.”

Derrick and the Nebraska-bound Bender are among the 20 individuals and 11 relays from local schools that will be competing at this weekend’s 118th annual boys track and field state finals.

Neuqua Valley will have three other individuals competing in Charleston: Senior Taylor Soltys in the 3,200, senior Andrew Peterson in the pole vault and junior Carlos Varela-Hernandez in the discus.

Varela-Hernandez – who qualified for state in the discus last year but didn’t place – will be a contender to place this weekend after having the 10th best 3A qualifying throw (164-1).

The Wildcats also qualified three relays for state: The 400 team of Bender, Joseph Younis, James Sampson and Eric Metoyer, the 800 team of Younis, Nick Rafacz, Dennis Thurow and Metoyer, and the 3,200 team of Andy Martinez, Kevin Skrip, Xander Jacobson and Rolan Dewgard.

Waubonsie Valley thrower Riley Kittridge has a good chance to place in both the shot put and discus. The junior placed first in both events at the Naperville North sectional with the fifth best 3A qualifying throw in the shot put (56-6) and eighth best in the discus (164-5).

“My goals down there are maybe not to win, but at least get personal records and do my best,” Kittridge said.

Warriors senior Jamaal Bearden also qualified in both throwing events.

Waubonsie senior Kyle Schafer won the 300 hurdles at sectionals and is a contender to do the same at state. His sectional run of 38.20 was the third best 3A qualifying time, just .08 seconds behind Derrick Willies of Rock Island.

Schafer also qualified for state as part of the Warriors’ 400 and 1,600 relay teams. He will be joined in the 400 by Austin Ameri, Tony Durns and Demitrius Gray and in the 1,600 by Ameri, Gray and John Burke.

The Warriors’ 1,600 relay qualified for state with a time of 3:19.07, the third best mark in 3A.

Waubonsie triple jumper James Travis will also be competing at state after placing first at sectionals with a jump of 44-1.

Naperville Central will be led in Charleston by its three state-qualifying relay squads: The 800 team of Brandon Lau, Tyler Haines, Kevin Kulling and Sam Bransby, the 1,600 team of Haines, Bransby, Kulling and Brad Kouchoukos and the 3,200 team of Kouchoukos, Forrest Thayer, Ethan Brodeur and Christian Schafer.

The 800 and 1,600 relays qualified for state despite entering sectionals with seed times above the state standard.

“We weren’t seeded at getting any qualifying state times and we weren’t in good lanes, but we didn’t let that discourage us,” Haines said.

The Redhawks also had three individuals qualify for state – Mike Juretschke and Kevin Rzepczynski in the pole vault and David Goodalis in the discus.

Naperville North had three individuals qualify for state – senior James Kerns in the 100 and 200, senior Nick Lyon in the pole vault and senior Kareem Midani in the long jump.

Midani earned second place at sectionals by jumping 22-7.5, more than a foot farther than his previous personal best.

“I wasn’t expecting to jump that far. I was expecting to get close to qualifying, but jumping that far, I honestly had no idea,” said Midani, who was only jumping 19 feet indoors earlier this spring. “I didn’t just make it to state, I passed that. It was awesome.”

Metea Valley had four individuals and one relay qualify out of the St. Charles North sectional. Twin brothers Joe and Matt Stewart both qualified in the 3,200. Joe won the race with a time of 9:15.27, the sixth best 3A qualifying mark, while Matt came in third (9:28.16).

The Stewart twins will be joined in Charleston by junior Colin Yorke (1,600), senior Ben Hulett (300 hurdles) and 1,600 relay team of Tre’sean Mackey, Alan Williams, Aaron Laskey, and William King.

Benet junior Anton Vershay qualified for the 2A state meet by finishing second at last Friday’s Lisle sectional. The Redwings’ 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams also qualified for state.

I wrote this story for the Naperville Sun. It appears here.

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