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Boys Track: St. Charles North Tops Area Teams At Kane County Meet

While most of this spring’s outdoor track season has taken place in weather more fit for indoor competition, warm temperatures and blue skies greeted athletes at the Kane County boys track meet held at West Aurora on Friday.

Geneva and Kaneland both came out on top, tying for first with 74 points each. West Aurora followed in third place with 65 points.

St. Charles North had the best showing among area schools, finishing fourth with with 56 points. Burlington Central took sixth place with 44 points while South Elgin followed close behind in seventh with 40 points.

St. Charles East took tenth with 32 points, Elgin finished 11th with 31 while Streamwood ended up in 12th with 10. Larkin finished 14th with four points, while Dundee-Crown came in 15th with one point to round out area schools.

Declan Duggan was the North Stars’ lone individual champion, finishing first in the 3,200 with a time of 9:39.04.

“To win this meet as a senior, it’s a big deal,” said Duggan. “It feels good, I really can’t put it in to words. It’s a good feeling.”

Oshay Hodges placed in four events for the North Stars. The multi-talented athlete took second in the high jump (6-7) and triple jump (43-08.75), fifth place in the long jump (20-09) and was a part of the North Stars’ third place 1,600 relay.

Hodges, who has been battling a heel injury, said he was surprised by his high jump performance.

“I almost got 6-9 which would have been a personal best. I know I can make that jump, I’m pretty sure I can get it next week,” said Hodges, who finished second in the high jump at last year’s 3A state meet.

Burlington-Central’s Clint Kliem set a Kane County record in the 1,600 meters, winning the race with a time of 4:18.76. The senior broke the old record, set by St. Charles North’s Matt Desilva in 2006, by just .08 seconds.

“We’ll see a lot of these teams in the state series, so it was just great prep for that,” said Kliem. “The best of the best will be there and this is how I’ll need to preform.”

Kliem was also part of the Rockets’ second-place 1,600 and 3,200 relays teams.

Seventh-place South Elgin was paced by Jeff Broger, who took first in both the 200 (22.41) and 400 (49.67). The junior was pleasantly surprised by his double championships.

“My goal was just to win the 400. I was really nervous about the 200, I had no idea what to expect from that,” said Broger, who set a personal record in the 400.

St. Charles East’s 1,600 relay team of Carter Reading, Jake Mazanke, Danny Newman and Nick Devor finished first with a time of 3:22.35.

Mazanke also took home second place in the 800 (1:53.56), finishing behind Geneva’s Peter Archibald who set a Kane County record in the race.

“Racing against Peter is always fun, he’s a great athlete,” said Mazanke. “It’s a little bit of blow not to win, but it’s not the last time we’ll race. I’m sure come state finals, we’ll be neck and neck again.”

Elgin’s Devante King was the champion of the 110 hurdles race and the anchor of the Maroons’ first-place 4×200 relay team. King was also a part of Elgin’s second place finish in the 400 relay.

King said he had spent most of his time in recent practices focusing on relay races, not the hurdles.

“I just winged it. I hadn’t practiced the hurdles for two weeks straight,” said King.

Streamwood’s 400 relay team of Blake Holder, Art Beese, Sean Patterson and Austin Mugnai took first place (42.67). Holder, the Sabres’ anchor, ran for the first time since sustaining a hamstring injury on Apr. 14.

“We won this race last year, so it’s not a surprise,” said Holder. “But it’s definitely a big goal that we had, and we got it. Now we just need stay hungry so we can get a conference, sectional and state championship.”

Holder, the 2011 Kane County 100 meter dash champion, did not run any individual races on Friday but said he plans on running the 100 at sectionals in two weeks.

Larkin’s Cyrus French made the finals of the 400 and finished fourth (50.88). Dundee-Crown’s top-finisher was R.J. Schmidt who placed sixth in the 110 hurdles (16.26).

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times and Elgin Courier. It appears here.

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One More Miracle?: Saturday’s Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Saints (-3.5) vs 49ers

The second round of the playoffs kick off with what will probably be the most competitive game of the weekend. The Saints, who have never won a playoff game in an opposing team’s stadium, will most likely have to win two such games to reach the Super Bowl.

A lot of people seem to be already penciling the Saints in to the NFC title game, but this will not be an easy game. New Orleans doesn’t play as well on the road and their defense is average to below average.  The Niners boast one of the leagues’ best defenses, they’re one of the healthiest playoff teams in recent memory, and they have the luxury of home field advantage.

I still think the Saints will win, but it won’t be easy, and I will not be shocked if the 49ers pull off the upset.

Unsung Hero: Robert Meacham, NO; The Niners defense has been great in 2011, but they have been susceptible to the big play. Meacham and Devery Henderson should be able to slip by the Niners’ secondary for a big play or two.

Pick: Saints 24 49ers 22

Patriots (-13.5) vs Broncos

For the Broncos to win this game, everything will have to break their way. They’ll have to get constant pressure on Tom Brady and force him into a few turnovers. Tim Tebow will have to play a perfect game, and the Denver running game will have to consistently move the chains and eat up clock.

It won’t be easy, but the way things have gone for the Broncos this season, nothing is out of the question.

Still, I think this is the end of the road for Broncos and their folk hero. In his first career road playoff start, Tebow won’t be able to keep up the scoring pace with Brady, Gronk, Welker and the rest of the Pats offense.

But really, who knows, it’s Tebow.

Unsung Hero: Patrick Chung, NE; The Pats can’t let Tebow come up with big plays, and they should be able to force him into a few turnovers. Watch for Chung to make some noise with a forced turnover or two.  Chung, one of the best players on the Patriots’ below average defense, missed most of the season’s second half, including the first meeting with the Broncos.

Pick: Patriots 38 Broncos 14

 

 

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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part Two, NFC

Preseason Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Falcons over Rams

Eagles over Bucs

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Falcons

Saints over Eagles

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Packers over Saints

I didn’t do as well with my NFC picks, I picked five of the eight playoff teams correctly. Picking the Bucs to earn a wild card slot really damages my limited credibility. I knew a big reason they won 10 games in 2010 was their incredibly easy schedule. But still, I saw a very talented roster led by quarterback Josh Freeman that I assumed would only get better with another year of experience. However, when the Buccaneer ship started to sink, that team flat out quit. I’m pretty sure the Colts would have beat them by four or five touchdowns if they had played in week 17. Raheem Morris deserved to lose his job, a coach just can’t let things get that ugly, that quick. A quick aside, there are rumors that the Bucs are looking at former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman to replace Morris. Meh, that would be an uninspiring hire.

Actually, I’m not sure, picking the Rams to win the NFC West might be more embarrassing. Again, I saw a young team that barely missed out on the playoffs (albeit with a losing record), led by a young, talented quarterback, that should have only gotten better with a year’s experience. Alas, Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy and the Rams never got on track. I also didn’t expect the NFC West to feature one of the best teams in the NFL in 2011. The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers were great from start to finish, and the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks never had a chance.

I don’t regret my Eagles pick. The Eagles brought in a ton of new talent this season that didn’t really mesh until it was too late. That’s not all too surprising, considering the lockout washed out the offseason. Philly is expected to fire offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator (great idea, right?) Juan Castillo and replace him with Steve Spagnoulo, former Rams head coach and defensive coordinator of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants. If they draft or sign a legit linebacker or two, watch out for the Eagles in 2012.

Revised Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Falcons over Giants

Saints over Lions

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Giants

Saints over 49ers

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Packers over Saints

As with my AFC picks, I’m sticking with my preseason conference championship pick, Packers over Saints. The Saints have looked sensational lately, they’ve been playing as well as any team in the NFL since their baffling loss to the Rams in week eight. While the Packers have cruised to a outstanding 15-1 record, one can argue that they have never looked as dominant as the Saints have since the team’s bye in week 11. The Saints have not just been beating fellow NFC playoff teams, they’ve been embarrassing them. They’ve beaten the Giants by 25, the Lions by 14 and the Falcons by 29.

However, all three of those games came at the Super Dome. If the Saints are to make it to Indianapolis, they’ll most likely have to win two road games, in San Francisco and Green Bay (Well, not if the Giants or Falcons knock off the Packers, but we’ll get to that later…).

I think a Saints/49ers match-up would be close and entertaining, but I like the Saints to win. The Niners defense, led by All-Pro lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, has been superb this season, but San Fran just won’t have the offense to keep pace with Drew Brees and company.

If the Saints end up playing the Packers in the conference championship game, I like the Packers to ride their home field advantage to a victory. I tend not to believe that home field advantage plays a huge role in determining a winner, but I believe it does in this circumstance. The Saints are so dominant in the Super Dome, and their offense is best in an indoor, controlled atmosphere. While the Packers’ offense is best in dome conditions, I think the Saints would be two or three point favorites in a home game against the Packers. But, Lambeau is Lambeau. The frozen tundra, where the Packers have just lost two playoff games in its history (2003 to the Falcons and 2008 to the Giants).

The Packers/Saints game in week one was sensational, and I believe a re-match will be as well. I like the Packers in a tight game, just like week one. I just can’t see the Saints defeating the Packers at Lambeau in January. I would love to be proved wrong.

On the other hand, I would not be shocked to see the Packers lose in the divisional round against the Giants, or even the Falcons. I think the Giants especially pose dangerous match-up problems for the Packers.

To beat Green Bay, you must be able to generate an effective pass rush with your front four. You can’t afford to sacrifice coverage by constantly blitzing linebackers and safeties against Aaron Rodgers. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants definitely have the ability to do that. Throw in the fact that the Packers enter the playoffs with an injury-riddled offensive line, Rodgers could face a lot of pressure in a potential match-up with the Giants.

The Giants offense should also put some fear into the Packers’ faithful. The Packers’ defense gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL this season. Eli Manning has entered the elite level of quarterbacks and, if they’re all healthy, Manning will be working with one of the best recruiting corps in the NFL (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham).

The Packers have also had trouble stopping the run, and just stopping offenses in general, as they forced the least amount of punts of any team this season. The Giants haven’t run a ton this season, but with a solid O-line, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants should have the ability to hold the ball and control the pace of the game.

All that said, I still believe the Packers will get to Super Bowl XLVI. Do I think they’ll defend their championship belt in Indy? I’ll post my Super Bowl and award picks soon.

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