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Boys Distance Relays

by Dave Devine

Boys 4x800 - Glenbard South Separates from the Pack

Admit it, you weren’t calling Glenbard South for this race either. Not with US#2 Cleveland Heights OH and US#3 Danbury CT in the field. Not with Nick Kuczwara anchoring for perennial power York IL. Not with Chris Bilbrew bringing it home for Smiths Station AL. It’s understandable if you doubted that the 4th place team from the Illinois state meet would steal the national title in the boys’ 4x800. They were fairly shocked themselves. After anchor Benjamin Matthies emerged from a tight cluster of teams for the diving victory, he was swarmed by wide-eyed teammates. “Oh my God!” one of them shouted, “We’re national champions!”

Minutes later, they were still wandering the infield, shaking their heads and shoving one another in disbelief. The win came down to the faith the earlier legs had in Matthies, a 47-second quarter-miler who hadn’t been in the lineup for the state meet. “He has the ability to go off,” leadoff Daniel Kuhlman said, “which is really helpful for us.” The other helpful ingredient was a burning desire to take down in-state rival York, which won the Illinois 4x800 title after Glenbard South served notice with a blistering prelim.

“We had some unfinished business with York,” third leg Timothy Konig ackowledged.

“They’re really tough competition,” number two man Timothy O’Brien added, “and we were lucky to beat them.”

Nothing was certain until the final strides of the race. Cleveland Heights, fronted by Dontave Cowsette’s 1:55.8, led the early going, with Wilmar’s Mustufa Yusuf right on his heels. Glenbard South’s Kuhlman (1:56.3) was simply trying to maintain contact.

“I know a lot of guys go out quick,” he said. “I knew I just had to pace myself well, evenly throughout.”

By the end of the second leg, Cleveland Heights still had the lead, but Glenbard South had moved alongside Wilmar into second and Kroy had advanced to fourth. Wilmar’s third runner, Kaafi Adeys, had a great carry of 1:53.7, which separated them from a chasing pack heading into the anchor. That’s when things got even tighter.

Glenbard South anchorman Matthies was ready. “I was talking to all these guys [his teammates] and they said as long as I was in it at the end, they were confident I could win.” No fewer than seven teams were bunched at the bell, with the meet announcer stoking the crowd to a frenzy. York’s Kuczwara (1:51.5) surged to the fore down the backstretch, while behind him Bilbrew (1:49.7) was bringing Smiths Station into the mix. Matthies (1:52.1) was patiently keeping Glenbard South in the equation, confident that his kick could carry the day.

Flying down the homestretch, the pack was four deep and three across, with no one ceding ground. “I thought I was going to be second or third,” Matthies said, “but they just kept slowing down and I just kept my pace.” When he plunged across the line in 7:40.57, he led six teams between 7:40 and 7:42, including runners-up Cleveland Heights (7:40.72) and Smiths Station (7:40.88).

“Had anybody had their day they would have won,” Konig said, “and thank God we were lucky enough.”

Matthies, a senior bound for Purdue next year, was elated to finish his prep career carrying the baton for his friends. “It’s awesome to go out on top. To win this is just amazing.”

Boys DMR - Good Knight for La Sierra

La Sierra CA, coming off the disappointment of an early morning letdown in the boys’ 4xMile, was keyed up for this relay. Bookended by Dylan and Spencer Knight—a pair of twins with sub-4:10 1600 capability—La Sierra had already won Arcadia in 10:09.51 and were gunning for sub-10 minutes here. A host of East Coast teams were waiting for them, not the least being Colts Neck NJ, with Craig Forys on anchor. Any team leading at the final exchange would need a sizeable advantage to hold off Forys and his well-established sub-4:05 chops.

Dylan Knight led off on the 1200 leg, charging to the fore in the early laps then battling Kroy (York IL) leadoff Nick Kuczwara down the homestretch to hand off nearly even. Dylan split 3:03.3, just behind Kuczwara’s 3:02.9. Waiting for the baton was La Sierra’s 53-second quartermiler Jared Drinkard. “I wanted to be in the lead for Jared,” Dylan said later, “because he’s not a sub-50 guy, so we needed some time.”

Drinkard battled hard with the swifter 400 legs swarming up around him, getting it to La Sierra 800-man Steve Norton within striking distance of leaders Kroy and Wilmar MI. “It was hard,” Drinkard said, “but I did my best, trying to hold off some of those guys. I didn’t want to leave too big a gap to the guys up front.”

Norton, with a 1:55 PR, was carrying the weight of the morning’s disappointment into his leg. “We were all pretty disappointed in how we did [in the 4xMile] so coming into this race we knew we had to step it up.” Step it up he did, hanging tight with a resurgent Ridgewood NJ team which emerged from the pack to contend at the final exchange.

La Sierra anchor Spencer Knight asserted himself immediately after taking the stick from Norton, blowing out to the front of a chase pack that included Wilmar and Ridgewood. Most worrisome was the proximity of Colts Neck, moored in ninth but with Forys waiting to eat up the real estate in between. Through the opening 800 (2:09), Knight was running scared with Michael Fry of Kroy fighting to stay close. Forys had made up three seconds after the first 400 (60.3) and 5 seconds by the 800 (2:03.5). Aiding the cause was Guilderland’s Brian Rhodes-Devey, largely ignored until his inspired run pulled himself and Forys within ten yards of Knight heading into the bell lap.

That’s when Knight, who’d been keeping track of his pursuers, initiated a long kick to secure the win. “Each lap I looked up at the big screen and saw [Forys] getting closer. I thought I better do something on the last lap. So I did, and I looked up again and he was going away from me. I was like, Yes, I’m actually going to do this.”

La Sierra anchor Spencer Knight

Just as he had at the Penn Relays, Forys was throwing down a gutsy effort, but his stunning 4:04.0 carry wasn’t enough to overcome La Sierra’s lead, and Colts Neck again settled for runner-up spot in a major relay. “My plan was if I run 4:12,” Spencer Knight said, “he’d have to run very fast to catch me. He’s great, but I didn’t think he could do it.”

The plan worked, with an elated Knight charging across the line in 10:01.79, with Forys crossing in 10:04.15, Byram Hills (Armonk, NY) up for third in 10:04.20 and a depleted Rhodes-Devey fading to 7th.

“I crossed and I couldn’t believe we’d done it,” Knight said minutes later. “I’d never won something like this, never.”

With both Knights joining NON 800 winner Cory Primm at UCLA next year, it’s likely they’ll have more opportunities for distance relay victories in the very near future.

Collegiate anchor Chris Williams
Boys 4xMile - Collegiate Takes the Field to School

Despite the early start time and sparsely-populated stadium, this race was widely anticipated for its possible record implications. The year-old meet record of 17:18.33 was certainly on the table, with some speculating that a perfect race could bring the assembled teams toward the Promised Land of a sub-17:10. In the end, neither mark was taken down, though Collegiate of New York threatened the meet record with their 17:19.42 victory.

“The whole race was slow,” Collegiate leadoff Dylan Trotzuk said afterwards. “No one ran quite what they were supposed to. I guess the pressure and running really early in the morning messed things up a bit.”

Behind legs of 4:20.8 (Trotzuk), 4:22.2 (Itse Begho) and 4:20.9 (Dwayne Alexis), Collegiate got the baton to anchor Chris Williams just behind Wilmar HS closer Mohamed Bedel. The tall, smooth-striding Williams briefly stalked Bedel before taking off in pursuit of the victory. “I just really wanted that national title,” he said later. “It would have been awesome to get the record, obviously, but just getting the win is fabulous.”

Glastonbury anchorman Donn Cabral offered sufficient cause for concern. He was flying up through the chase pack and closing on Williams heading into the final lap.

“I know Don’s a very good runner,” Williams said, “but I had a lot of confidence in my kick too. I wanted to make sure that the last 500 I’d really be able to dig in and throw down something good. Around 800 I was slightly worried that Don was coming up, but I just tried to stay calm.”

Staying calm and maintaining control, Williams drew away in the last lap and carried his appreciative team to the national title with a 4:15.5 anchor. Glastonbury finished second in 17:24.49 (Cabral 4:15.9) while third went to Jackolope Track Club (Pinckney, MI) in 17:28.03.

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