They came to the Palatine sectional with a roster of only 5 athletes, but it might as well been a hundred for the Elk Grove Grenadiers.
They weren't going to be a factor in the team race, but, after all, the sectional is all about getting qualifiers to Charleston and the state meet and that is just what Elk Grove did.
The Grenadiers qualified four individuals and a relay for the Class AA state meet at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium next week. It was the most qualifiers the Grenadiers have had in well over a decade.
"This is just a great way to thank your coach and to send him out on a high note," said senior Michael Karwowski, who led Elk Grove by qualifying in three events. "He has worked us so hard to get to this point and we wanted to show our appreciation to him."
Coach Jim Farrell, who will leave at season's end to become the head football coach at Buffalo Grove, could have had no better send off than the one he got from the Grens' 1,600-relay.
Karwowski along with Matt McEnery, Erik Ottosen and Jason Zerfahs shattered the school record with a second-place effort of 3:23.1.
"If we are going to finish second, it might as well be like that," Farrell said. "That was such a great race and a great effort by those kids. They have worked so hard for this."
Elk Grove's other qualifiers were Zerfahs in the 400 (49.5) and Eric Bergman in the shot put (52-9½).
While the ending was magical for Elk Grove, it was just another chapter in a magnificent season for Palatine. The hosts won the sectional title with 76 points and will populate the state meet with 7 individual qualifiers and 3 relays.
"Before the season we sat in a classroom and identified the meets we wanted to win and so far, we have won all of them," said Wisconsin-bound senior Mat Smoody. "Now we have the state meet next week and winning a trophy there is our goal now."
Smoody qualified in three events, although he will only run two next week. He anchored the Pirates 3,200-relay team of Alec Bollman, Matt Wiggan and Lukasz Kierys to a state berth.
The Pirates were one of seven teams to dip under the 8:03 cut. Rolling Meadows, Prospect, Hersey, Dundee-Crown, Stevenson and winner Conant (7:51.9) were the others.
Then the defending state champion in the 800 had to work overtime in winning the event. Barrington junior Ryan Mangone set the pace, but Smoody chased him down to win in 1:54.6. Mangone, Mike Tisza of Hersey, Craig Watson of Lake Park and Erik Solberg of Buffalo Grove also made it in under the state cut.
Smoody teamed with Tim Williams, Wiggan and Dan Sutton to win the 1,600-relay. The Pirates popped off their fastest time of the year to win in 3:20.0. Barrington also made the cut running a season best 3:32.5.
"For us to get down in 10 events is just incredible," Palatine coach John Nalley said. "It was a great night and the kids really did a great job and had a lot of fun too."
The race of the night was clearly the rematch in the 1,600-meters between Kevin Havel of Hersey and Jeff Thode of Conant. Both were sure-fire qualifiers anyway, but their duel on the backstretch that Hersey junior Erik Stanton got involved in was truly a classic battle.
But when the three hit the turn for home, this time it was Havel holding off Thode at the end to take his second sectional crown of the night in a state-qualifying 4:14.7. Thode and Stanton both ran under the state standard, as did Anthony Manfrin of Dundee-Crown and Tyler Hinckley of Conant.
While most eyes were on the track for the mile race, everyone including other athletes couldn't escape the anticipation of the discus competition.
State leader Dan Block of Lake Park did not disappoint as he launched a sectional-best 196-9 to win the sectional for the second straight time. Jeff Bobek of Fremd, Andrew Petro of Hersey, Matt Babicz of Prospect and Andre Higgs of Palatine also qualified.
Since the pressure was off, Block then threw the shot a remarkable 61-1 to win the event. Bergman, Bobek, Peter Rothbart of Wheeling Kevin Thomas of Lake Park and Matt Kennedy of Prospect also got through.
Rolling Meadows and Lake Park each had six individual qualifiers. The Mustangs were led by returning qualifiers Ty Kirk and Mick Viken.
Kirk won the triple jump (47-1.5) and took third in the long jump (22-10.5). Viken appears completely back from his foot injury after he cleared a sectional best 16-4.
Kyle Reid of Conant, who also qualified in both hurdle races, tied a school record with a vault of 15-3. James Shawley of Meadows, Greg Haugh and Dave Zillner of Lake Park and John Wood of Fremd also made it to state.