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A true distance classic as frosh sets 2-mile record
By Dave Oberhelman | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/14/2009 12:00 AM

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The distance race many wanted to see at the Midwest Distance Gala was the mile.

Lukas Verzbicas doubled their pleasure.

The freshman phenom from Lincoln-Way Central, taking a break from triathlon training and competing for the first time since setting a 5,000-meter record at the Nike Indoor Nationals, outbid Maryland's Solomon Haile to win in 8 minutes, 53.98 seconds. That broke the existing national freshman 2-mile record of 9:04.4.

Athletes from 16 states competed Saturday in the fifth annual Midwest Distance Gala, at Benedictine University. Some ran for the last time as preps.

"It's a little bit sad, but I'm more just real excited to go out and train at Minnesota," said Marmion's Andrew Larsen, who finished sixth in the 2-mile at 9:13.70. "(York's) Steve Sulkin is going to be my teammate next year, and I'm really looking forward to tearing it up with him this summer and in Minnesota."

The men's mile had created enough of a buzz to pull the likes of Waubonsie Valley coach Kevin Rafferty out of a wedding reception, still in tie and slacks.

It didn't disappoint, though early co-favorite Jeff Thode of Conant faltered after coming through 800 meters in 2:01. Andrew Springer of Rhode Island ran the best time in the country this outdoor season, 4:02.70, with Geneva's Andrew Nelson fourth at 4:09.33 and Prospect's Chris Hayek sixth at 4:23.23.

At the IHSA boys state meet Dundee-Crown's Anthony Manfrin had been disqualified in the 1,600 nearly upon reaching the medal podium. The sophomore's time of 4:15.24 offered some solace.

"I would have liked to have run a little bit faster, but not a bad way to end it," he said.

St. Charles North's Max Clink and York's Patrick Morgan finished eighth and ninth, respectively, with solid times below 1:54 in the men's 800. In the women's event, Naperville North's Michelle Stratton had to rid herself of the boxed-in "rabbit" meant to take the field out fast, and placed seventh. Downers Grove South's Grace Magliola's took sixth.

"I didn't want to lose the pack," the Illinois-bound Stratton said. "I thought it was more important than staying with the rabbit."

At 2:14.90 in the 800, West Chicago junior Annette Eichenberger finished behind only Wisconsin state champ Katie Hill. Eichenberger looked good for a late surge then "I kind of felt my legs lock up a little bit," she said.

Before cheering Manfrin and Nelson in the men's mile, St. Charles East's Lizzy Hynes battled Tri-Valley's Stephanie Brown at the same distance. The two seniors were shoulder to shoulder with 250 meters left when Brown took off.

"I was surprised I stayed with her the way I did," the Boston College-bound Hynes said of the recent Class 1A 800 winner. "I was expecting her to just blow me out of the water."

Speaking of water, there were the Smith twins of Fenton, Justin and Nathan, running their first steeplechase. They discovered something they can take to Augustana.

"If you run with a plan," Nathan said, "you're not going to do good in it."