Rob Harvey saved his best for last Thursday at the DuPage Valley Conference Meet, and it was a good thing he did.
The Wheaton Warrenville South girls track coach scratched Purdue-bound middle distance standout Hope Schmelzle from the open 400 and decided to put her in a loaded lineup that also included Jessica Spera, Emma Dalan and anchor McKenna Kiple for the meet’s final event, the 1,600 relay.
Unbeknownst to Harvey, his team trailed West Aurora entering that final race 124-120. He thought they were down by only one point.
His quartet ran 4:07.57 to win the race, score 10 points and hold off the Blackhawks by a mere two points, 130-128, for the team title. West Aurora’s final relay finished fourth to score four team points.
“Those girls really love each other,” Harvey said as he watched the Tigers celebrate their victory afterward. “A lot of kids stepped up and did special things today and that’s what it’s all about.”
That was equally true of coach Teresa Towles’ Blackhawks, who got an inspired performance from senior sprinter Anita Saffa and junior standout Emma Spagnola to lead their charge.
Saffa, bothered by a strained Achilles’ tendon, struggled to the finish line running the anchor leg for West’s third-place 400 relay early in the meet that was delayed twice by lightning on a cold and rainy night.
“It was a gamble, trying to finish it,” said Joanna Wilson, coach of host school Naperville North. “The forecast didn’t look good for [Friday], either.”
Towles wanted to pull Saffa from her remaining three races, the 100, 400 and 200, but was talked out of it.
“I told her next [week’s sectional] is more important than this week,” Towles said, “but she wanted to try the 100. I told her she could but if she was struggling, that was it.”
Saffa gutted it out, winning the 100, getting edged at the wire by Glenbard North’s Simone Carr in the 400 before bouncing back to win the 200 to add 28 points to her team’s total.
“I heard footsteps [in the 100],” Saffa said. “I wasn’t going to push it but we needed points. In the 200 I was just going stride for stride and letting my arms carry me. I couldn’t really sprint.”
Spagnola cruised to victory in both the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, won the long jump (17-9.25) and took fourth in the high jump to account for 34 team points, the first time she hasn’t won those four events at this meet.
“I’m struggling, mentally, a little bit in the high jump,” Spagnola said.
Towles said she plans to sit down with her standout this week and discuss their options for the sectional, which could include plugging her into a relay lineup instead of the high jump.
“Anything is possible,” Towles said.
Schmelzle and Kipler, who will run next year at Miami of Ohio, switched spots in the lineup for WW South’s winning 3,200 relay that opened the meet. They were preceded by Erin Herrmann and Helen Majer.
Kipler then won the 800 and took third in the 400, while Schmelzle won the 1,600 and took second in the 3,200. Spera added thirds in the 100 hurdles and long jump.
West Aurora’s Kyla Walton (34-9) edged WW South’s Heidi Nassos (33-10.5) in the triple jump and the Tigers got wins from Amy Smith in the pole vault (10-6) and Jordan Elkey in the discus (116-0).
Congratulated on the team win by Towles, Harvey told her, “You guys makes us better.”
Other individual event winners included Naperville Central’s Tina Norris (shot put), Glenbard East’s Lindsay Graham (3200) and Naperville North’s Stephanie Mueller (high jump).
Glenbard North (Jacqueline Howard, Carr, Mary Beth Blank, Laila Pickens) won the 400 relay while the foursome of D’Jenne Egharevba, Rachel Skinner, Lauren Erickson and Mary Beth Blank claimed the 800 relay for Naperville Central.