Lincoln-Way West won the Class 2A Crete-Monee Regional last season, but the Warriors finished a disappointing ninth at the Normal West Sectional.
West’s Evan Mitchell, who took third out of 97 runners Saturday at the Joliet Central Steelmen Invitational, expects the Warriors to reach new heights this season.
“We’re hungry for more this year,’’ he said.
That includes challenging Lincoln-Way Central, the defending SouthWest Suburban Red champion and one of the top programs in the Southland.
“Last year they really dominated,’’ Mitchell said. “We’re going to battle for the conference title for varsity.’’
Mitchell ran the Channahon Community Park course Saturday in 15 minutes, 48.1 seconds, best among the Warriors. Oswego’s Peter Johnsrud (15:24.5) was the individual champion.
“It was a cold day, a little muddy, but I think I did really good,’’ Mitchell said. “It’s one of my course pr’s (personal records), so I’m really proud of it.’’
West’s top five were Mitchell, Peter Motto (16:22.3), Mitch Feehan (16:34.6), Kamil Stafinski (16:44.2) and Billy Stripeik (17:35.1). Feehan was the individual regional champion last season (16:56.5).
Mitchell said he improved during the track season, which “really motivated’’ him for this year.
“My goal is to go All-State (top 25), to be really good,’’ Mitchell said. “As a team, we’ve got a lot of young talent. We’re going to work really hard.’’
West will get a good indication Saturday of its progress and potential in a strong field that includes Sandburg at the Peoria Notre Dame Invitational.
Returning to form
When he’s healthy, Lincoln-Way East’s Ben Walczak has been among the Southland’s better distance runners. He was the individual champ as a junior at the 2013 Class 3A Normal Regional (15:36), but the season didn’t end well.
“I got sick just before sectionals. My body just shut down at the end of the (sectional) race,’’ Walczak said. “For the next half-year I was astonished. I didn’t know what to do.
“Over the summer I started running more miles, more miles. I grew my love for running again. Ever since then, I’ve been feeling amazing. I’ll run nine miles at 6:17 pace. I’m feeling soon I can break 15:30.’’
Walczak took fifth (15:59.9) to lead East at the Joliet Central Invitational. He called it “an OK time,’’ and looks forward to a strong season.
“My biggest goal, I’ve been dreaming about it. They say ‘Always envision your goal,’ keep it in the back of your head and that’s the way you achieve it. I really want to break 15:00,’’ Walczak said.
“It’s a long shot, but I’ve been eating healthy and going to bed earlier. I’m trying everything I can. … I’m pretty confident. I think I can pull through.’’
East’s Kristy Dertz was the top Southland finisher in the girls race at the Joliet Central meet. She was fifth (19:13.7) out of 102 runners.
Just getting started
With back-to-back victories at the Sept. 6 Lyons Invitational and Saturday’s Running Rams Invitational at Reavis, Sandburg is warming up for what could be a memorable season.
“This year, they’re going to be disappointed in anything but finishing first in any race they run in,’’ Sandburg coach John O’Malley said.
“That’s just how they’re wired, and that’s great. I don’t want to de-train that. And that’s the state meet included.’’
Next for Sandburg is Saturday’s Peoria Notre Dame Invitational at Detweiller Park, site of the Class 3A, 2A and 1A state finals in November.
The top three teams in each class earn a trophy.
“There’s 15 minutes, not a lot of margin for error there,’’ O’Malley said.
“Can’t call a timeout or anything.’’