Bender's comeback in 4x4 seals win for Neuqua Valley at Proviso West

It is great when the team championship of a track meet comes down to the final event on the program, the 4 x 400 Meter Relay. Such was the instance Saturday at the Proviso West Invitational when 5 schools all had the shot to win the team championship.

No announcements were made on who was leading going into the final events, but it was believed that York had a slight lead going into the relay.

West Suburban Silver rivals Lyons Township and Downers Grove North were battling for the lead going into the final exchange with Neuqua Valley leading the chase pack. The gap at the final exchange between the two schools and Neuqua was about 30 meters.

That is not big enough of a gap for Neuqua's Jacob Bender, who had earlier won the 400 Meter Dash. Bender made up the gap within the first 200 meters and passed Downers Grove North's Jordan Munar on the last backstretch when Munar unexpectingly moved out to lane 2. Bender took advantage and moved right by and cruised to a relay win. His final split was 49.3. Watch his final leg here.

The Neuqua Valley coaching staff led by Head Coach Mike Kennedy approached the scorer’s table just to find out the final score. When told by officials that they had one by 1 point over defending state champion Lake Park, Kennedy's mouth basically dropped to the floor of the Proviso West fieldhouse in a happy shock.

According to a recap of their performance on their website, Neuqua did not run at full strength. They put different athletes in different events. Good idea to see how they would perform in an early season meet. You can see when the Wildcats are at full strength in May; this team will be reckoned with come state meet time.

"The top prize for me this year would be winning the 400 Meters," said Bender after his 400 Meter win running 50.29. "But my main goal is to win a team championship. That is what I am all about. I'll run whatever events I need to for the team."

This invitational was the first big meet for Lake Park without it's big three: Jeremy & Jermaine Kline, and Zach Ziemek. From the performances put out by the Lake Park athletes, it looks like the Lancers will again be in contention for a team championship in May.

Scott Fillip led the charge by winning the 55 Meter High Hurdles in 7.92. He then returned to the Long Jump pit and popped a personal best 23' 4" to win the event over previous Illinois leader Matt Harris of Lyons Township. He had to make some adjustments after his first few jumps. "I did not stick around after my last jump before Harris made his last jump. I did not want to see what was going to happen."

Coach Jay Ivory will have more choices with who he puts where after great performances by Marcus Jegelde and Shawn Koch. Jegelde looked extremely strong winning the Sophomore Long and Triple Jumps. Both efforts are ranked top 5 state wide.

Koch is the one that was the big surprise in this meet for Ivory. A former baseball player who is out for track for his first full season, the junior popped a 46' 1" jump, a personal best by almost 2 feet. "I really don't have any distance goals. All I want to do is get better in each meet and help the team," Koch said afterwards.

Kevin Spejcher cruised to an easy win in the High Jump with a 6' 8" effort.

York finished 3rd, 3 points behind Neuqua Valley. The Dukes had two track winners with a winning effort in the 4 x 800 Meter Relay when Junior Chris May broke the race open during the third leg. Sophomore Nathan Mroz withstood a middle race surge by Wheaton North's Paul Steeno and moved the last 200 meters to a 1 second win in the 1 Mile Run.

"My coach wanted me to run an even split, but we kind of went out slow (2:17 at the half)," Mroz said afterwards. "When Steeno went, I just wanted to stay with him and try to outkick him in the last 200."

York did get a field event win with Nick Sgarbossa's win in the Pole Vault. 5 other competitors missed on their attempts at 14' 3". On Sgarbossa's 3rd attempt at the height, he cleared to win. He went on to tie a personal record when he cleared 14' 9". "Every third attempt is nerve racking but you just have to get down to it," he said afterwards.

This meet usually has good distance performances. The same could be said on Saturday. in the 3200 Meter Run, Nick Kirk of Downers Grove South and Kevin Proffitt of crosstown Downers Grove North exchanged the lead over the last 3 laps. Kirk found another gear in the last 200 and moved away with a 2 second win. His time of 9:29.69 is a 17 second improvement on his previous personal best. "I was kind of worried in the last 400," Kirk said about Proffitt's kick. "I was kind of feeling weird because my throat was dry but I just decided to stay with him."

Junior Alex Ryan of Wheaton North broke away from the pack at the 400 and won the 800 by 3 seconds. "The plan was to make a move during the third lap," Ryan said afterwards. "My time was a PR. I am happy about that."