IL stars at Arcadia: Brown sweeps again, Little wins 400, distance guys shine

Aaliyah Brown of Lincoln Way East repeats as the short sprint champion at Arcadia John Nepolitan/ESPNHS

It was indeed an evening to remember for the hearty dozen athletes who competed in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California. The boys and girls of Illinois proved themselves and the competition that they were worthy of competing on track and field biggest regular season stage.

Brown stakes her name as Illinois sprint queen

Over the past five years no name has been more synonymous in the Illinois girls sprinting world than Aaliyah Brown- that includes the spoils of victory and the agony of defeat.

The goals of California were pretty defined by coach and father Angelo Brown: “win both the 100 and 200.” That’s as about as a direct answer as one can give. But in reality, it’s what the athlete says and feels that’s more important. Aaliyah, according to her father, had been working extremely hard to re-obtain her mettle. “She said she feels ready! We will just have to see… if anything we will see where we are,” offered by Mr. Brown about an hour before the Invitational 100.

As Brown settled into her blocks, she appeared to be poised and relaxed. After the starting gun went off, there was no doubt of the outcome for Brown, but by how much? The margin of victory was incredible over her best friend and competitor Cessily Jones of Plainfield North 11.48-11.71. Brown’s amazing start enabled her pull away from a strong field and repeat as the Arcadia 100 dash queen. Only Shayla Sanders of Boyd Anderson (Lauderdale Lakes, FL) has a faster legal clocking.

Brown’s celebration was short lived because she needed to prep for the Invitational 200 that would be coming up in less than two hours.

The half-lap affair has always been more of a challenge for Brown but she is beginning to handle the longer race better. The question for many pundits: “would she be able to hold her max speed off the curve with a bad leg?” Mr. Brown previously stated that everything is fine in his camp.

Brown got out well but she was in a dog fight from the beginning with several competitors. As the race entered the last 60 meters or so, it appeared as though Arianna Washington of Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) was going to steal the victory. However, Brown had other plans. The defending champion reached down deep and right before the line, she dipped perfectly- and a few tense moments later the scoreboard read: 23.96 Brown, 23.97 Washington. The sweep was complete as well a feeling of redemption and joy for the ‘Brown Franchise.’

Little successfully completes triple play

Shamier Little (Chicago Lindblom) is as playful and fun to be around as any average teenager is. However, when she laces up her spikes and steps on to the track it is a completely different story. The state of Illinois has witnessed her wrath on numerous occasions over the past several years. Now, it’s the national stage that Little would begin her quest for stardom.

The first event of the evening for Little would be the Invitational 100H. This event has arguably been her best event. It didn’t take long for Little to find out how good the competition would be. She placed a respectable 4th but was a considerable distance from winner Traci Hicks of Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), won in a US#2 legal 13.63.

Little easily put behind her first 100H loss in over a year to step in the blocks for the 400. Her lifetime best of 53.83 was from last summer’s AAU Nationals. So far this season, she had only produced a 57.10.

That would change in less than a minute.

Little got out well but it was difficult to tell what her in race status was until after the first 200. Ms. Little was in great position entering the homestretch and up on the competition by a considerable distance. It was anticlimactic feeling as she destroyed a solid field by nearly two seconds. A happy but exhausted Little had little time to rejoice. “I gotta go and get ready for the 300H,” she quickly stated.

The final stanza of the day would obviously be the most interesting one because Little has stated on record that she may attempt the 400/300H double at the state championship next month. What better venue to test the mettle than at Arcadia?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for Little as she got behind the tremendous field from the start. But she didn’t quit, she didn’t have much gas in the tank after a grueling 400 win just 25 minutes prior. However, she was still able to prove that she is a gamer and finish strong and place 3rd in 42.95. The mark was a big personal best for the event and a nice consolation prize of US#11 to go home to Chicago with. “I was scared to get out too fast [because] I didn't wanna run out of gas, [but] I turned it on at the curve,” she said in reference to finishing strong after the initial sluggish start.

Fast 3200 finishes abound for the boys

The boys meet fortunes were just as fruitful as the ladies on all fronts- albeit from a distance running perspective.

From the onset, the prospects of a fast race that would yield some great marks didn’t look good. The pre-meet favorite Futsum Zeinasellassie decided shortly after the race got underway that he didn’t want to lead or do any of the arduous pace chores after only taking the initial circuit in 64.5.

Cameron Miller of Stockton (CA) took over but the entire field of 28 or so runners were still bunched together through 2:17 and 3:25 laps. Meanwhile, the Illinois contingent of Leland Later (New Trier), Michael Clevenger (Decatur MacArthur), Jack Keelan (Chicago St. Ignatius), and Tyler Yunk (Belvidere North) were content will sitting in the middle of the pack.

Race announcer David Mitchell began to urge the crowd to encourage the field to get moving. After coming through the mile in 4:33, things finally began to pick up. Zeinasellassie and Bernie Montoya of Cibola (AZ) pushed the pace furiously. Montoya bolted on the bell lap and actually surged away from the Indiana legend Zeinasellassie. But it would be for not as Zeinasellassie proved that he had more in the tank and blazed easily past Montoya on the final straight to win in 8:47.75.

The Illinois crew followed suit as good pursuers are supposed to. It was Clevenger that first came home with his teeth tightly clenched in 5th at 8:54.12. Later held off Keelan 8:55.61-8:55.86 to respectively take 11th and 12th- Yunk was the good caboose in 9:03.09.

In using Later as the spokesman, he assessed his feelings on the historical night: “I had no issue staying free from collisions, but the slow pace really surprised me in the first mile. It didn't feel like a 4:35, but everyone knew it was slow. When the pace dropped hard that 5th or 6th lap, I wasn't really expecting it, and maybe let too much room separate me and the pack. But I was totally zoned out for most of the race, and just being a part of that huge mass of talented runners urged me on more than anything.”

The rest of the best

Graylake Central senior Luke Zygmunt opened up the evening session with a solid performance in the seeded Mile by placing second in 4:14.90. It is a new personal best and IL#1 mark for the Butler University bound runner.

Zygmunt’s teammate Will Brewster placed 7th in the Invitational Mile running 4:15.77 and just ahead of Belvidere North’s Garrett Lee (4:17.75). Brewster stayed behind the pace that wasn’t overly fast in the beginning but it got hot once New Balance Indoor national champion Brad Nye of Davis (UT) took over and won in 4:08.80.

Will Crocker of Belvidere North took over the Illinois 800 ranks with a sensational 1:52.66 to place 7th in the Invitational section.

Junior Chad Weaver of Providence Catholic competed in the pole vault and cleared 14-0.75 to take 16th place.