MW Distance Festival: IL 2A stars shine bright on night of many PRs

Eventual winner Russell Sandvold (center) battles Will Brewster (right) for the boys 2-mile lead. Brandon Gittleman/ESPNHS

MDF Home Page

Midwest Distance Festival meet official Mike Newman said he knew it was going to be a fast night, with lots of PRs, when Brookfield East (Wis.) junior Trenton Daniels crushed his previous best to win the 800 in 1:53.59.

That's the "slow" heat of the 800.

But if you really wanted "fast," on a night with no sprint events, the pinnacle of speed came during the final lap of the boys' mile, when McArthur (Decatur, Ill.) senior Michael Clevenger exploded into the lead on the backstretch. The startling move carried him around the curve and into the homestretch, where no one was able to catch him and he claimed victory in the night's final race with a US#2 and state-leading 4:09.01.

Clevenger's finish was also the second part of a nice subplot to the evening: A showcase for Illinois' Class AA talent. Two weeks earlier downstate in Charleston, Clevenger and rival Will Brewster of Grayslake Central engaged in a pair of tactical state meet 1,600 and 3,200 battles in the heat, with Clevenger sweeping and neither athlete close to a PR. They watched as the "big boys" for Class AAA got the prime-time glory in that weekend's final session.

But Saturday each had a single race in much friendlier conditions. The result was a five-second PR for Clevenger (a timer caught him at 1,600 in 4:07.55, compared to his 4:13.34 best) and a whopping 15-second PR for Brewster.

Now, Brewster didn't actually win, in the 2 mile. He was nipped in the night's closest finish by Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) senior Russell Sandvold, US#3 9:04.87 to US#4 9:04.89. Brewster went through the 3,200 in 9:02.77 compared to his previous PR of 9:17.53.

The fast heat of the 800 was exciting and produced career-bests as well, as MICDS (St. Louis, Mo.) senior Amos Bartelsmeyer triumphed in the final stretch with a US#20 1:51.07, slicing 1.69 seconds off his PR. All three boys' distance finals saw upsets, as the top seeds finished fourth, eighth and tenth in the 800, mile, and 2 mile, respectively.

The evening's other races saw Lane Tech (Chicago, Ill.) junior Marcello Burbano win the boys' 2k steeplechase in 6:19.32, Fremont (Ind.) senior Keigan Culler the mixed 5,000 in 15:14.14, Eastern (Greentown, Ind.) junior Brittany Neeley the girls' mile in 5:03.06, Dodgeville (Wis.) senior Molly Hanson the girls' 800 in 2:11.48, and Hersey (Arlington Heights, Ill.) frosh David Rodriguez the freshman mile in 4:29.76.

Clevenger's kick

Clevenger laughed when asked if his sprint on the backstretch of the last lap was something of a zigzag through traffic, as it appeared. "Yeah, I guess it was," he said. "I had been boxed in and I started going on the inside. Thankfully, I was able to get through."

The pacemaker had taken it out in about 61, but then the tempo slowed to 2:05, with favorite and Franklin Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) senior Jason Crist heading up the contenders and most of the other contenders in tow. At the bell (3:08.5), seven were still in contention.

"I wanted to be in the top five the whole race and to try and go with 300 left, if I felt good," said Clevenger. "Backing off the early pace in the next few laps gave us all the energy for a fast finish."

The Notre Dame-bound senior knew he had more in him than his 4:13 1,600 PR would indicate and Saturday night was a perfect chance to show that with good competition, good conditions, and only one race to contest. "Breaking 4:10 was my goal," he said. He was also inspired by the chance to go beyond the state AA level, as he did when he ran his breakout 8:54 3,200 at Arcadia in April "It was awesome to be able to race these guys and not be sitting on the sidelines watching them. Class AA is really coming along."

Meanwhile, coming in a surprising second was Cedar Springs (Mich.) junior Connor Mora who threaded through those in Clevenger's wake and finished in 4:10.72. His previous best? 4:13.55 for 1,600. "It feels amazing, really great," he said, even though he was grimacing in pain as he tried to recover. "Everything went according to plan. I was able to hold back in the first 880 and really go in the second half."

Brewster's breakout

Brewster epitomized the Illinois 2A breakouts as well. A pacesetter took the first lap in 65.5, then it slowed to 2:15, picked up to 3:21, then slowed a bit to 4:30. At that point, top seed and Tippecanoe (Tipp City, Ohio) junior Sam Wharton was leading a pack of three that included Sandvold and Brewster. The trio let the pace lag to 72 on the fifth quarter – Wharton was unable to sustain and would fade to tenth – and was reeled in by a chase pack of seven. With three laps to go, ten were in contention.

Sandvold was not unhappy at all about the pace slowing. "The first mile was rough for me; I was just trying to hang on. When it slowed down on the fifth lap, I was really able to get into it."

After another 72, Sandvold found himself in the lead, with Brewster right there and Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.) senior Zach Herriott moving up in third. Then with 600 to go, the tempo really increased. The penultimate lap went in 67 (8:01) and Sandvold and Brewster hammered as hard as they could on the final circuit. Brewster closed in the final meters, but could never pass the Wisconsin standout.

"I knew I was in shape this year to run close to 9-flat," said Brewster. "It was nice to be able to come in here and hop in this race – and only have to run one race.

"I was happy to see Mike (Clevenger) win, too," he added. "A lot of people don't have respect for Class AA. It's kind of a wake-up call."

Said Sandvold of his victory: "I didn't really plan on leading that soon. I planned to sit and kick. But it worked out and I was happy with the time."

In third and coming on strong in the final circuits was Brookings (S.D.) super soph Addison DeHaven, who came in with a 3,200 best of 9:12 and crossed the line in 9:07.42 for the full 2M. He benefited from the slowing in the middle of the race as well. "I figured the rabbit had gone out pretty hard and some of these guys would come back," he said. "I thought there was no way everyone was going to hold that pace, so I settled in and waited until the time was right."

DeHaven added that the MDF would be his last race of the year. "I don't know if I would say I'm really happy with the time, but it's a building block. I have some ambitious goals for the fall and I'm going to start working toward those."

The 800 had a strong finish, too, as Bartelsmeyer went wide and moved to first from third/fourth in the final straight. "I got boxed in and was second to last with 250 to go," he said. "As soon as I found a gap, I turned it on."

Bartelsmeyer was pleased to win, but had hoped to get all the way under 1:50. "At state I ran 1:52.76 (third), but it was only an hour after the 1,600."

In the steeplechase, Burbano had only run one other steeple – two years ago – but showed the savvy to wait and had a strong last lap for the win. "I just wanted to see what I could do," he said. "I thought if I stayed with the front group, I'd have a good chance to medal. Then in the last lap, it seemed like the other guys were dying and I still felt good."

Neeley used a strong last lap, especially the final stretch, to get the girls' mile win. After a 74 first 440, the pace really lagged (79-77) as the small field of four stayed together. But Neeley closed in 73 to hold off the next two by nearly two seconds.

"I was kind of surprised it went that slow in the middle, but it was good for me," said Neeley. "My sister and I run for a really small school and she covers the longer distances and I have to cover the sprints.

Noting that she sometimes races as short as 100 meters, she said she shifted into sprint mode. "I know what that feels like." But the finish was still bittersweet. "I was really hoping for sub-5:00!"