There are two goals left to accomplish in Grant Nykaza’s high school running career.
He can achieve them Saturday by winning the 1,600- and 3,200-meter state championship races in Class 1A.
There is every reason to think, barring injury or misadventure, that he can reach those goals.
In the 3,200, he’s the fastest 1A qualifier by more than 15 seconds, at 9:27.16. In the 1,600, which he won last year, he’s seeded third, his sectional qualifying time of 4:27.50 less than two seconds off the pace of leader Michael Brown, a junior from Carmi-White County.
Both of Nykaza’s sectional times, while splendid, are deceiving. He’s run much faster this season, including a 9:07.39 in the 3,200 at the Florida State Relays, a clocking which had to thrill the Seminoles coaches as Nykaza will attend Florida State beginning in the fall.
And he’s posted a 4:13 against top competition in the 1,600. (He won last year in 4:18.34.)
The 9:07 in the 3,200 would lead any of the three classes in this week’s state final. The 4:13 in the 1,600 would put him right alongside St. Ignatius’ Jack Keelan in Class 3A.
For those who question his endurance, last fall he ran undefeated in every in-state cross country meet, right through to his 18-second victory in the Class 1A title race in Peoria.
In other words, Nykaza is the runner to beat in Charleston.
It wasn’t always that way. Once, he wasn’t even the favorite in his own family. That was thanks to Griffin, his older brother, the first to follow in the footsteps of Henry Nykaza, their father, Beecher’s longtime track and cross country coach, and the first runner in the family.
Griffin was a junior when Grant joined the Beecher roster in 2010, in time to watch Griffin win the 800 in 1A.
“We knew we were going to have a good team when I was a freshman,”
Grant recalled. “I’d won state in eighth grade. Then we ended up having a mishap at the state cross country meet.”
The Bobcats were dropped from third to sixth after Jordan Joaquin was disqualified for interference with another runner while falling. But Grant finished second in the individual race, and the quest to excell was joined in full.
“The disqualification was definitely great motivation going into the
4-by-8 my freshman year,” Nykaza said.
The motivation and crisp handoffs contributed to that 3,200-meter relay team winning the 1A state title in 2010. It repeated in 2011, when Grant finished second in the 1,600 as a sophomore. But the team effort was ending.
“Then they all graduated, and it was up to me my junior year,” Nykaza said.
He won the 1,600 in 2012, but wasn’t in the 3,200 final. This year, he toyed with running the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Instead, he cruised to berths in the two distance races, and has set his targets for Charleston.
“If I run the times I want to run, I should win,” Nykaza said. “Both are state (Class 1A) records: 9:10 in the 3,200 and 4:09 in the 1,600.”
Nykaza, like the Bobcats who have run before him, has done all this with the limited facilities available to him at Beecher. As in no track. But far from complain, Nykaza has turned the tables.
“It’s actually an advantage to me that we don’t have the facilities a 3A school would have,” Nykaza said. “And there’s a lot of room for improvement for me when I go to college.”