COUNTRY CLUB HILLS | Crete-Monee boys track coach Brian O'Donnell doesn't have expectations for his team.
"We have goals," he said. "We don't like to talk about expectations — especially with relays. So many things can go wrong."
Witness the 400-meter relay in Thursday's Hillcrest Hawk/Ron Towner Classic. The sprinting-rich Warriors got out of the blocks well with Quinten Nash, a junior transfer from Rich Central, and had clean exchanges to seniors Quenton Hardaway, Temarcus Terrell, and Tyler Whittler.
Whittler, the Warriors' anchorman and captain, hit his stride in first place — then he hit the deck. The culprit was his left hamstring.
"I went out, felt fine, but as soon as I started sprinting, it locked up," he said.
It wasn't the first time. The injury plagued him, he said, throughout the indoor season.
"It's been off and on — but when I got here, it felt fine," he said. "It's real frustrating. Me, being a captain, it's hard to be a leader when you can't run.
"Most of the time, I just push through. I don't want to show how discouraged I am."
This time, though, Whittler expects to take "two weeks, at least," to recuperate. Then, he can return to working toward Crete-Monee's goals, which are built largely around the Warriors' sprinting depth.
O'Donnell entered Hillcrest's meet believing Crete-Monee could qualify each of its four relays for state. Last year, the Warriors' 3,200 relay finished fifth in Class 3A.
While he juggled the lineup in his other relays in the interests of "trying to keep everyone healthy," O'Donnell went with what he anticipates would be his state quartet in the 400. The same configuration was entered in the 800 as well.
His hope for the 400, a time of 43 seconds, would likely have been eclipsed had Whittler not fallen. Bremen ended up winning in 43.05.
Meanwhile, Crete-Monee's Southland Athletic Conference rival, Bloom, had the best day among local squads. The Blazing Trojans captured the 800 relay in 1:30.45, nearly three full seconds ahead of second-place Bremen.
The quartet of Charles De Loach, Ezekiel Clerk, James Harriel and Micah Frazier won't necessarily stay intact moving forward.
"We're just a mess today — we're not going to show you much," Bloom coach Andrew Schmitt said. "This time of year, we try to switch up all the relays. We try to get guys to work in other events."
Indeed, Malik Jenkins got a turn in the spotlight, winning the triple jump with a leap of 44-6, because Clerk, Bloom's top competitor in that event, was consigned to the long jump. They'll switch places in a Saturday meet at Schaumburg.
"I'm happy," Jenkins said. "I got a (personal record) by three inches — and every time I jumped, I put my hand back. I probably lost a foot every jump."
Sandburg won the title in the 14-team meet with 156 points, easily out-distancing second-place Shepard (80). Bloom tied Hillcrest for third at 75, while Crete-Monee (42) was 7th and Mount Carmel (5) 13th.