Big season followed by some big changes
MINOOKA — It was arguably one of the most successful seasons in Minooka track history.
In what proved to be former head coach Joe Urbelis' last year as the head of the boys program, the Indians captured their first sectional title before going on to place 11th overall as a team at the state tournament for one of the highest marks in school history.
The girls weren't too shabby as well, taking home their second straight Southwest Prairie Conference crown. The 4x200 relay also placed seventh overall as a team, which was a solid finish for a team with two underclassmen.
After a season of such great success from both sides, a lot happened in Minooka since May. Three new coaches are on board on the boys side, and assistant coach Nick Lundin has been promoted to head coach to replace the retiring Urbelis. Needless to say, there's been a big shakeup at the top of the boys track program.
"We've done a good job I think the last two years of establishing a good work ethic, and I think we're continuing to do that by bringing in some really quality coaches," Lundin said. "Now that our work ethic has been getting better and we've brought in some good coaches, I really think that this team can do some real damage."
These coaches include Lizzy Jones (throws), Derrick Johnston (sprints) and a familiar name, Bert Kooi (jumps). For Kooi, this is his first-ever experience coaching track and field, and he knows that he faces a big challenge this upcoming season.
"I had missed being around our kids on a regular basis," Kooi said, who coached the football program for eight years before resigning at the end of the 2011 season. "I'll be the first to admit that my background in track and field is not as extensive as others, so I'm still working on the learning curve."
A lot of athletes coming back are going to help the program, headlined by senior Joey Santillo. The St. Francis-bound runner, who won a state 4x800 title as a sophomore, comes into his final season with a lot of pressure to succeed. The 4x800 team of Santillo, fellow seniors Alex Pierce and Cam Knudsen, and junior Chris Wilson seem poised to take home another relay state title for Minooka.
"I think going into any season, there's going to be some pressure, especially for a guy like me who's known well around the state," Santillo said. "I think there are pretty high expectations for us and this team, but I feel this team is more than capable of filling those expectations."
The jumps and throws will be strong again, as seniors Ethan Cane (long jump) and Trevor Rodgers (shot put) look to anchor a strong returning class.
"I want to set records, but I also want to see the team win as well," Rodgers said. "I want to win a state title individually, but I also want to see us win a state title, too. When we win, the team is really fun to be around."
On the girls side, the team returns a load of athletes, as they once again look to continue off the success they had last season in winning their second straight conference title.
"It takes a total team to win a (Southwest Prairie) conference title, and that's what we had last year. But that's in the past, now," head coach Kevin Gummerson said. "This is an entirely new team. You don't get any credit for what you did in the past, and conference is definitely a goal of ours."
Just like the boys team, the girls have a lot of key returners, as most notably juniors Janile Rogers and Bethany Bachman come back to anchor the 4x200 relay team that placed seventh at state last season. Senior Lucia Rossi also returns in the hurdles, as all three athletes feel they can get back down to state once again.
"Our 4x800 teams and 4x200 teams were great last year, and that's going to keep the door open for a lot of other spots for athletes to compete, which only makes you better in the long run," Gummerson said.
For Gummerson, getting as many individuals down to state is the goal. Although winning a sectional title would be nice, ultimately it's about sending athletes down to the state tournament.
"You always want to win a sectional title, but our goal is to get kids down to the state meet," he said. "Sometimes you'll pull a kid out of one event to keep them fresher for another. It might cost you some points, but it increases the chances of that athlete getting down to state."
The indoor season starts Saturday for the boys at the Thornwood Invitational.