Illinois stars aim to shine bright in Arcadia Invitational

Aaliyah Brown (left) captured 100 and 200 titles at Arcadia in 2011. John Nepolitan/ESPNHS

It could be a weekend to remember for a dozen of Illinois’ top track and field athletes who are slated to compete in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California this weekend.

The meet is touted as home to 24 national records as well as the largest high school-only co-ed track and field meet in the country. The meet, held at Arcadia High School, 13 miles northeast of Los Angeles, will be hosting some of the top talent in the country. Illinois will be exceptionally well-represented in the sprints, hurdles and distance events with three girls and nine boys officially entered.



Aaliyah Brown (Jr.) Lincoln-Way East (Frankfort), 100 and 200.

Cessily Jones (Sr.) Plainfield North, 100 and 200.

Shamier Little (Sr.) Lindblom College Prep (Chicago), 100H, 300H and 400.

Though Brown is the defending 100 (11.59) and 200 (24.13) champion, she has something to prove after an indoor season ended by injury -- while nemesis Morolake Akinosun captured state and national headlines with her epic 55/200 double at the Illinois Prep Top Times meet.

Brown had produced three of the fastest marks in the country in the 55, 60, and 200 up until she was sidelined with lower leg problems. This is her first major meet back. The path to victory, at least in the 100, became a little clearer after Jasmine Todd of sprint power Chandler, AZ suffered a recent injury, but the competition will still be very tough.

Jones has become one of the state’s premier sprinters after handing Brown her only loss in the 200 indoors and nearly upsetting Akinosun at the IPTT. Jones will be gunning for her first major title in either the 100 or 200 on Saturday evening and it may very well come at the expense of Brown.

Little is going to have her hands full as she takes on three events -- 100H, 400, and 300H -- all within an hour! Little is more focused on her technique and own performance than the competition, but she'll face last year's World Youth champ in UCLA-bound Trinity Wilson of St. Mary’s College (Berkerley Ca). Wilson has a legal best of 13.15 compared to Little’s 14.02 wind-aided mark.

Beyond that, the assumption here is that she will go all out in the long hurdles race -- where her PR 57.83 in the longer 400H stacks up very well against the field -- and then run with heart in the flat race. It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this triple attempt.



Chad Weaver (Jr.) New Lenox Providence Catholic, pole vault.

Michael Clevenger (Sr.) Decatur MacArthur, 3200.

Leland Later (Sr.) Winnetka New Trier, 3200.

Jack Keelan (Jr.) Chicago St. Ignatius, 3200.

Tyler Yunk (Jr.) Belvidere North, 3200.

Will Crocker (Sr.) Belvidere North, 800.

Luke Zygmunt (Sr.) Grayslake Central, mile (seeded).

Will Brewster (Sr.) Grayslake Central, mile.

Garrett Lee (Jr.) (Belvidere North), mile.

The contingent of top boys from Illinois going to Arcadia is at an all-time high. Weaver, contesting the pole vault, is the first field event athlete from the state to compete at Arcadia. Weaver has improved this year to a 15-3.25 best. His major highlights include winning the indoor conference title in an IL#2 mark and taking the IPTT 2A crown.

The distance events will be the featured stories for many fans back home. The 3200 will see some of the top talent in the country with Clevenger, Later, Keelan, and Yunk doing battle. Clevenger enjoyed a great indoor season with 9:19.72 3200 and 4:16.35 1600 marks. He has passed every test to date with flying colors, but competing in the Arcadia race will be his biggest test.

The University of California-Berkeley bound Later will put his 9:16 personal best to the test. But he does have a plan in mind: “I don't necessarily have a time or place goal, but rather to just be competitive and stay near the front for as much of the race as I can. I feel that if I'm in good position at the mile, I'll be able to work my way to a good place, and a good time will follow.”

But Later also added this: “I know that the field is exceptionally large, at 36, so I think keeping clear and not getting boxed in or tripped up in the first few laps will be essential. But I also want to balance that against not having to run extra distance in the outside lanes. So it will be interesting, and I will have to make an assessment once the race starts.”

With Keelan and Yunk also in the field, it seems like a state championship race contested out-of-state. Keelan was held out of the IPTT late last month so he could focus his energy on the biggest regular season meet of his career. He stated that he doesn’t particularly have a goal time in mind, but just wants to run very fast. That shouldn’t be a problem considering he has run 4:17 for 1600. This should give Keelan a glimpse of his overall potential.

Yunk has been one of the top distance talents in the state for quite a few years. He also won the IPTT 3A 3200 title with ease several weeks ago. He now has an opportunity to step up even more and run the race of his life. Can he surpass the magical 9:00 barrier? It is a possibility if he can get out well and stay out of traffic.

The mile will see Lee and Brewster put their 4:14.37 and 4:14.92 1600 season bests to the ultimate test. Lee, who finished 2nd at IPTT by an eyelash to Oak Park-River Forest’s Malachy Schrobilgen, will be ready to take on a field that should see several times under 4:10. The junior standout should be able to approach the 4:10 barrier if he can stay clear of being boxed in early. Brewster will have to use the same approach if he expects to run the race of his life to date.

Zygmunt's season bests of 4:17.34 and 1:56.49 should go a long way in being near the top of the charts in the seeded mile.

The 800 will see Crocker and his 1:54.87 personal best entered against a field that includes two sub-1:50 performers and several others in the low 1:50s. He hopes to come home with a huge IL#1 time.