Distance and middle-distance runners in the Midwest, wanting post-season racing opportunities, still have them in Chicagoland with the establishment of the Midwest Distance Festival.
Earlier this spring, officials of the Midwest Distance Gala decided they would disband the event. Scott Bush made a May 5 announcement to that effect, noting the tremendous time and effort involved and that he no longer had time to run it. Wanting to continue and provide the competitive opportunities the Gala afforded, DyeStat Illinois' Bob Geiger, Mike Newman, and Tony Jones have launched the MDF. While the events are in no way connected or affiliated, prep distance runners are offered a nearly identical slate of events.
There's a few logistical differences, notably that the Festival is taking place on a Friday and is being held at Memorial Stadium in Joliet, southwest of the city. Otherwise, it will be a night of 800s, miles, 2-miles, plus a steeple and 5k, featuring outstanding runners from Illinois, Indiana, and several other states including as far away as Colorado and South Dakota.
Specifically, the meet features five boys events, two girls events, and a mixed 5,000 meters. All five boys' events are strong and deep, and while the girls' events are light on numbers, there's some good quality there. And in the 5k (which is open to post-high-school runners), fans will notice in the entries one Kayla Beattie – arguably the greatest girls' distance runner in Illinois state history returning for 12-and-a-half laps of the oval.
The evening's last event will likely be its best: Many of Illinois' and Indiana's top milers (plus one each from Michigan and Missouri) will battle for supremacy.
Topping the bill are Indiana state champion and Franklin Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) senior Jason Crist and River Forest (Oak Park, Ill.) senior Malachy Schrobilgen – the Illinois Class AAA runner-up. After a disappointing end to his senior cross-country season, Crist has come back strong this spring. He won the Miracle Mile in May with a 4:11.59, the prevailed over a super field at state in 4:09.12 for 1,600.
Schrobilgen, meanwhile, won the state AAA 3,200 in hot conditions with 9:03.42 (8:57.60 best earlier in the season) and then was third in the 1,600. His best from earlier in the year, though, is a 4:11.44 that ranks second in the state overall. He was also the AAA state 1,600 champ indoors with a state-best time of 4:14.32.
Perhaps equally dangerous is McArthur (Decatur, Ill.) senior Michael Clevenger. He swept the 1,600 and 3,200 in the AA state meet and has a best of 4:13.34, but against this level of competition has a big upside. He leads Illinois with his US#5 8:54.12 from a fifth-place finish at Arcadia and has a very strong kick. Similarly, St. Ignatius (Chicago) senior Jack Keelan ran "only" 4:15.77 at state after a PR 4:13.63 prelim. But he had been second behind Schrobilgen in the earlier 3,200 and also had a stunner at Arcadia: An IL#3 8:55.86 3,200.
Warsaw (Ind.) junior Jacob Poyner is seeded at 4:12.33, Cedar Springs (Mich.) double D2 state champ and junior Connor Mora at 4:13.53, and Princeton (Mo.) senior Blake Goodin at 4:13.71. There are three more at 4:14, making for a potentially very deep race.
Last weekend represented a big breakthrough for Tippecanoe (Tipp City, Ohio) senior Sam Wharton, as he lowered his 3,200 PR from 9:10.83 to 9:01.24 in finish second at his D1 state meet to Tsefaye Hiluf. Friday, he will see if he can get that magic sub-9, though at the slightly longer imperial distance.
Wharton, who also qualified for NXN Finals last fall (21st) out of the Midwest region (5th), is a solid favorite in this event. But five others seeded at 9:12 or better – from four different states – are among those who should challenge him. Heritage (Saginaw, Mich.) senior Evan Chiplock has run 9:08.70 for 3,200 and was second at D1 state last week to Garret Zuk in 9:10.49. South (Bloomington, Ind.) senior Carl Smith is coming off his first sub-9:10 3,200 as he was seventh at state last week with 9:09.50. Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) senior Russell Sandvold has a 9:10.12 PR and while he was off form in his D1 state 3,200, he did clock a PR 4:11.39 1,600 the day before and will bring some of the best speed into the race.
A total of twelve are seeded under 9:20. Three more that bear particular watching:
** - Grayslake Central (Ill.) senior Will Brewster – Was second to Clevenger in AA 1600 and 3200, but since has hit a 4:13.18 mile PR. Don't be surprised if he goes well under 9:10.
** - Brookings (S.D.) soph Addison DeHaven – One of the country's top rising and most talented sophomores, he is the son of 2000 Olympic marathoner Rod DeHaven. He made Foot Locker Finals last fall (32nd) and has a 9:17.93 PR for 3,200.
** - Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.) senior Zach Herriott – Has a 9:15.10 3,200 PR, but has been ready for a breakthrough for a long time. Was ninth at NXN Finals last fall.
Meet organizers had to be pleased when they landed Monarch (Louisville, Colo.) senior Kirk Webb, the meet's most far-flung entrant. He three weeks ago won his 5A state meet 800 in 1:51.75 and 1,600 in 4:17.41. He has several other fast times to his credit and was third indoors in the Simplot Games 800. His range is strong enough that he was the state 5A champ last fall in cross country.
The fast section of this event is loaded with sub-1:55 talent, with the most likely to challenge Webb probably being Wisconsin D1 champ Brad Johnson of Brookfield East, who clocked 1:52.54 to win last weekend. But then there's also MICDS (St. Louis, Mo.) junior Amos Bartelsmeyer, whose 1:52.76 for third in his 3A state meet has since been followed with a big PR 4:11.97 mile to win the Festival of Miles on May 31.
Another junior to watch is Westerville North (Ohio) standout Jacob Dumford, who was second at D1 state in 1:53.02 and also ran a 4:13.17 1,600 PR at his region meet.
A field light on numbers, but with some good quality, Crystal Lake Central (Ill.) frosh Sami Staples is the top seed. Coming off a stunning 2A state meet victory last fall in XC, she had a blistering 4:56.99 PR in the state 3A prelims and was in the top ten in both the 1,600 and 3,200 finals. She'll face another distance star best known for her XC exploits in Prospect (Mount Prospect, Ill.) junior Brooke Wolfe, who clocked her first sub-5:00 1,600 a month ago at her section with 4:59.98.
Kenwood Academy (Chicago) senior Dhiaa Dean will try for the win after close-but-not-quite efforts in her last two state meets. She was third in the AAA state outdoor with a PR 2:12.40 after taking second at the IPTT indoors at 2:12.48. Two others in the field have sub-2:15 PRs.
BOYS 2K STEEPLECHASE
The event is filled with newcomers to steepling, but watch for Lake Zurich (Ill.) senior Pat Juras, who has clocked 4:12.76 for 1,600.
BOYS FRESHMAN MILE
John Hersey (Arlington Heights) frosh David Rodriguez is the top seed with his 4:27.91 1,600 best from indoors. More than 20 entries will toe the line in two sections.
Fremont (Ind.) senior Keigan Culler, a 9:17 3,200 runner, is the top prep entry, but fans should watch for University of Iowa freshman Kayla Beattie returning to Illinois for a 12.5-lapper. Beattie last year completed a glorious prep career at Woodstock HS in 2011 with a trip to the Pan Am Juniors to represent Team USA. Her amazing senior year included a record 16:22 in winning the 2A XC title and a state meet 3,200/1,600 double of 9:56.96 and 4:43.65, among many, many highlights. Her 5,000 track PR is 16:29.92 from USATF Juniors last June.