GRAYSLAKE – All spring, Ben Stillwell could sense that the confidence around Johnsburg's boys track and field team was building.
On a team short on experience, but plentiful in talent, the Skyhawks felt by the time the Class 2A sectional championships arrived, they would have the opportunity to show just how far they had come.
Johnsburg didn't disappoint.
Sam Blankenship (400 meters) and Sandro Magradze (300 meter hurdles) captured sectional championships as did Johnsburg's 4x800-meter relay, propelling the Skyhawks to a third-place finish Friday night at the Class 2A Grayslake Central Sectional.
The Skyhawks were the top area performer, finishing with 62 points behind runner-up Vernon Hills (88) and sectional champion Grayslake Central (115). Richmond Burton (6th, 37 points), Marengo (7th, 36), and Harvard (8th, 32) followed.
For the Skyhawks, who considered the regular season a dress rehearsal for Friday's big stage performance, seeing everything come together as it did was particularly satisfying.
"You could definitely tell this was a special team," said Stillwell, who qualified for the state championships with a runner-up finish in the discus. "We've never had anything like this. We had five or six events qualify (for state) and that's pretty big for us. I think everyone is really excited and is just happy to be going to state."
The Skyhawks will have plenty of local company.
Other area individual sectional champions included Marengo's Nick Simons (110 hurdles), Marengo's Jarrell Jackson (100 dash), Richmond-Burton's Greg Arther (800 run) while several others qualified for state with solid runner-up performances.
Jackson qualified in the 200 while Simons placed second in the long jump. R-B's John Kellum gave the Rockets a 1-2 finish in the 800, placing behind Arther. Hampshire's Will Hempel qualified in the 300 hurdles with a second-place finish to go along with runner-up performances by Woodstock North's Jimmy Krenger (pole vault) and Harvard's Zach Martin, who turned in a second-place showing in the triple jump.
In the midst of so many solid individual showings, though, Johnsburg coach Chris Setzler said what he saw from his young team will certainly stick out. Magradze said he and his teammates spent the season learning to work as a unit. Unaware of how good they could be, the Skyhawks kept building on a series of baby steps to prepare them for what remained ahead.
Friday proved to be the proof the Skyhawks hard work had paid off.
"We had a very good night tonight and the kids are starting to sense that this is a place where we can be very successful," Setzler said. "We can get people down to the state meet where they can make their mark.
"But they have to believe in what they can do. They have to believe in the training that they're doing. They have to believe what they have done (during the spring) will prepare them for this (meet). This is what we train all year for."