Boys track and field: Yorkville sophomore Owen Horeni is the Record Newspapers Athlete of the Year

Horeni, part of state champ relay as a freshman, placed fourth in the Class 3A 800

Yorkville’s Owen Horeni takes fourth place in the Class 3A 800-meter state championship on Saturday, May 25, 2024 in Charleston.

Logical for a runner, Owen Horeni’s focus this season was on taking the next step.

High hopes were held for Horeni coming out of middle school. He finished off his freshman year at Yorkville by running on the state championship 4x400 relay, and taking eighth in the 800-meter run.

Horeni indeed took the next step this spring.

The Yorkville sophomore swept conference and sectional championships in the 800 meters and posted the fastest sectional time in the state.

He finished it off by running a career-best 1:52.34 at the Class 3A state meet, good for fourth place. Horeni’s was the best finish by a non-senior in the race, and the highest place by a Kendall County-area athlete at state.

Horeni is the Record Newspapers boys track and field Athlete of the Year.

“To summarize his season, it was excellent,” Yorkville coach Nolan McCue said. “Ultimately the focus was the 800, having a better performance at the state meet, which we ultimately accomplished with a much faster PR.”

The 800-meter run at state went according to Horeni’s plan, even without the win at the end. Trained to hit specific splits, he led the race with Downers Grove North senior Ryan Eddington, taking the first 200 and 400 as the leader. Eventual winner Aden Bandukwala of Hinsdale Central and runner-up Trey Sato of Grayslake Central came on, but Horeni was in the thick of things until the end.

“I really went for it at state, and me and my coaches planned for it,” Horeni said. “I got after it in the first 400, tried to make a push at the end and almost did until the last 100 when Ryan and Aden caught up to us.”

“Once an 800 athlete gets into the 1:52 realm, every season that’s what it takes to win that state meet,” McCue said. “For him to hit that time, to get fourth place and lost only to three seniors, we are really excited for next season.”

Yorkville's Owen Horeni takes the lead to the last lap of the 800 Meter Run during the Matt Wulf Track and Field Invitational at Yorkville High School in April 2024.

Athletic ability is in the DNA.

His parents were both soccer players, and both have run marathons. Horeni joined them on 5Ks as a kid, and took up running competitively in middle school.

Horeni started out playing soccer as a young kid, but later quit that sport and did baseball. Once fifth grade rolled around, intramural elementary track and cross country was available, and he tried it. In sixth grade he took the next step, winning a few intramural meets. As an eighth-grader Horeni took second in the state in the 400-meter dash and 4x400 relay.

“That’s when I realized I could be good at this,” Horeni said. “I did cross country too, but track was where I really excelled.”

How he progressed this season didn’t feel real to Horeni, but he enjoyed every single moment of it. A few key meets helped him visualize what he was capable of.

He came from behind to win the 800 at Distance Night in Palatine in April, and at the Southwest Prairie Conference meet he won the 800 and took fourth in the 1,600.

“Palatine, I realized that I had a lot more in my tank than I normally would. Coming from essentially last to first made me realize that I had a lot to work with,” Horeni said. “Conference, doubling back after the 800 to run fourth in the 1,600, it solidified my confidence in myself being ready.”

Horeni credited a good training program for putting himself at peak condition for the season’s stretch run. He did two workouts a week, the first an endurance one and the second a speed workout. From there he had two recovery days prior to a meet.

Horeni was also entered in a variety of distances throughout the season, from the 400 to the 800 to the 1,600 and 4x400 relay. He even ran a 100 and 200 in an April dual meet, and the 4x800 at sectionals.

That race schedule was by design.

“It’s really easy for an athlete to get burned out running the same event over and over, and Owen is a guy who has a lot of range,” McCue said. “He got to have a little more experience throughout different races. It’s good for his training and development, not focusing on one specific race. We like to have more variety.”

McCue said the next step in Horeni’s development, which he’s already had a taste of, is running multiple events over the course of a meet and weekend. His freshman year he did the 800 and 4x400 at state, and McCue said it’s not out of the realm from him to do the 4x800, 800 and 1,600.

“It’s that being able to handle more,” McCue said. “We try not to put too much on younger kids. Now that he’s older and more mature, handling a little heavier of a workload while improving on all of his performances will be key for next year.”

Horeni, with an eye to the future beyond high school, is ready.

“In my opinion I feel like for college I should be prepared for whatever distance my college coach would want to put me in,” Horeni said. “Expanding on whatever races I run will benefit me. Running multiple races, it helps me work with my fatigue rather than against me.”