Boys Track and Field: Hinsdale Central’s Daniel Watcke adds to family legacy, takes home two state titles
Watcke wins 800, anchors first-place 1,600 relay; Morton’s Victor Rodriguez second in pole vault
By Bob Narang
CHARLESTON — Hinsdale Central sophomore Daniel Watcke’s ear-to-ear smile told a different story than his words on Saturday afternoon.
A few minutes earlier at the Class 3A boys track and field state championship, Watcke put his name among the elite in the state by winning the 800-meter title in a time of 1 minute, 54.24 seconds at O’Brien Stadium.
His family name, though, is well known throughout the Midwest. Many of his family members, including his mother and older sister, were track standouts.
“We don’t talk about the family’s legacy because we’re all our own people,” Watcke said. “But it does mean a lot. I carry my grandfather’s name, who was the coach at Wisconsin. He passed away in an accident, so I kind of honor him that way.”
Either way, there’s another state championship in the Watcke family. His older sister, Emma, was an all-state performer in track and cross county in Ohio before her family moved to the Hinsdale area in Michael’s eighth-grade year. Emma Watcke, a freshman runner at Wisconsin, placed second in the 2019 Class 3A 1,600 meet, behind Glenbard West superstar Katelynne Hart.
Daniel Watcke closed out Saturday’s 800 in a flourish to edge out Grant’s Josh Delgado (1:54.68) and Plainfield North’s Ryan Maseman (1:54.78).
“I was just going to go for a ride, to be honest,” Watcke said. “That’s championship racing. I learned it from watching my sister, Emma. You just have to watch Emma run a couple of races and you know how to race.
“Just watching her race, from her freshman and sophomore year in Ohio. She was a big name, but nobody was expecting her to win the mile as a freshman. That was special watching her do that.”
In the final event, Watcke made more headlines with a blazing showing in the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay. Watcke passed Batavia’s Anthony Bradley with 300 meters left to cruise to a first-place relay time of 3:19.48.
“That was special, for I just wanted to do it for the seniors,” Watcke said.
The Red Devils’ crew of Isa Hitchens, Aden Bandukwala and Piyush Mekla all admitted they knew Watcke could lead the team to a state title in the relay.
“All I had to do was do my job and run hard and then hand it off to (Daniel) and let him do the rest,” Mekla said.
Morton senior Victor Rodriguez missed making program history by a few inches in the pole vault competition. He cleared a top height of 4.75 to set a new personal record to finish in second place. Bloomington’s Liam McGill won the state title with a top vault of 4.82 meters.
“It’s crazy to finish second because I was so close to first,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy but I was so close. We had perfect weather, and it was awesome to compete here.
Rodriguez, an Indiana Tech recruit, started pole vault in his freshman year on the recommendation of his gym teacher. He missed a chance at earning the first state championship in program history since 1970, according to IHSA records.
“I just stayed relaxed,” he said, “but I’m happy. You always want more as a pole vaulter, but second place is not so bad. I did a lot better at state than my sophomore year. I was ready for this. My coaches really supported me during my whole career and helped me.”
Wheaton Warrenville South sprinter Reece Young left Charleston with a pair of medals, claiming third in the 200 (22.24) and fifth in the 100 (10.69).
“It all came down to my starts, especially in the 100,” Young said. “That really was a big (key) for me.”
The 3,200 relay showcased a couple of familiar area teams, with York’s group of Sam Ayers, Thomas Braun, Garrett Schwan and Colin Hill taking fourth place in a time of 7:52.65. Lyons’ relay of Charlie McIawhorn, Cade Nelson, Charlie McMahon and Jocqael Thorpe finished just a tick behind for fifth place (7:56.36).
Glenbard West, which featured Pierce Cousins, Luke Cavan, Andrew Daukas and Tyler Yeager, ended in seventh (7:58.22).
In the shot put, Wheaton North’s Aidan Olsen netted a fifth-place medal from a toss of 16.98 meters.
Other area medalists included Glenbard West’s Sean Hopkins in the 100 (sixth, 10.71 seconds), 200 (seventh, 22.53) and long jump (ninth, 6.63 meters), York’s Will Heuer in the 400 (seventh, 49.99), Wheaton North’s Ryan Schreiner in the 800 (fourth, 1:55.73); Lyons’ Jocqael Thorpe in the 800 (ninth, 1:57.22), Lyons’ Owen Hays in the 3,200 (seventh, 9:20.24); Willowbrook’s Enrique Cruz in the shot put (eighth, 16.06 meters), , Glenbard West’s Matthew Travers in the high jump (eighth, 1.90 meters),