The Hinsdale Central boys 4x800-meter relay of seniors Dan Watcke, Michael Skora and Grant Miller and junior Aden Bandukwala dominated March 6, winning by 13.16 seconds with the nation’s fastest indoor time this season at Downers Grove South’s Mustang Relays at North Central College.
Six days later on the national stage, the Red Devils were even more impressive.
They captured the New Balance Indoor Nationals on March 12 in Boston in another national season-best of 7:43.82, winning by 1.79 seconds with the next three finishers posting the nation’s Nos. 2, 3 and 4 fastest times.
“We really haven’t had the time for it to really sink in because we’ve kind of kept running. But it was a fun experience. It was a real confidence booster,” said Watcke, who will next compete at Oregon. “We thought we could run around 7:40. The banked track and that environment helps you run faster.”
This was the first New Balance Nationals trip for a group that last June won the Nike Outdoor Nationals in an Illinois high school record 7:32.14 – the seventh fastest high school time ever – with graduated Colby Revord, now competing at Missouri – Bandukwala, Skora and Watcke. The New Balance victory improved upon their 7:45.43 at NCC.
“We were ecstatic when we won and celebrating. To win New Balance feels good to kind of add to that legacy or string of victories to show we’re not just a one-and-done team,” Skora said. “I would probably say Nike was a little more meaningful to me [happening first], but both were really special, important races.”
Perhaps the next milestone is the Red Devils’ first 4x800 state championship.
In 2022, Bandukwala, Skora, Miller and Revord gave a great effort (7:45.91) in finishing second to Sandburg (7:44.03). At New Balance, first runner Bandukwala was battling illness yet still gave the Red Devils the lead (1:55.42 split), followed by Skora (1:57.28), Miller (1:57.78) and Watcke (1:53.36) for yet another indoor school record.
“The fact that we ran that well and Aden wasn’t feeling too hot, he did what he had to do,” Watcke said.
“If we got to Dan in first, it was pretty much over from there,” Skora said.
Watcke sort of anchored against himself. Throughout the race, there was a moving light indicating the pace of the Red Devils’ then-No. 1 time at NCC.
“When Grant handed off to me, the light was right with me. I knew I had to outrun the light a little bit,” Watcke said.
Watcke bounced back from a lifetime-best, all-time school-record 1:49.59 for third in the 800 the night before, also the nation’s No. 3 time this indoor season. A late scratch put Watcke in the fastest heat six hours before the race.
“I’m so glad I got moved up because the other heats didn’t run anything close to what my heat did,” Watcke said.
At state cross country Nov. 5, 2022, the Red Devils finished second in Class 3A, just one point behind Plainfield South, with Bandukwala winning the individual title and Watcke finishing third. The varsity trained with head coach Jim Westphal and assistant coach Noah Lawrence.
For track, the 4x800 group is among those training with assistant coaches Jim Kupres and John Snee. The Red Devils’ mindset remains consistent – dedicated, focused and humble.
“Our coaches say something along the line that it’s confidence, not cockiness, having that assurance in ourselves but not getting ahead of ourselves and not expecting to win,” Skora said. “I don’t know if [New Balance] changes anything for us. We’re aware that any team can beat us any given race. Our training stays the same.”
Top Times standouts
Lyons Township junior Nick Strayer ran a personal-best 4:20.05 to win the Class 3A boys 1,600 by .82 Saturday at the Illinois Top Times Indoor Championship at Illinois Wesleyan University. Hinsdale Central senior Catie McCabe was second in the girls 800 (2:14.75), winning the top-seeded section but edged by Prospect freshman Meg Peterson (2:14.47) from the first section. Finishing third was the Downers Grove South’s boys 4x800 relay of seniors Logan Rodi and Shane Hosty and juniors Nick Sadelski and Josh Poeschel (8:11.17).
In 2A, Benet’s boys 4x800 relay of sophomores Griffin Schneid, Finn Richards and Jeffrey Lange Jr. and junior Jacob Malloy (season-best 8:18.75) finished second to Champaign Central’s 8:14.05. Nazareth senior Colette Kinsella’s personal-best 5:05.02 earned third in the girls 1,600. Fenwick sophomore Mia Menendez was fourth in the girls 800 (personal-best 2:20.30). Glenbard South senior Gianna Huerta was fifth in the 60 hurdles (9.28).