High schooler steals the scene at Sunday’s pre-marathon event
He’s heading to the University of Oregon in the fall and the whispers have already started. Lukas Verzbicas, the 18-year-old high school phenom from New Lenox, IL, is being mentioned in the same breath as the greatest Duck of the them all, the legendary Steve Prefontaine.
And with personal bests of 8:40.70 in the 2 mile, 4:04.38 in the mile and a 5K mark of 14:06.78, the comparisons are legit. Add his two Foot Locker National Cross Country titles and his versatility is on par with that of Pre's.
Verzbicas watched the BAA scholastic mile races yesterday morning before lining up with a top-notch field for the men’s elite race. The fearless schoolboy went right to the front and very nearly came away with the victory. Great Britain’s Andrew Baddeley broke the finish tape in 4:16.7 for the win and Verzbicas hit the tape in 4:16.8 before it fluttered to the ground.
“If I kicked later I might have had it, but this is Andy so I can’t complain,” said Verzbicas. “It was a good enough finish I think.”
His teeth-gritting finish was in direct contrast to his laid-back, friendly post-race demeanor. Legendary racing voice Toni Reavis referred to Verzbicas as the Justin Bieber of running, maybe because of his long hair.
What’s perfectly obvious is that he doesn’t race like a senior in high school and isn’t likely to be in awe of his competition. When Verzbicas made his bid from 400 meters out, he was primed and ready to take on anyone through the last straightaway. “I took the tight turn and went for it,” he said. “I was close.”
Verzbicas flailed his arm out and pushed Baddeley at the tape, nearly causing the mile specialist to lose his balance, but he quickly dismissed it as nothing more than Verbicas demonstrating his burning desire to win.
“I took it that he was celebrating or maybe just his excitement,” shrugged Baddeley. “He ran a great race today.”
Verbicas is still garnering race experience and admitted he was going with the flow of the pack. When he made the final turn onto Boylston Street for the kick to the finish, Verbicas hesitated slightly.
“I did not know what to do,” he said. “This is the thing, this is experience and it comes with experience. I was in a position I didn’t think I’d be in. I ran just to run. It was very surprising. It was an exciting finish. I can’t complain. Second place here is pretty awesome.
“Of course I wanted to win, but what can you do.”
Newton continued its dominance in the girls race as indoor mile champion Kathy O’Keefe of Newton South surged past Newton North’s Margo Gillis after the first lap and bulled her way to an easy 5:10.5 victory. Gillis, who won the inaugural race in 2009 and was runnerup to Newton South’s Melanie Fineman last year, sprinted across the finish line in 5:26.5.
Keefe and Gillis claimed the team title for Newton for the third year in a row with their combined time of 10:38.
“I had no idea what to expect,” said O’Keefe, who will attend Boston College. “We’re not teammates, Newton North and Newton South, but it’s fun being teammates today.”
Gillis, who is the latest female Massachusetts runner who will be attending Georgeotown, concentrated on maintaining her pace in front third-place finisher Kellie Lodge of Hopkinton after O’Keefe forged ahead.
“I wanted to stay with Kathy as long as I could,” said Gillis. “Once she got away I concentrated on keeping my pace. I was definitely relying on my kick.”
After getting a taste of victory in 2009, Gillis wanted to put together a third strong finish in her final year of competing in the event. “It’s a nice event,” she said. “There was definitely some pressure to finish in the top two with Kathy and get the team title.”
Lodge was third with her 5:29 and Eva Laurer of Wellesley took fourth in 5:30. Sarah Browhill of Framingham rounded out the top five with her 5:32.8.
Newton was equally as dominant in the boys race. Newton South’s Dave Melly broke the scholastic mark with his 4:34.0, just in front of Ezra Lichtman’s 4:34.8 of Newton North. The pair took first place in the team standings.
“With 300 meters left, my coach told me to go,” said Melly. “It’s so much fun. You see people from all over. It’s great seeing so many people so hyped up.”
Melly has the Lions’ outdoor mile record of 4:22 in his crosshairs this spring and was confident he had a better than average chance of winning was is quickly becoming a prestigious win.
“I had as good a shot as anyone,” said Melly. “It was a great field and they’re such great competitors.”