West Aurora’s DaVion Cross, left, and Lakes’ Cameron Ruiz talk during the boys track and field state meet Saturday, May 27, 2017 at O’Brien Field in Charleston, Ill. Cross won the Class 3A long jump and Ruiz won the triple jump with a meet record. (Gary Middendorf/Chicago Tribune)
Cameron Ruiz’s track and field career didn’t have a perfect ending, but it was pretty close.
The Lakes senior, who is heading to Northwestern to play football, set a state-meet record in Saturday’s Class 3A finals at O’Brien Field.
Ruiz didn’t win two titles like he did last year, but he did gain the respect of the athlete who prevented the double-double from happening.
West Aurora senior DaVion Cross won the 3A long jump at 23 feet, 11.25 inches to Ruiz’s runner-up effort of 23-7.5. Both of those jumps came in Friday’s preliminaries, when Cross said he "felt a tweak" in his groin.
That didn’t stop him and Ruiz from staging an entertaining back-and-forth battle in the triple jump finals.
Cross, who qualified third at 47-2, went 49-0 on Saturday, while Ruiz went from 48-7.5 to 51-1. The leap broke the 20-year-old state-meet record of 51-0.5 set by Palatine’s Chris Hercules, and it is the second-best effort nationally this spring according to athletic.net.
"I saw DaVion jump 49 as well and I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to go prove myself,’" Ruiz said. "I knew that was 50-plus before they even marked it.
"I was hanging (in the air) on my finish and that’s what I normally struggle with."
Ruiz felt a twinge in his right leg on the record jump. A hamstring injury last month put his season in jeopardy, so Ruiz knew just what Cross was going through.
"I actually respect his talent," Ruiz said. "I tried to give him advice because I knew his injury was bothering him."
Ruiz’s concern made a deep impression on his rival.
"I have tremendous respect for that man," Cross said. "(Friday) I got hurt; he was asking me, what did I need, am I good, ‘can I help?’
"Just being there for me like a teammate. I didn’t expect that from him because, you know, we want to beat him. But he’s a terrific guy."
There was another spirited battle in the 3A throws, which also ended in a split decision.
Lockport junior John Meyer, the leader in the shot and discus after the prelims, won the former with the 65-10.5 he carried over from Friday.
Defending champ and state-meet record holder A.J. Epenesa of Edwardsville kept Meyer from the sweep by winning the discus at 197-11, giving Meyer second at 189-5.
"My body wasn’t really in tune with what I wanted," Meyer said of the discus, in which he was chasing the state-meet record of 66-5.75.
Still, "coming out with a 65-10.5, I’m pretty happy with that. But I feel like if we had the finals the same day as prelims, I would have thrown a state record."
As for Epenesa’s comeback, Meyer said, "He’s supposed to win. I’m happy with second place and I PR’d too."
Epenesa, who will play football at Iowa, helped Edwardsville win its second 3A title in three seasons, 42-39 over East St. Louis. Bloomington, which had an all-time state best of 17-4 from pole vaulter Zachery Bradford, was third with 32 points.
Freeport and Normal U High tied for the 2A title with 37 points each and Kaneland (33) took third. Carthage Illini West won 1A 61-34 over Ridgeview.