2A/3A boys' state track notes: Williams overcomes timing confusion

2A/3A boys' state track notes: Williams overcomes timing confusion

CHARLESTON — Red is not part of the typical Rantoul color palate.

But it accompanied the Eagles’ purple and gold at Friday’s Class 2A boys’ state track and field preliminaries in the form of a headband worn by each team member.

The reason, as Rantoul athletes such as Jerry Harper has said throughout this season, is Donnell Robertson.

“Our best friend passed away,” said Harper, referencing Robertson’s June 2018 death at age 17. “His favorite color’s red, so that’s why we wear red.”

The Eagles did Robertson’s memory proud at Eastern Illinois’ O’Brien Stadium, with Harper winning his 400-meter dash heat in 49.04 seconds and a trio of Rantoul relays advancing to Saturday’s finals as well.

“We’re putting Rantoul on the map,” Harper said. “The 4 by 1 got into the finals (Friday), and I know they’re going to do good.”

That 400 relay got the Eagles off on the right foot with a 43.45 clocking, good for the No. 2 spot in its flight.

It was followed by similar efforts from Rantoul’s 800 relay (1:29.73) and the 1,600 relay (3:21.81).

“One of our goals was just to place, make it to finals,” said Kayon Cunningham, who ran on all three of the Eagles’ baton crews. “Then try to get a better place in finals.”

Some combination of Harper, Robert Buford, Dillion Harper, Treven Lewis, Tayon Swift and Elijah Hall joined Cunningham across the foursomes, giving Rantoul strong balance in Friday’s action.

“We’ve been here before,” Dillion Harper said. “Just really trying to ... get us a good medal, get on the podium taking pictures.”

★ ★ ★

Jeremiah Hamilton put an interesting spin on the description for how he planned to spend Friday night after advancing in the 200-meter dash in 2A.

“Just rest. That’s it,” the Urbana sophomore said. “Don’t focus on anything else. Leave the girls alone. Just focus.”

Hamilton zoomed down the homestretch of EIU’s big blue track in 22.21 seconds for the day’s second-best outcome. He also accepted a leg of the Tigers’ 800 relay, which secured a flight victory and finals spot with a school-record time of 1:29.84.

There wasn’t a large break between Hamilton’s two events, and he felt the affects of his solo venture during a warm afternoon.

“I mean, I did run the 4 by 2,” Hamilton said, “but oh my God.”

Even if Hamilton wasn’t impressing with his fleet feet, he’d still draw eyes on the track because he stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall.

Hamilton’s doctor has said Hamilton could wind up as tall as 6-9, which presents some challenges.

“I get tendinitis easily, in areas you don’t expect,” Hamilton said. “Just got to stretch ... ice, take an epsom salt bath and just focus.”

★ ★ ★

Ben Schultz’s track and field future was in serious jeopardy earlier this week.

Just days after turning in state-qualifying performances in the long jump and triple jump, the Champaign Central senior’s health came into question.

“On Monday, I pulled my hamstring,” Schultz said. “So I hadn’t practiced since Monday.”

It didn’t show in Friday’s 2A preliminaries. Schultz worked through his leg issue to advance via a leap of 21 feet, 1 inch in the long jump and 43-5 1/2 in the triple.

“It was still kind of hurting (Friday), so I was able to get the job done,” Schultz said. “My first runthrough (in) long jump, I was way behind the board, so I didn’t even jump.”

Schultz will be joined Saturday by Maroons junior Kai Baumgartner — written as “Kia” throughout IHSA programming — after Baumgartner soared 43-7 in the triple jump.

Even though this is Schultz’s first time competing in the end-of-season meet, what has transpired this year wasn’t a total shock.

“I expected to go to state,” Schultz said, “but possibly medaling in both is a little surprising.”

★ ★ ★

Morrie Mendenhall and Hunter Hendershot sported similar primarily-orange uniforms for their 2A state shot put preliminaries on Friday.

There was one key difference between their attire, though: Hendershot’s beige floppy hat, protecting him from an increasingly visible sun outside O’Brien Stadium as he waited between throws.

“It probably has some power to it,” Mendenhall said. “So maybe (I’ll get one).”

Mendenhall concluded his senior season with a hurl of 48 feet, 11 3/4 inches, leaving him on the outside of Saturday’s final.

Hendershot will carry the torch after pacing the field at 60-1 1/2, prior to the junior doing the same in discus (170-5).

“It’s honestly a new experience,” said Mendenhall, a first-time state qualifier. “We’ve gone to a ton of tournaments, but they’re never like this. There’s just a lot of environment, a lot of energy. So it’s just fun, just to throw under that pressure, because you can either thrive or die.”

It’d be unfair to say Mendenhall did the latter, as he was plenty pleased with his effort Friday.

And Mendenhall was just glad to get back in the ring, since he stepped away his junior year.

The reason he returned?

“Hunter,” Mendenhall said. “He’s convinced me to come back and do it, and it worked out.”

Another Bulldog who competed in his first state meet on Friday was CJ Shoaf. He persevered in the high jump by clearing 6-3 but fell short of the 110-meter hurdles final at 15.16 seconds.

The sophomore now gains the opportunity on Saturday to display his jumping prowess alongside “the best of the best.”

“I hadn’t been really jumping too well before that,” Shoaf said. “So it was just making sure to keep to my form. I know I can clear it.”

★ ★ ★

Quemarii Williams wasn’t greeted by a familiar scene when he finished his Class 3A 200-meter dash on Friday.

As runners conclude their state track and field events, they all look to O’Brien Stadium’s large scoreboard for a display of times.

The only thing shown after Williams’ half-lap sprint was the time of day — exactly 4 p.m.

There eventually was chatter among Williams and his fellow flightmates they might have to rerun the race, if times weren’t properly recorded.

“The base part of my running is pretty much my strong point,” Williams said, “so I would’ve been ready no matter what.”

Thankfully it didn’t come to that, and Williams forged ahead with a time of 22.29 seconds. That gave him two finals slots, pairing with his heat win in the in 48.81 seconds.

“I just went in to qualify — nothing too serious,” Williams said. “I just ran off the people in my heat, so that was the plan going in and that’s the plan I executed.”

Some onlookers may have been confused when they saw Williams for his 200, considering he changed wardrobe after the 400.

Away went a newer all-black uniform in favor of Danville’s more traditional white top over black shorts.

“I had the option to this year (being at state alone),” Williams said. “So I had to take advantage of what I can take advantage of.”

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