PAXTON – John Overstreet's goal was "to get to state."
The Paxton-Buckley-Loda cross-country coach recognized the challenge awaiting his Panthers in Saturday's Class 1A boys' cross-country sectional.
With six of the state's top 13 ranked teams in the field, some school was assured of disappointment. State-qualifying berths only went to the top five teams.
Overstreet's 10th-rated PBL squad had no worries based on its solid performance. With three runners placing among the top nine and a fourth finishing 19th in the 142-runner field, the Panthers not only repeated as sectional champions but also had a lower winning score than in 2006.
"Very surprised," Overstreet said. "I did not expect to win."
All season, the PBL runners have been chasing the shadow of last year's squad, which placed fourth at state. PBL began the season ranked second.
"When we started out the year, we were overrated," said senior Nick Brehm, who placed eighth at sectional.
PBL's title was not secured because of one outstanding effort, but by what Brehm said was "everybody stepping up."
Sophomore Tom Pacey stayed with the lead pack and took third overall. His 3-mile time was 15 minutes, 44 seconds. Brehm came in at 16:11 and right on his heels was senior Felix Cardosa, ninth in 16:15.
"Felix was the man of the hour," Pacey said. "He ran a great race."
No. 4 runner Adam Carlson turned in a superlative performance, taking 19th with a lifetime best of 16:44.
"At conference, he finished behind all seven St. Joe runners, and today, he was ahead of their second runner (and within 11 seconds of the Spartans' leader)," Pacey said.
Overstreet expected to see significant drops from a senior athlete who spent most of the fall playing football and not working out as a runner.
"The last couple of weeks, he has been training with us," Overstreet said. "With another week, he could be even stronger at state. The two Adams were very, very important."
The fifth scoring PBL runner was Adam Kyrouac, 60th in 17:44.
"Last week at regionals, we got our identity, and it showed this week," Brehm said. "We ran so good. This is when it matters."
PBL totaled 92 points. Runner-up Beecher had 104. Securing the fifth and final qualifying spot was unrated Unity with 140 points. The Rockets edged fifth-ranked Teutopolis by one point.
Unity's leaders were Brice Dodds (sixth in 16:04) and Jacob Kraft (11th in 16:30).
A junior, Dodds was not the top Unity runner last year at sectional. That distinction belonged to Kraft.
"It's a matter of maturity and training hard," Unity coach Dike Stirrett said. "He does the extra, not just what I ask. He won't be satisfied just getting by. He wants to be good."
Dodds' confidence was reflected in an early-week conversation with his coach.
"I said, 'I have you figured for 10th place,' " Stirrett said, "and he said. 'How about if I do better?' "
Four area athletes were among the seven who secured individual berths. Monticello teammates Brent Rhodes (seventh in 16:11) and Alan Hollingsworth (16th in 16:35) advanced as did Urbana University High's Malcolm Taylor (12th in 16:32) and SJ-O's Drew Blaase (13th in 16:33).
Not advancing was regional champion Justin Jones, a senior from Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac who has been rated among the top five in the state. He went out with the leaders, hitting the mile marker in five minutes.
At 2 miles, Jones said, "I felt horrible. My legs felt like they weighed 100 pounds."
He was still among the top eight runners with 800 meters left before falling in the final 30 meters, then crawling a few inches before rising and staggering forward where he collapsed on top of the finish line.
He ended 20th in 16:49 and missed advancing individually by one position.
"I don't remember falling," Jones said. "All I remember is opening my eyes and looking at the ground and I knew if I had any chance, I had to get across that line.
"To not go to state is heartbreaking."
O/A-P coach Tim Lee said the collapse was something for which "there is no explanation."
He noticed Jones "looking paler" as the race continued and added: "He gave his best effort, and there's no shame in that."