Schroeder just keeps truckin'

PEORIA — Monticello's Steve Schroeder helped to redefine fast in Saturday's boys' Class 1A state cross-country meet at Detweiller Park.

The announcer was incredulous.

"Schroeder has caught up to the pace truck," he said, shortly after the first of 208 runners passed the mile marker.

For Schroeder, a senior, it was an unexpected development.

"I ran beside it for a few strides," he said. "I was surprised."

The truck pulled away, and so did Schroeder. He blitzed the 1A state record by 20 seconds, finishing in 14 minutes, 28 seconds.

In the subsequent 2A and 3A races, only three runners had better times. One was two-time 2A state champion Michael Clevenger, from Decatur MacArthur, by two seconds.

Schroeder is the second area state cross-country champion in the 66-year history of the meet. He joins two-time winner Ryan Young of Prairie Central (in 1997 and 1998).

In November 2008, Schroeder would not have predicted such success.

"I started out as a goofy freshman who was the seventh runner on a team that didn't make it out of sectionals," he said. "It's just unreal how things turn out when you show determination."

Schroeder was in a tight three-runner pack throughout the opening mile. The trio covered the distance in 4:47.

"The plan was a simple one," Schroeder said, "to roll through the first mile with the leaders, whatever pace they set, and then make my first surge." By the 2-mile mark (which he reached in 9:36), Schroeder was alone. Except for the pace truck.

"Actually, that's a problem here," Monticello coach Jeff Butler said. "Not that he almost ran into it, but that he smells the fumes the whole way."

Schroeder found himself in a zone where there were no distractions.

"I couldn't hear anything, and I didn't see anything except what was right in front of me," he said. "All I thought about was my teammates and Monticello High School. I didn't do it for me."

Schroeder was the leader in what turned out to be a banner day for area athletes. In addition to teams finishing second (Unity), third (Monticello) and fourth (St. Thomas More), area runners collected 10 of the possible 25 all-state berths.

Other elite runners: Schlarman's Jesse Hahne (fifth), Unity's Scott Woodard (eighth), Monticello's Luke Zocher (ninth), St. Joseph-Ogden's Zeke Elkins (15th), Unity's Doran Walsten (18th), St. Thomas More's Nick Hess (19th), Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman's Matt Avenatti (20th), Sullivan's Cameron Harvey (21st) and Villa Grove's Adam Crutchley (24th). Monticello's Tim Easton (29th) was a near miss.

"I was hoping to sneak into the top 10," Hahne said. "Fifth, I didn't imagine this. The pace felt like I was sprinting the whole way."

Crutchley, Villa Grove's first cross-country medalist, only returned to running full time 3 1/2 weeks ago.

"It's definitely a blessing from God that I'm here," he said. "I could be in a wheelchair."

Unity's Dike Stirrett, whose team was 10th last year, was elated by the first boys' state trophy in the sport.

"What a great accomplishment," Stirrett said. "They will look back on this years from now and be so proud of what they achieved as a team."

Unity's top five were all seniors and Walsten said, "We ran very well."

Besides all-staters Woodard and Walsten, other Rockets leaders were Colby Purcell (41st), Kendal Eckert (45th) and Austin Kramer (49th). The top five were within 49 seconds of one another.

In 2A, Mahomet-Seymour raced to its best team finish since moving up from 1A, fifth, and produced its second all-stater in 16 years of 2A competition. Jonathan Schaap placed 25th (15:18).

"This was incredible for us," M-S coach Neal Garrison said. "Solid efforts by all. No one ran a bad race."

No. 2 runner Forrest Smoes ran a season best by seven seconds. Schaap lowered his top time by six seconds.

"Our team started the year strong and finished it strong," Schaap said.

In 3A, Danville sophomore Johnny Leverenz passed a runner 3 meters from the finish chute and that move earned him the 25th spot and all-state honors with a season-best 15:01.

"I realized I had to push with all I had left," Leverenz said. "At the start of the year I didn't think I'd get top 50."

Added Danville coach Todd Orvis: "He surpassed expectations, but I have learned not to doubt what he can do."

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