PEORIA — Area runners gave the state a 1-2 punch Saturday.
Jon Davis, from Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, and Nick Hess, from St. Thomas More, ran first and second, respectively, in the Class 1A IHSA boys’ cross-country meet at Detweiller Park.
Davis, a sophomore, had to come from behind in the final mile of the 3-mile race to beat Hess.
“He had a pretty good lead after 2 miles, probably 10 meters or more,” said Davis, who one week earlier at sectionals beat Hess for the first time in his prep career. “With 800 meters left, I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ I sprinted and passed him and didn’t look back.
“I didn’t look back because I thought he was right there with me.”
Last November, Davis was the state’s fastest Class 1A freshman. Now he is simply the state’s fastest runner.
Davis’ time was 14 minutes, 47 seconds, a second off his season best. Hess finished in 15:03.
O/A-P’s Doug Robinson couldn’t have asked for a better way to start his coaching career.
“I’ll take it for my first year coaching cross-country,” Robinson said.
As a freshman in 2012, Davis was one position from earning all-state accolades. He placed 26th.
From the start of this season, Robinson planted the seed in his runner’s head of what could be possible.
“I told him the first day (of practice), ‘You need to expect nothing less than first at state,’ ” Robinson said.
When Davis originally heard those words, he was dubious.
“I was like, ‘You’re shooting for the stars there, Coach. I don’t know,’ ” Davis said.
Minutes after winning the state’s top prize, Davis said one feeling was most overwhelming.
“I’m surprised,” he said.
Robinson said it was beneficial that his runner wasn’t cast in the favorite’s position.
“He handles pressure very well, but it helped that everyone was favoring Hess and the others,” Robinson said. “That drove him even harder.”
Though Davis didn’t have the practice competition that pushes many of the elite runners, he entered the season with a good base.
“During the summer, Brandon Divan and Justin Jones (former Oakwood runners) worked with me and trained me, along with Coach Robinson,” Davis said. “I was really unsure (of potential), but I kept working.”
Robinson said Davis is a champion even beyond running.
“He’s a good student, has a positive attitude, works hard, and on top of that does extra stuff on his own,” Robinson said. “He’s a great overall kid.”
For Davis, the bar has been set for the next two years.
“I’ll try to repeat and keep on improving,” he said.
To celebrate, he planned to join his family for a special meal.
“A steak dinner,” he said. “It’s kind of a tradition.”
Runner-up Hess continued a tradition he started in 2010. All four years at state, he was the fastest finisher among 1A competitors in the Class of 2014. Saturday’s second-place finish was a career best in cross-country and his third year in a row as an all-stater.
“Nick wasn’t feeling good, but he pushed it and fought until the last 600 meters,” STM coach David Behm said.
Davis pulled away to finish more than 100 meters ahead of the field.
“You’ve got to be happy with second in the state,” Behm said, “but it’s just one of those doggone things. We think he’s getting the flu.”
Hess tried to put distance between himself and Davis after they broke from an early four-runner pack.
“Nick made several moves,” Behm said, “but Jon reacted right and with about 800 (left) made the move that dropped Nick.”
Behm — himself a former top-10 runner from Georgetown — can relate to Hess’ postrace feelings.
“It took me 15 years to realize I didn’t lose the state meet,” Behm said. “(Saturday), Jon ran an incredible race.”
Other area boys who earned all-state honors in Class 1A were Tuscola’s Eric Ponder (fifth in 15:16), Monticello’s Matt Norvell (19th in 15:38) and Unity’s Andrew Warnes (24th in 15:41).
All four area teams finished in the top half of the 25-school field. For the third time in four years, Monticello captured the third-place trophy despite No. 5 runner Will Montgomery being tripped in the final 500 meters. Unity was fifth, St. Joseph-Ogden eighth and Urbana Uni High 11th.
“In the preseason, some websites had us as low as 17th,” Monticello coach Dave Remmert said. “Third was outstanding for us.”
In the girls’ 1A race, the lone all-staters were Urbana Uni High freshman Annemarie Michael (10th in 17:50) and LeRoy/Tri-Valley’s Jess Clarke (22nd in 18:08). Unity’s team was fifth, followed by SJ-O (sixth), LeRoy/Tri-Valley (seventh) and Monticello (ninth).