Kroner's spring preview: Boys' track & field
Prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner takes a look at the top area teams:
The Rockets don't want to be known simply as a school with a strong distance crew, which, in fact, it has based on the school's showing (second place) at the Class 1A state cross-country meet last fall. "We hope we have a well-rounded program with all events represented," coach Tim Gateley said. The distance group features veterans Kendal Eckert, Austin Kramer, Colby Purcell, Doran Walsten, Eric Wenzel and Scott Woodard, along with youngsters such as Joe Baker, Kyle Gateley and Nick Godsell. The sprint corps is led by returnees Nate Finn, Micah Johnson (two-event indoor state placer) and Michael Lafenhagen, plus younger talent that includes Justin Deters and Tyler Lindsey. When it comes time to form relays, Gateley has no shortage of candidates. Among those being looked to for points in field events are pole vaulter David Wenzel, throwers Jackson Crowder, Dalton Flowers and Anthony Vasquez along with jumper Aaron Luesse. "Central Illinois will have some amazing competition this year, like every year," Gateley said. "In a 20-mile radius, you have three of the best Class A programs in the state: Monticello, St. Joseph-Ogden and Tuscola."
Second-year coach Nick Curry's Blue Devils have an 18-member roster, including a marquee performer in junior Ryan Pearce, who recently won the state indoor title in the shot put. He also reached the state meet in the 55 meters. Outdoors, he'll likely run the 100, throw the discus and run on a 400-meter relay that could challenge the school record. He already owns school records in the shot put and discus, breaking marks previously set by his brothers. Senior Adam Crutchley, eighth indoors in the 800, is part of a strong distance group that includes senior Jacob Griffith, who will run at Millikin University next spring. Crutchley is uncommitted. Senior Riley Bishop and freshman Tyler Harrison are other sprinters who could join forces on the 400 relay. Senior Travis Arnold and junior Steven Miller are also solid sprinters. Arnold could also score in the jumps. Sophomore John Henderson is a key hurdler. Villa Grove's last conference crown was in 1985, and ex-Unity athlete Curry said "our goal is to bring it back." Among the others who could make an impact are juniors Wyatt Beesley and Austin Carmack, plus sophomore Bryce Benefield.
The Bulldogs have quality to go with the quantity (84 athletes) on coach Keith Pogue's roster. Indiana State University recruit Derek Bunch headlines a group of throwers that also will feature Luke Roush. Sprinter Marshall Graham has his sights set on the 200-meter school record. Pogue believes M-S' 3,200 relay record could fall. The foursome of Eli Johnson, Cale McCormick, Matthew Chupp and John Butcher has the capabilities of running it in under eight minutes as well as excelling in the open 800 individually. Chupp is a transfer from Arthur. Three Bulldogs have been timed in less than 10 minutes for the 3,200: Lucas Prather, Jonathan Schaap and Forrest Smoes. The pole vault crew, under the guidance of Jim Risley, has three potential 15-foot vaulters: Austin Armetta, Garret Risley and Andrew Roney. Assistant coach Gary Garrison continues to develop outstanding hurdlers, and his current group features Connor Diedrich, Jordan Rock, Matthew Schaap and Zaniel Zilewicz. "If we can stay healthy, I like our chances of having a great season," Pogue said. M-S should be in a three-team dogfight with Normal U-High and Pontiac for conference supremacy.
A strong senior nucleus will be the centerpiece for coach Jeff Butler's 45-member squad. In addition to cross-country state champion Steve Schroeder, other notable seniors include Drew Benson (shot put, discus), Tim Easton (distance) and Bobby Woodruff (sprints). A Notre Dame recruit, Schroeder has school records in the 1,600 and 3,200. Considerable help will come from juniors such as Andrew Hanselman (distance), Tyler Scott (sprint relays) and Vinny Strack (sprints). Sophomore high jumper Daniel Welling also has big-meet potential. "Coach (Cully) Welter does a super job with short relays, so we hope we can put together four quality relays," Butler said. At the recent indoor state meet, Monticello had the third-place 3,200 relay, the fifth-place 800 relay and the ninth-place 1,600 foursome. Schroeder was the runaway winner in the 3,200, covering the distance in 9:27.71. Welling was fifth in the high jump. Easton ran eighth in the 1,600. Easton, Hanselman and Schroeder all ran on the school's third-place state cross-country team last year as did two other track athletes, senior Cole Marsteller and sophomore Jesse Galaway.
The Chargers had three individuals and one relay place in the recent indoor state meet. David Briscoe placed sixth in the 55-meter hurdles, an event teammate Jonah Peoples had the best 2A time when he was injured. "They get better when they get outdoors," coach Greg Walters said, "as neither is a true 55-meter guy." The target for Peoples to return is May 1. Jeff Walker, who set career bests in his jumping events, finished fifth indoors in the triple jump, Luke Vaughn was 11th in the shot and the 800 relay was 10th. Sprinter Jansin Garth is another Charger looked upon as a major contributor outdoors. A second-year track runner, he may flourish in the 400 this spring. Brian Potter could join Vaughn as the school's second 150-foot discus thrower this year. Walters said "we have some great up-and-coming athletes in our freshman-sophomore group." Among the ones who could make an impact are Justin Blackwell (pole vault), Reis DeSantis (1,600), Ryan Grizzard (triple jump), Jeremiah Peoples (long jump) and Aaron Quinn (long jump), along with hurdlers Jeremiah and Allen Terry.
The Spartans are under the direction of co-coaches Mitchell Blair, a former SJ-O athlete, and John McDannald. They are working with 55 squad members, including nine seniors. Alex Arteaga (long jump, triple jump, hurdles, relays), Chas Cox (400, relays), Zeke Elkins (who placed second indoors in the 800) and Sam Gilly (shot put, discus) are among the senior headliners. Elkins also ran on the 1,600 and 3,200 relays that captured indoor state titles. Blair said seniors Beau Barber, Matthew Hamer and Landon Vowels "are essential to the development of the program and younger athletes." Barber could be on sprint relays along with junior Jamie Carley and freshmen Tyler Morris and Jesse Tice. Junior Cole Johnson is the lone non-senior on a 1,600 relay unit with Arteaga, Cox and Elkins that is expected to be strong statewide. Cox, Elkins and Johnson could help make the 3,200 relay an equally formidable one now that sophomore Braydon Crozier has stepped in for the injured Vowels. Elkins, seeking a state medal outdoors for the fourth year, and Arteaga both have individual medals. Cox and Vowels have been on state-placing relays two different years.