Class 1A track notebook: Warriors set state mark in 800 relay
CHARLESTON — When talking about the "haves" and the "have nots," Tuscola High School has an interesting assortment of runners.
The Warriors do not have one of the state's nine fastest 100- or 200-meter individual runners in Class 1A.
Coach Ryan Hornaday's team may have something better: The school has the swiftest group of 200 runners in state history.
The Warriors put together an 800-meter relay Thursday during qualifications in the 1A state meet at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium that not only posted the top time but also shattered the all-time state record that had stood for seven years.
Until The News-Gazette Honor Roll meet 11 days ago, runners from Tuscola had never combined for a time under 1 minute, 30 seconds in the 800 relay. That foursome registered a 1:29.62 on May 14.
On Thursday, with senior Jeff Broch running a 21.77 split for 200 meters to lead off, teammates Broc Smith, Chris West and Alex Kemp kept the Warriors in front as collectively they stepped off a 1:27.93.
Hornaday, timing the race from the stands, didn't trust what he saw.
"I looked at my stopwatch and thought I didn't have it right, then my assistant (Drew Sterkel) said he had the same thing," Hornaday said. "To get the state record is amazing.
"I thought in the 1:28s would be a great time. To go in the 1:27s, I don't have a good feel for what is possible. Maybe the 1:26s?"
The foursome has won every 800 relay race it has entered in 2012, except the indoor state finals where it was second to Pleasant Plains.
Smith was a near miss for the finals in each of his sprint races — taking 10th overall in the 200 and 11th in the 100 — but the sophomore is OK with that.
"If we win a state title, that will make up for it," Smith said. "I am ecstatic."
Kemp also helped the 400 relay reach Saturday's finals with the sixth-best time. The magic moments, however, occurred with the 800 foursome.
"What a great feeling. This has been our goal the entire season," Kemp said. "I've run with some of them for several years, and we have that 'team' mentality. We want this really bad. We've been looking forward to this."
Hornaday said that was obvious as Kemp came down the straightaway to complete the 800 relay.
"There was a gale-force wind as he came into the home- stretch, but no one was going to catch Alex," Hornaday said.
All four runners registered splits within a half-second of one another.
"We had good handoffs, and everything went right," Hornaday said. "Everyone knows about Jeff, Broc and Alex. Chris is the under-the-radar guy, but he is every bit as good as the others."
Blue Devil faces a choice. Villa Grove senior Adam Crutchley may have found qualifying for the state finals in two events easier than what he faces before Saturday's races start.
He posted the fifth-best time in the 800 meters (1:58.15) and the seventh best in the 1,600 (4:30.74).
Crutchley intended to use the 800 as a warmup Thursday for what he considers his best race, the 1,600 and said, "I'm not running it in the finals."
However, with teammate Ryan Pearce ranked first in the discus (166 feet, 11 inches) and second in the shot put (57-0 1/2) after the prelims, Blue Devils coach Nick Curry thinks his squad could contend for one of the three team state trophies.
"I'm torn," Crutchley said. "We could challenge for the top three if I double and place, but I have a better shot to win in the mile if I don't run the 800.
"I don't recover (between races) well. I'm not a very good doubler."
His season best in the 1,600 (4:22.44) is a time he can lower, he believes, if running fresh.
"The 800 drained me a little today," he said. "I'm saving the sub-4:20 for Saturday."
Pearce uncorked his season-best throw on his first discus attempt. He also had his top qualifying mark in the shot on his first effort. He was ranked second in each event entering state.
He is trying to move up on the medal podium from last year, when he ended fourth in the shot and sixth in the discus.
Though the results showed otherwise, Pearce said, "I feel better in the shot."
He trails the state leader by 10 inches but believes "that's reachable. I'm glad it gives me something to go for."
Rockets don't fizzle. Unity's 3,200 relay posted the best sectional qualifying time (8:14.00) but barely made the 12-team finals for Saturday. The Rockets were clocked in 8:22.25 during the state prelims and secured the 12th berth.
"I don't know why we came out a little slower," anchor runner Kendal Eckert said. "The wind (20 mph out of the south) might have been a factor, but everyone had to run in it.
"We'll be ready for Saturday. All that matters is surviving (and getting a fresh start). I expect a better performance on Saturday."
The all-senior relay started with Doran Walsten and continued with Austin Kramer and Colby Purcell. Unity's other competitor for the finals will be Scott Woodard, who qualified sixth in the 1,600 and also has a berth in the 3,200 finals.
In the 400 relay, Unity wound up 16th (44.16) but was barely a half-second out of a qualifying berth.
"Everyone here is fast," Unity senior Michael Lafenhagen said. "I'm happy I could bring these guys and show them what dedication and training gets you."
He was joined on the relay by underclassmen Nate Finn, Justin Deters and Tyler Lindsey.
Spartans well-represented. St. Joseph-Ogden has two relays and four individuals still in contention for state medals. Zeke Elkins qualified in half of the events (open 400 and 800 along with 1,600 relay) with times that stand sixth heading into the finals.
The 800 is a staple for Elkins, the fourth-place finisher at state as a junior.
"I knew I'd either add on the 400 or the mile," he said. "Late in the season, I was popping off crazy 400 times and decided to do it, and it has worked out pretty well."
He removed drama in the 800, earning an automatic start in the finals by winning his heat (1:59.54). Non-heat winners are selected on the basis of their times.
"I've been training for this since last year," Elkins said. "Everything I did in the summer, cross-country and the winter was geared for this."
Senior Chas Cox starts the meet-ending 1,600 relay and shares the baton with junior Cole Johnson and senior Alex Arteaga as well as Elkins. It's a group with high expectations.
"Last year, we got DQ'd at sectional on a bogus call," Johnson said. "We're looking for redemption this year."
Cox and Johnson are also on the opening 3,200 relay, which also features Landon Vowels and Drew Knipfer.
"We won indoor state (in the 3,200 relay), and we have a lot of confidence," Cox said.
"Pretty much my whole season has been directed to the 4-by-8," Johnson added.
Arteaga in the 300 intermediate hurdles (fifth-best qualifying mark) and Sam Gilly in the discus (ranked 10th) are the other SJ-O contenders.
Arteaga was in the next heat after two top runners tripped over hurdles in the previous race, but he ran without hesitation.
"I haven't fallen this season, and our coach (Mitch Blair) has helped me to know if I hit one to power through it and it won't affect me," Arteaga said.
Sages overcome obstacles. Monticello was the only 1A school with two state competitors in the 110-meter high hurdles. Juniors Vinny Strack and Tyler Scott credit each other for their success.
"I love the competition in practice," Strack said. "It pushes both of us to do our best."
The Sages were in separate qualifying heats and had opposite results. Scott was second in his heat, and Strack was fourth in his. However, when the times were compiled, Strack (15.64) secured the eighth spot in the nine-runner finals. Scott's time (15.72) placed him 10th for the day.
"I'm a little disappointed because I know I can run a better race," Scott said, "but this is the most fun I've had in a track meet."
An All-Area event. Based on qualifying times, the 3,200 appears to be The News-Gazette area's deepest event. In an event without preliminaries, the top four runners for Saturday's finals are area athletes: Monticello's Steve Schroeder, Schlarman's Jesse Hahne, Unity's Woodard and Monticello's Andrew Hanselman.
Schroeder, Hahne and Woodard also are scheduled to run in the 1,600 finals.
For Hahne, the longest race will be his primary objective.
"My focus is on the 2-mile," Hahne said. "I won't be going all-out for the mile."
It helped, he said, having one race Thursday.
"Every kid who gets the experience of being in front of this big crowd, it will help and ease you into it," Hahne said. "It will be even bigger on Saturday."
One chance left. Five area schools have one individual left for the final day. Three are in field events: Salt Fork's Alec Dutton (fourth after the discus prelims), Argenta-Oreana's Austin Wenskunas (fifth in the long jump) and Ridgeview's Bryce Powell (ninth in the triple jump).
The other advancers on the track are in the same event: Urbana Uni High's George Gunter (10th in the 800) and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman's Wyatt Avenatti (11th).
Near misses. Seventeen area individuals and two relays wound up with top-20 finishes but not a place in the finals.
Eight were in field events: Westville's Nick Woods was 13th in the shot put; Salt Fork's Kaleb Weaver was 13th in the triple jump; Salt Fork's Dutton was 14th in the shot put; Arteaga was 15th in the long jump and the triple jump; Judah Christian's Malik Williams was 18th in the long jump; Paxton-Buckley-Loda's Reno Jamison was 18th in the discus; and Urbana Uni High's Steven Morse was 19th in the discus.
Nine were in running events, including Scott (10th in the 110 high hurdles). The others were Tuscola's Smith (10th in the 200 and 11th in the 100); Tuscola's Broch (13th in the 200); G-RF/C's Matt Avenatti (16th in the 1,600); Urbana Uni High's Nealay Kalita (15th in the 200 and 16th in the 100); SJ-O's Johnson (18th in the 400) and PBL's Andy Thompson (20th in the 800).
Relays that fared well were Monticello's (16th in the 800 relay) and Unity's (16th in the 400 relay).