Schroeder, Sages breeze into medal contention

CHARLESTON — Steve Schroeder has more than the area's — and the state's — fastest times in distance events this season.

The Monticello High School senior also has the area's quickest turnaround time.

From the moment he posted the state's top 1,600-meter mark in Thursday's Class 1A boys' IHSA track and field preliminaries until he sipped from a paper cup of water and then turned around to speak with a gaggle of reporters, the elapsed time was less than one minute.

The pace that resulted in his 4-minute, 21.28-second clocking was one that didn't seriously challenge the Notre Dame recruit, even on a hot day at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium.

"I can do 4:20 comfortably and stand here and talk without much worry," said Schroeder, last fall's Class 1A cross-country state champion, who wasn't short of breath.

Besides qualifying first in the 1,600, he ran on the 3,200 relay that outstepped St. Joseph-Ogden for the day's fastest mark. The Sages' foursome was timed in 8:10.29. SJ-O crossed the finish line in 8:11.35.

It shows, Schroeder said, that the school means business as it seeks a state trophy to go with the one earned (for third place) in cross-country in November.

"We've been training hard, tapering hard, eating hard and sleeping hard," Schroeder said. "We're going full bore."

Schroeder had an automatic berth in the 3,200-meter finals — there are no preliminaries in the eight-lap race — and owns the top seed at that distance based on sectional efforts.

His focus, he emphasized, goes beyond what he might be able to achieve Saturday as he tries to become the school's first two-event state champion in the same year.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes for my teammates," Schroeder said. "I want to help us score points and bring home another trophy. That's what's important. It's all heart and guts now."

Senior Tim Easton was the leadoff runner on the 3,200 relay. He was followed by junior Andrew Hanselman and sophomore Jesse Galaway before Schroeder took off on the anchor leg.

The unit was as confident as it was fast.

"We had no doubt we'd set a PR (personal record)," Galaway said.

Their actual finishing time was nearly seven seconds better than they ran at sectionals.

"We couldn't do it without each other," Hanselman said.

Easton likes to be the one to get things started.

"I felt comfortable with the guys at the beginning," Easton said. "That's more my race."

Schroeder took the baton in third place and stayed there until the final 100 meters, when he moved to an outside lane and overtook the anchor runners from SJ-O and Meridian.

The 3,200 relay has become a signature event for the Sages. The school is seeking state medals in it for the sixth time in the past nine years.

In the open 1,600, Schroeder was paired with the fastest sectional qualifier, Beecher's Grant Nykaza — the runner he beat by nine seconds to win in the cross-country state finals. Schroeder's first 800 split was 2:11, and he took the lead at the start of the final lap. It was a strategic move.

"The last lap, I wanted to see what I could muster and how the others would respond," said Schroeder, a state track runner-up in two events as a junior. "I wanted to test the field, and I executed the plan to the best of my ability."

That's not an indication of how he will run in the finals.

"I learned I can do it (take control on the last lap), but I might do something different on Saturday," he said. "I'm not giving anything away."

Though he will run the equivalent of 3 1/2 miles on the season's final day, Schroeder is looking forward to the challenge.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said.

Coach Jeff Butler's Sages have six finalists, including Hanselman in the 3,200 (where he has the fourth-best qualifying time).

High jumper Daniel Welling sailed over every qualifying height through 6 feet, 3 inches on his first try Thursday. Eight others in 1A matched that height, which was where the IHSA stopped the competition for the first round.

Junior hurdler Vinny Strack qualified eighth in the 110-meter high hurdles.

Class 1A finalists
A look at how the area will be represented in Saturday’s Class 1A boys’ track and field state finals, starting at 10 a.m.:

SCHOOL    INDIVIDUALS    RELAYS    TOTAL
Monticello    5    1    6
St. Joseph-Ogden    4    2    6
Villa Grove    4    0    4
Tuscola    1    2    3
Unity    2    1    3
Schlarman    2    0    2
Argenta-Oreana    1    0    1
Georgetown-RF/Chrisman    1    0    1
Ridgeview    1    0    1
Salt Fork    1    0    1
Urbana Uni High    1    0    1
NOTE: Qualifiers for Saturday include the 3,200 meters, an event where there were no preliminaries.

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