Chart toppers: Best area boys' track & field teams
The Panthers in 2012 captured their first boys’ track sectional since the consolidation took place in 1990. Last year, they repeated. This year, the goals are clear. “They really want that three-peat,” coach Erik Ronney said. PBL returns two individual state qualifiers, including senior Tyler Rubarts — who advanced in three events last spring (long jump, triple jump and 110-meter high hurdles). Another senior, Vaughn Gentzler, also qualified in the 110 hurdles. “We are just as good, if not better, than last year,” Ronney said. Among the others who will be key contributors are Paul Bigham, Cody Coates, Grant Iverson, Nick Porter, Jeremy Walder and Trent Wooten. The sprint relays could be a strength. PBL has the area’s best 800-meter relay time and ranks second in the 400 relay. Rubarts and Gentzler rank first and second, respectively, in the 110 hurdles. “This year’s team has worked hard to earn the position that they are at,” Ronney said. PBL will be in a sectional at Gibson City.
Senior Johnny Leverenz, last year’s Class 3A 800-meter state champion, already has run faster than he did in the two-lap race at any time in 2013. The distance crew was bolstered by the return of Caleb Hummer, who missed much of last year with an injury. That strong group also includes Carl Way, Tommy Sessions, Jeremiah Cooley and Tyler Huckelberry. Vanderbilt football recruit Trent Sherfield was the Big 12 indoor champion in the triple jump and is a top sprinter (as is Jelani Day). Chris Collier has moved into third place on the Vikings’ career performance list for pole vaulters, and All-Area basketball player Denzel Smith gives coach Steve Luke’s squad a consistent high jumper. Dakota Gash is the top returning hurdler in the Big 12, and Lonnie Buggs adds depth in the hurdles and the jumps. Leverenz is targeting Danville’s oldest school record — set nearly a century ago — in a Saturday meet at Louisville, Ky. The outdoor 1,600 mark of 4 minutes, 22.5 seconds was set in 1925 by Gene Howery.
Coach Greg Walters has a squad that can effectively cover many events. He’s trying to determine the team’s strengths. “We haven’t had the same lineup in a meet yet,” Walters said. Hurdler Allen Terry and sprinters Phillip Hassell and Jeremiah Peoples are options in multiple races, including relays. “We’ll load the relays Friday (at Wheaton Warrenville South) and see what happens,” Walters said. Freshman James Williams figures into the sprints, as do Ja’far Muhammed, Rob Spalding and Dominic Stampley. Parker Evans is seeking to continue the school’s strength in the weight events. Central transfer Davion Foster is among the area leaders in the triple jump. Walters believes the 1,600 relay foursome could develop into a formidable unit. Reis DeSantis has been running the leadoff leg. Twins Austin and C.J. Echols could be part of the foursome along with David Alston. “We’ll have to see how the pieces fit,” Walters said. The Chargers will host a Class 2A sectional next month.
St. Thomas More
Coach David Behm has a team that he considers “more balanced,” although the distance crew that features Nick Hess, Sam Powers and Brendan Remington often will be in the limelight. Hess will try to double in the 1,600 and 3,200 when the state series starts. Powers will focus on the 800 and 1,600. Remington will concentrate on the 3,200. New sprint coach Tony Francis is working with a group of talented freshmen, including Joshua Parker, who holds a national record indoors for the 55 meters. Isaiah Bobo, Kobe Doran and Clavin Davis are among the Sabers’ other youthful sprinters. “Having been a top runner in the state of Illinois in high school and a Big Ten football player (at Illinois), he has the know-how of what it takes to get to that next level,” Behm said. “He has made a real change in workouts and inspiration for our sprinters. The kids love him and are performing well. Our sprinters are very young, but loaded with talent.” High jumper Joel Yumba will be another key squad member.
Coach Ryan Hornaday’s squad, “like many others we’ve had here, has the potential to score a lot of points at some big meets,” he said. Several seniors can fill in where needed. That versatile group includes Chas Campbell, Nick Kemp, Tanner Robinson and Philip Spillman. Sprinter Broc Smith and middle-distance runner John Evans (400 and 800) will be two of the mainstays. Junior Eric Ponder — an all-stater in cross-country — already has broken the 3,200 record he set a year ago. Juniors Stephen Gibson and Clayton Turner are quality throwers, and Hornaday said, “With legendary throws coach Stan Wienke working with them, the sky’s the limit.” In all, Tuscola’s 31-member roster includes nine lettermen. Several newcomers could make an impact, including senior Chandler Kerns in the relays and Ponder’s freshman brother, Trent, in the distance races. Another freshman, Anthony Guo, is a promising thrower. Hornaday believes the distance relays could emerge as a strength as the season progresses.