PAXTON — All-state recognition hasn’t been achieved very often in Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys’ cross-country history.
Entering the 2018 season, only Tom Pacey (2007 and 2008) and Nick Brehm (2007) produced the top-25 state finish necessary for the honor.
Even before them, Paxton High’s record in this subject included just two names: Mitch McClure in 1980 and Craig Stockman in 1981.
For Ryder James, the past didn’t dictate his future. James immediately made an impact as a freshman last school year, placing 12th in the Class 1A meet to increase PBL’s all-state list size.
The topper: It wasn’t a surprise to the athlete.
“I had some pretty high goals for myself,” James said. “In cross, I wanted to be all-state, and I ended up doing that and I was pretty proud of myself for that.”
That go-getter mindset won’t disappear as James readies for his sophomore campaign with the Panthers.
The new cross-country mission is a top-three state display. During the spring, he’s aiming for a similar showing in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter run.
The fact James’ distance running background has little length to it clearly has no impact on his drive.
“I started in sixth grade,” James said. “Just tried it to see if I’d be any good.”
He concluded he was, indeed, good at the sport during that first season, serving as a varsity member of PBL Junior High’s state-qualifying club.
But the picture really became clear when James was in eighth grade.
He zoomed to a 2-mile time of 10 minutes, 13.1 seconds, good for second place in Class 2A.
“It was like a huge adrenaline rush the entire race,” James said. “It felt quick, and I just felt good the entire race.”
James then showed a jump up to 3 miles wouldn’t hurt his standing.
In late summer 2018, James and his new PBL High teammates toed the line for a 5-kilometer road race in Indiana.
James came out ahead of all his pals.
“They seemed fine with it,” James said of a prep newcomer snagging the Panthers’ No. 1 spot. “As long as our team qualified for state and got the goals we wanted, they were perfectly fine with that.”
James eventually traversed the Peoria-based Detweiller Park layout last fall in 15:17.42, the third-best freshman clocking in Class 1A.
“I definitely had a lot more nerves going in because I didn’t know if I was going to get all-state,” James said. “Everybody was so fast, and it was just such a bigger atmosphere.”
James then duplicated that experience by placing seventh in the 2A 3,200 in May, his time of 9:42.65 the best by a ninth-grader that day.
How does Eastern Illinois’ O’Brien Stadium compare to Detweiller for someone who was new to racing at both?
“That’s a tough one,” James said. “In cross-country, all the people are just running back and forth. It’s a wave of people. But there’s like a thousand people at track.”
Nothing appears to faze this young jaunter.
Not longer distances.
Not bigger crowds. And not the expectation of being at the forefront of an entire program.
James, however, won’t overhype what could be on his horizon: more all-state efforts, school records and maybe even state-title hardware.
“It would be a pretty nice legacy to leave,” he said.