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Though the local prep track and field scene is strong, state championships can be difficult to come by at

season’s end. Don’t tell that to the bevy of athletes who carry top sectional seed results into this week’s IHSA boys’ state meets. Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS caught up with Class 1A’s No. 1 athletes — or their coaches — to preview Thursday’s festivities, with Class 2A’s No. 1 entries to come later this week before Friday’s action:

Jameson Cluver

Watseka senior

His event: 400-meter dash

His sectional time:

50.11 seconds

How important to you is having the No. 1 seed in the 400? “Having the No. 1 seed inspires me to push myself even more because I know everyone else is going to be chasing me.”

How did you feel about your sectional race? “I think my sectional race turned out to be good. There were a lot of great 400-meter runners there that helped push me.”

How have you seen yourself develop as a 400 runner? “I have had great development as a 400-meter runner throughout my track season at Watseka because I have outstanding coaches that put me in the right situations to succeed.”

What will it take for you to replicate your sectional success at state? “The key for me to be successful at state is to stay calm and level-headed and not let being No. 1 get to my head. Also, having a great start is one of the keys. I know I have a fast and smooth first 200. The first 200 will be the key because I know my toughness and grit will carry me the last 200.”

What would it mean for you to win the state championship in the 400? “It would be a great honor to my family and the school that I represent if I end up winning the 400.”

Isaiah Chatman

Gibson City-

Melvin-Sibley senior

His event:

300-meter hurdles

His sectional time:

39.26 seconds

How important to you is having the 300 hurdles’ No. 1 seed? “It is very important to me to have the No. 1 seed ahead of the race just so I’m able to have a good lane position, and having that No. 1 seed gives me a lot of confidence before the race.”

How did you feel about your sectional race? “I was not happy with my sectional race because of a few circumstances that were out of my control. But my coaches reminded me to control what I can control, and I feel like I did that. So I was satisfied with my race, but compared to other races I wasn’t as technically sound.”

How have you seen yourself develop as a 300 hurdler? “Over the last four years, I’ve seen myself grow into a 300 runner. My coaches always knew that would be my race, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of that going into my freshman and sophomore years. But with good coaching, I started to fall in love with the 300 race. I also grew into my body a little more these last few years, and my times dropped almost 10 seconds from the start of my freshman year.”

What will it take for you to replicate your sectional success at state? “The key will be just to have confidence in myself and be relaxed and treat it as just another meet.”

What would it mean for you to win the 300 hurdles state championship? “To capture a state championship would mean everything to me at this point in the season. It’s my goal to check off for this year, and to see my hard work over the last four years pay off would be awesome. I also want to bring home a championship for my team because we had a lot of runners come out with injuries and who aren’t able to compete at the state meet anymore. It would mean a lot if I was able to take advantage of this opportunity to bring home a championship.”

Ben Jessup (Soph.), Nathan Kirby (Soph.), Ethan McLain (Soph.), Tate Johnson (Sr.)

Salt Fork

Their event:

400-meter relay

Their sectional time:

43.25 seconds

How important is it for the boys to have the 400 relay’s No. 1 seed? “It mattered more than anything to make sure we were able to get into the fast heat. I think that is a big deal this year. We saw last week (at girls’ state) you can place out of the not-fastest sections, but I think it’s important in the 4-by-1 you need those people around you that are going to push you to make you run faster.” — Salt Fork coach Phil Surprenant

How did this foursome come together? “It’s been the same group pretty much all year. We started with a freshman in there (Bryson Vasquez) for Nathan Kirby to start the year. Nathan was coming off a football injury. ... We kind of eased him in there, and since county, we’ve had the same four together. And that was the plan, to put these guys together in the 4-by-1 and 4-by-2, and they’ve gelled and basically just gotten better each and every week throughout the season.” — Surprenant

Why do these four work so well together? “Tate Johnson is our one senior out of the four. He has the experience. He was on an all-state 4-by-1 two years ago. And then the other three have been running together since they were little, and the three of them are really close. ... I think it just kind of fit well.” — Surprenant

What will it take for this unit to replicate its sectional success at state? “Just being consistent. We’ve worked on handoffs a lot over the last week. We had a workout (Sunday) night. We had some alumni (Caine Wilson and Payton Taylor) come by and help us out, kind of work about running in traffic or having people around you ... and kind of getting used to those types of things.” — Surprenant

What would it mean for the boys to win the 400 relay state championship? “It’d be huge. It’s something we’ve talked about for a while now. I don’t think it’s something that we anticipated coming in. I knew we were going to be fast, but I knew we were young. This group of sophomores has a lot to prove in the next two years, and to set them up with success to start this year would be a huge boost. Tate’s been super excited about it all year. He’s like, ‘We’re going to get a state medal.’” — Surprenant

Brady Buss (Sr.), Tyler Burch (Soph.), Aidan McCorkle (Soph.),

Jonathan Poulter (Jr.)

St. Joseph-Ogden

Their event:

800-meter relay

Their sectional time:

1 minute, 30.52 seconds

How important is it for the boys to have the 800 relay’s No. 1 seed? “I believe it depends on the person or the relay. At times, it may be better to be the 10 or 11 seed if you’re not in the first four seeds. Having a good lane draw can be very beneficial. Having our relays in the fast heat is nice, but having a good lane draw may be even more important.” — SJ-O coach Jason Retz

How did this foursome come together? “We work hard to develop athletes in a variety of events. This was the first time these four took the baton around the track. We want to maximize our ability to get points at the state meet, and these were the best four for the team.” — Retz

Why do these four work so well together? “Coach (Matt) Umbarger does a great job with our relays. He works hard to put the right combo in the right order. We knew going in if we had good exchanges our 4-by-2 would be very solid.” — Retz

What will it take for this unit to replicate its sectional success at state? “Composure and trust will be very important. If they do the things they have been taught and the things they have worked for, they’ll find success.” — Retz

What would it mean for the boys to win the 800 relay state championship? “Winning a championship would solidify the work they have put in over the last several years. There is no magic in this group. They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten.” — Retz

Hayden Knott

St. Joseph-Ogden senior

His event: Shot put

His sectional throw:

54 feet, 4 inches

How important to you is having the shot put’s No. 1 seed? “It’s just a little different because usually you have to make finals and you can go (for the win) on the second day. But this time you have to do your best throw in one day if you want to win it. ... I haven’t PR’d in a while, but I’ve become more consistent with better throws. It’s nice to be able to throw farther more consistently.”

How did you feel about your sectional performance? “I felt like it was pretty good. (My best distance) was on my last throw, so I just needed a good throw to have a good seeding for state. ... I knew if I had a higher seed, I knew I’d have a better chance of doing well.”

What will it take for you to replicate your sectional success at state? “I have to do what I do in practice and not really think about it too much and just throw. I’d like to PR, but if I don’t PR, I just want to win.”

What would it mean for you to win the shot put state championship? “It would just be really nice because we didn’t even have a season last year, so we didn’t get to ... have the experience of it.”

Note: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley junior Aidan Laughery had the 100-meter dash’s top seed time but will not compete because of an injury.

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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