CHARLESTON – Luke Foreman finally caved.
He'd spend his spring running track.
A junior at Triad, Foreman is a running back on the football team. The coaching staff had been asking him for the last two years to come out and give track a chance.
Now he's an all-state athlete.
Foreman ran the first leg of the Knights' 400-meter relay as it powered around the track to a fourth-place finish in 42.97 seconds in the Class 2A meet. East St. Louis won the race in 41.81.
Foreman began the season as a relay rookie, but quickly latched on to the opening leg. He didn't have much experience coming out of the blocks, but he picked it up quick and refined his form over the course of the season. He said he really enjoyed the mental part of starting the race. It's a tough spot, especially for a newcomer, but one he relished.
“You have to focus up. All the pressure is on you to get a lead for your team,” Foreman said. “You set the tone for the whole race basically. It's a lot of pressure, but I like it. I like being under pressure.”
And his teammates were happy to have him. Foreman teamed with sophomore Josh Edison and seniors Malik Curtis and Johnnie Caswell.
“We've got a strong chemistry,” Curtis said. “We all grew up together.”
They all bought into the team mentality to compete regardless of the situation. Triad pushed itself all spring with that motto. It won its second consecutive sectional title. The 400 relay went out and won its preliminary heat Friday. All the while lowering its season-best time each time it raced.
“No matter where we place, always run like we're second. We're going to fight for it,” Curtis said. “That's how we got our spot yesterday in the prelims. That's what got us here today. We just keep fighting.”
Foreman had no idea just how fast he could be. He said this spring has opened his eyes to what he's capable. It will be of use when he returns to the football field in the fall.
“I had no clue until I came on the track,” Foreman said. “I'm glad I did it.”
Triad senior pole vaulter Jadon Elliott made good on his goal of finishing in the top three. A New Mexico University recruit, Elliott cleared 15 feet to finish third. Prairie Central senior Chandlar Ifft won with a vault of 16 feet.
“It's amazing. I was super excited when I found out it was coming down to three people and I was still in,” Elliott said. “I got what I wanted and I'm proud of it. It's a good way to finish senior year.”
MASCOUTAH'S WILSON SURPRISES HIMSELF
Mathew Wilson didn't think he'd make it to state.
Then again he didn't think he'd add 10 feet to his personal best shot put toss, either.
A junior thrower at Mascoutah, Wilson finished in sixth in the Class 2A meet with a put of 53 feet, 1.75 inches.
The 6-foot-4 and 315-pound Wilson said it was a much bigger number than he thought he had in him this spring.
“I didn't think I'd qualify,” Wilson said. “I was throwing 43 and now I''m throwing 53.”
Wilson credits his work in the weight room and refining his technique. In just his second year throwing, Wilson has become a quick study, but was still nervous during Friday's preliminary competition. He advanced to Saturday's finals with a put of 51 feet, good enough for the No. 10 seed in a field of 12 finalists.
“I was sweating it,” he said.
He put some of his anxiety at ease when his first attempt on Saturday went 52 feet. It was his last attempt that landed him on the medal stand in sixth place. He believed it would be a good mark when it left his hand.
“Going through the ring it felt quick and powerful,” Wilson said. “I knew it was going to be pretty good.”
His reward was not just a medal, but for the packed grandstands at O'Brien Field to turn its collective eyes on him. As he ascended the steps and heard his name ring out of the public address system, Wilson's nerves were active all over again.
“It's insane,” Wilson said with a laugh. “I was really nervous when they called my name. It was a lot to take in.”
STAUNTON'S RANTANEN TAKES BRONZE
Carson Rantanen knew what he was getting himself into.
A senior sprinter at Staunton, Rantanen made his third appearance at the state meet. Last year he took sixth in the Class 2A 100 after not advancing to the finals a sophomore. That experience proved big in his final high school race.
“It definitely opens yours eyes. There's a lot of good runners,” Rantanen said. “It's more of a mental kind of focus. Getting yourself ready for not always being in first. It gets you mentally prepared, physically, all that kind of stuff.”
That preparation helped Rantanen to a third-place finish in 10.83 seconds. Marengo junior Finnigan Schirmir won in 10.62. It did not, however, put his nerves at ease. Rantanen said there's always nerves when he competes. It was just a matter of pushing them aside and performing. He came into the championship meet with a goal of finishing in the top three and achieved it.
“I set a goal and I got it,” he said. “It feels truly amazing.”
CAHOKIA'S HARRIS OVERCOMES INJURY
Steve Harris spent the last two weeks living in an ice bath.
A junior hurdler for Cahokia, Harris suffered a quad injury at the South Seven Conference meet. He had about 10 days to get right before he had to test himself at a Class 2A sectional. It wasn't enough time to get him all the way back, but he made it work.
“I think it kind of irritated it more,” Harris said. “From last Friday to now I've been taking ice baths every day at school, at home. I've been rolling it out, using Icy-Hot and trying to stretch out my hamstrings at practice.”
The rigorous regimen the Cahokia coaching staff used worked as Harris took second in the 110-meter hurdles in 14.29, seven hundredths of a second behind the winner. He was third in the 300-meter hurdles in 38.31.
“I did pretty good today. The 110s I feel I could have had a better finish,” Harris said.l “I had good start in the 300s I just wasn't strong enough. I had to play catch up. Overall today was successful for me.”
Harris was the lone representative for the Comanches. An Illinois track and field powerhouse, Cahokia routinely ventures to the state meet and brings home a trophy if not a gang of award winners. Harris said the sectional meet this year went all kinds of bad for his team. It's one of the reasons why he ended up by his lonesome during Saturday's finals.
“Sectionals a lot of stuff happened. It was kind of weird for it to just be me,” Harris said. “But I think I made my teammates proud with my performance today.”
Putting together the type of performance he did on Saturday at less than his best has Harris feeling frisky about what could be in store next year should he return to state healthy. Consider his appetite whetted.
“I wish my competitors the best of luck,” he said. “I'm coming for it next year.”
FREEBURG'S PLUFF TAKES SECOND
Zac Pluff couldn't hide his disappointment.
A senior high jumper at Freeburg, Pluff returned to the state meet after a fourth-place finish last season where he cleared 6 feet, 7 inches.
Pluff improved to 6-8 this time around, but couldn't get over 6-9. He nearly did on his second attempt, but he just nipped the bar which jostled on its standard before falling. His near miss opened the door for Eureka freshman Trevor Heffren to win the title by clearing 6-9.
“I hit the mat, looked up, watched it wiggle and unfortunately it fell down,” Pluff said. “I feel like I left myself short out there. I came in with a (personal record) of 6-10. I had some good practices coming into the meet. Unfortunately I just didn't get it done today.”
Pluff believes in time he'll be able to appreciate a second and third-place finish in Class 2A in consecutive years. But that's not how he felt before stepping up to receive his silver medal. He was wishing he could have been atop the podium, not simply on it.
“I had high expectations for myself,” Pluff said. “You've got to aim high. If you fall short it's just terrible.”
Pluff helped Freeburg's 1,600-meter relay team to all-state honors as the Midgets finished in fifth in 3:24. He teamed with senior Noah Williams, Nick Elbe and Brandon Meng.
Senior Corbin Schawble was ninth in the 800 in 1:58. Williams was eighth in the 300 hurdles in 39.7.
MADISON'S KENNEDY DOUBLES UP IN HURDLES
The last three days were a blur for Kendall Kennedy. A senior hurdler at Madison, Kennedy competed in the Class 1A preliminaries on Thursday, graduated from high school on Friday and then returned to run at the state meet on Saturday.
“It happened real fast,” Kennedy said. “I barely got any sleep last night.”
He snuck in a small nap Saturday morning on the road on his way back to Eastern Illinois.
It didn't go the way he hoped but he'll take it.
The 6-foot-2 and 185-pound Kennedy took sixth in the 110-meter hurdles in 15.31 seconds. He finished sixth in the 300-meter hurdles in 40.36.
“It feels great but on the inside I know I could have done better,” Kennedy said. “It's a nasty taste but I'm thankful I got something. I'm grateful I got the place I got.”
A four-year state meet qualifier, Saturday was the second time Kennedy qualified for the finals. He was excited to take his shot and see what he could do in the last track race of his life. Kennedy, who plays basketball for the Trojans, is toying with the idea of playing hoops in college.
“It felt good,” he said. “I was looking forward to it.”
The lone championship competitor for Madison, Kennedy said it was important for him to be an ambassador for Madison and its programs. He appreciates all the people that helped him reach the medal stand and hopes he did them proud.
“I'm happy to represent my school,” Kennedy said. “It feels good to represent my school because I have so much respect for the people that work for the school every day and the coaches who take the time out of their day to support me at state.”
COLUMBIA'S HUNSAKER EARNS THREE MEDALS
Ronnie Hunsaker had one sprint race on his to-do list.
So why was the Columbia junior running around like a mad man?
“As I'm getting called for our 4-by-1 medal they're trying to stage me for the triple jump and everything,” Hunsaker said. “I showed up late for long jump (awards). One of the officials came back and got me. I was all over the place. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just trying to make it all work.”
Hunsaker capped a whirlwind Saturday by winning three medals as he took sixth in the long jump (21 feet, 8 inches), seventh in the triple jump (43-7) and he ran on the 400-meter relay that had a bad handoff on its first exchange, but battled to finish eight in 43.5 seconds.
Not bad for his first state finals experience.
“I'd say it was a pretty good day,” he said. “I'm pretty happy I came to state in three events and medaled in all three of them.”
Hunsaker had never been a part of the Saturday festivities at the state meet. He tried to enjoy them as much as he could before he got busy.
“It was pretty cool to be in the parade and walk on the track in the morning,” Hunsaker said. “How much more packed the stands are today compared to yesterday. It's just an amazing atmosphere, it's pretty cool.”