HERSCHER — When the IHSA Boys Track and Field State Finals commence next weekend at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, the area will be well-represented with dozens of athletes, including 13 who advanced from Wednesday’s IHSA Class 2A Herscher Sectional, where the host Tigers topped Kankakee 99-89 for the team title. Each school will send six athletes to state.
“Everyone showed up; even with our small team we performed amazingly,” said Tigers junior Drew Rogers, who swept the 1600-meter (4:21.77) and 3200-meter (9:13.30) distance races. “Everyone was where they needed to be, even if they didn’t get to where they wanted to be.”
Rogers’ distance sweep came just six days after he took his talents to the national level and finished second in the prestigious Hoka Festival of Miles’ Big River Running High School Boys Championship in St. Louis.
“Drew Rogers is one of the rare gems coaches wish they have and are grateful to have when they do because you don’t get those guys often,” Tigers coach Jared Macari said. “When you do, it’s a wonderful ride, and I can’t take any credit for his work ethic.”
The Tigers proved to be much more than a one-man, nationally renowned band Wednesday, as their first victory of the day came in the first running event, the 4-by-800-meter relay (8:48.94), where freshman Thomas Morgan shaved a whopping nine seconds off his previous personal record to set a new freshman school record with a time of 2:16. He was joined on the team by teammates Jace Martin and Kamden Lockwood as well as his older brother, senior Ben Morgan, a brotherly duo Macari has dubbed the Beastie Boys.
“Ben is fluid and smooth; he feeds off of [Rogers and Lockwood], and a big part of their cross country success has carried over to track,” Macari said. “Thomas, after coming up and not having an eighth-grade year last year, stepped in to set a new freshman record, and he just never says no to a challenge.”
In arguably the highlight matchup of the evening, Herscher sprinter Dalton Woods and Kankakee speedster Quaevon Autman faced off in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, with Autman taking first in the 100 (11.10 s) before Austin caught a late wind and bested Autman with a personal record in the 200 (22.33) in a matchup Macari said Woods was excited about.
“Dalton does a great job staying on top of leaderboards, checking everyone and knowing what he has to do and where he stands,” Macari said. “He’s a worker; he knew it was [going to] be a challenge, and that’s what he wanted.”
For Autman, the two sprints were part of a hectic day in which he began by winning the long jump (6.14 m), sweeping the state-qualifying spots with teammate Jyaire Hill (6.10 m). As someone who has caught buzz around the state for his sprint times, Autman knows his teammates look to him for inspiration.
“It feels good [to go to state]; I really hoped I could have had a season last year because I thought I could have done the same thing,” Autman said. “From coming from being unranked to ranked is just crazy, so there’s a lot of expectations on me at practice to push everyone else as much as I can.”
Autman and Hill were joined by Jayon Morrow and Aveon Pittman on the first-place, 4-by-100-meter relay team (43.09 s). Matthew Thomas, Morrow, Jalen Townsend and Hill led the Kays to victory in the 4-by-200-meter relay (1:31.24), and Thomas, Hill, Townsend and Morrow helped the team finish second in the 4-by-400-meter relay.
Morrow, a freshman, also won the 400-meter race with a personal record of 51.18 seconds. Kays coach Marquis Lowe said the Kays put a lot on Morrow, who filled in for an injured teammate in the 4-by-200-meter relay, the event directly before the 400.
“He said he could do it, and I said it was suicide, but for two weeks straight, we trained his system ...” Lowe said. “When he went to get set [in the 400], he slipped off his block, and I asked if he was straight, and he said he was OK, and then he went out and won the thing, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The area also will be represented by Reed-Custer’s Evan Pickard, who is headed downstate in the pole vault for the third time in as many seasons after tying Prairie Central’s Drew Fehr with a personal record of 4.27 meters.
Pickard is the latest pole vaulter from the Comets’ program — which traditionally has been arguably the area’s premier pole vaulting program — to find success, something he credited to the coaching staff, led by pole-vaulting coach Bill Zacharias.
“It’s the coaches,” Pickard said. “They make it fun, and they’re supportive.”
The IHSA Class 2A State Finals will take place June 18 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.