CHARLESTON — Eight individuals and two relay squads from the area competed at the IHSA Boys Track and Field State Championship meet on the blue track at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Field on Saturday.
Two competitors vied for the highest honor in the state in Class 2A, and the remainder tried their respective hands against Class 1A competition.
Watseka earned the most glory down in Chucktown with 14 points as a team, which was good enough to finish in a five-way tie with St. Edward, Shiloh, Warrensburg-Latham and Williamsville.
The Warriors finished in the Top 6 in all three of their events. Senior Rusty Kuhlmann took fifth place in the shot put with a heave of 52 feet-6.25, and Jameson Cluver notched a fifth-place finish of his own in the 400-meter dash with a time of 50.48 seconds.
Kuhlmann is just the latest in a long line of excellent throwers Watseka churns out year after year on both the boys and girls teams. Head coach Rich Dickte has plenty to be happy about after this season and said he considers 2019 one of the best in his 25-year career. He was quick to honor long-time throwing coach Jim Styck as a huge part of the Warriors’ success — both this season and year-over-year in shot put and discus.
“I may be biased, but I believe we have one of the best — if not the best — throws coaches around. Jim Styck has done an awesome job for us over many years,” he said. “I’ve been coaching for 25 [years], and he’s been there for almost all of those years. I have to attribute the success we’ve had to his tutelage.”
The relay squad of Cluver, a sophomore, and seniors Blake Castonguay, Justin McTaggart and Keegan Zack also represented for Watseka by taking sixth place in the 4-by-400-meter relay.
Cluver is a former IESA state champion in the 400 but struggled last year in his inaugural high school campaign because of injury. This season, he was back with a vengeance and played a huge part in the Warriors’ success in both his signature event and as the anchor of their 4-by-400 relay.
“[Cluver] had a really rough freshman season — many people wouldn’t have even noticed him last year,” Dickte said. “He got hurt in one of our first meets with a hamstring injury, and it just lingered. But he was a Class 1A state champion in the 400 his eighth-grade year, so we knew what we were getting.
“He worked hard during the offseason to make himself less injury prone. Everything from nutrition to yoga to regularly seeing the trainer — everything he did was all about getting to that state meet,” he added. “He is one of the fiercest competitors when he steps on the track. He’s a nice kid, but,boy, does he hate to lose. He’s always going to do whatever it takes.”
Though they didn’t score as highly as a team, Central also sent a healthy number of athletes to the final day of the championship weekend.
Junior Jefferson Caspary accounted for all three of the Comets’ points with a seventh-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles (15.32 seconds). Also present was Central’s 4-by-800-meter meter relay team that consisted of seniors Jeremy Snejberg and Jeremiah Norris and juniors Trevor Swanson and Isaiah Ditta. The foursome finished 12th in the event with a time of 8:31.14.
Ditta also competed in an individual event for the Comets, snagging 19th place in the 3200-meter run with a time of 10:20.34.
St. Anne’s junior sprinter Omavi Epps notched four points for the Cardinals with a sixth-place finish in the 100-meter dash (11.05 seconds). Finally, Bishop McNamara got on the board with two points, thanks to freshman Chase Provost’s 11th place in the 3200 run.
In Class 2A, two local runners competed in the final 3200 run of the year.
Peotone’s Joey Uthe rounded out the field of 22 runners who advanced to Saturday by finishing in 11 minutes, 40.42 seconds, and Herscher freshman Drew Rogers was the top local athlete in 2A, thanks to his 14th-place finish (10:01.34).
Rogers had an immediate effect at Herscher in his freshman year and was among the best distance runners in the area during the season. Tigers coach Jared Macari has plenty to look forward to with three more seasons on the docket for the standout youngster.
“[Rogers] was our varsity conference champion in both the mile and 2 mile. We had high expectations for him coming in just based on his junior high career, and we never had any doubt that he would live up to those expectations,” Macari said. “We definitely envision him proving, getting faster and building up his endurance. He has huge potential and could be Top 10 in the state next year, not only in the 2 mile, but potentially in the mile as well.
“We started off early in the season with more injuries than we anticipated and had some scheduling conflicts with the crazy weather early on, but overall, I’m proud of the improvements we made,” he added. “Overall, this was a very successful season based upon what we started out working with due to injuries and the weather. We came down the stretch pretty well and had a really successful year.”