Boys track & field: Dixon group leads large contingent of 2A state qualifiers
By Andy Colbert
ROCHELLE – Going into Thursday’s Class 2A boys track & field sectional, distance-heavy Dixon knew it was all about managing the heat.
“We have Pedialyte, ice and old ratty shirts for making ice rags,” Dixon coach Ryan Deets said. “We are using two separate buses so our runners could come later.”
That strategy served the team well, as it qualified for next week’s state meet in seven individual events and one relay.
Leading the way were senior distance standouts Brock Drengenberg and Cadyn Grafton.
Drengenberg nearly broke Kylian Lally’s 800-meter school record of 1:55.74. Running smooth and relaxed in the 90-degree weather, Drengenberg was clocked at 1:55.90.
“I wanted the first lap at 55 seconds, and on the last lap, it was basically giving everything I could,” Drengenberg said.
Martin Diaz of Plano made a brief push on the final curve, but Drengenberg’s 20-meter lead was too much to overcome. Next week at the IHSA state meet, a more formidable opponent will come from No. 1-ranked Wilson Georges of Limestone.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be a really good race,” said Drengenberg, who may have overtaken Georges as No. 1, pending sectional results.
Grafton, who along with Drengenberg ran on the Dukes’ state championship 4x800 relay two years ago, easily won the 3,200 run with a time of 9:58.
“I paced myself just enough to get in the fast heat [downstate]” said Grafton who was attempting a difficult 3,200/1,600 double.
“The real test on how well we manage the heat was the mile [1,600 run],” Deets said.
Both Drengenberg (4:24) and Grafton (4:26) passed that test with a 1-2 finish, reserving enough in the tank for the final event of the evening, the 4x400 relay.
In an exciting finish, it was the Dukes running a season best to edge Sycamore, 3:29.75 to 3:29.97. Joining Drengenberg and Grafton on the first two legs were Jacob Gusse and Jacksen Ortgiesen.
In team standings, the Dukes took third with 91 points, trailing only Sycamore (106) and Sandwich (101.5).
In the field events, Dre Jackson and Skyler Connolly picked up wins for Dixon.
Spurred on by Ben Blackburn of Rock Falls, Jackson uncorked a PR of 14.99 meters on his final attempt in the shot put. Moments earlier, Blackburn had taken the lead away with a mark of 14.55.
“That gave me the push I needed,” said Jackson who took second in the discus at 42.19.
Blackburn may have been the happiest runner-up of the whole meet, taking 2 feet off his person best and embracing Jackson afterward.
“He motivated me, too,” said Blackburn with a huge smile. “We’ve been going back and forth for three years. I’ve never beat him, but it was close today.”
Connolly, a relative newcomer to pole vaulting, went from missing 7-foot-6 in his first meet of the year to being a sectional champ at 3.51 meters, or about 11-6.
“I never imagined this,” Connolly said. “I started halfway through my sophomore year and recognized that the team needed vaulters. It helped having good coaching.”
Deets who also serves as vault coach, said: “He’s one of the best when it comes to body control and flexibility.”
Sterling got a second place from its 4x800 relay team of Sam Brown, Javon Bruce, Thomas Holcomb and Dale Johnson. Sycamore held the lead from start to finish, winning 8:18 to 8:23.
In a model of consistency, the four runners had splits of between 2:04 to 2:08, with the freshman Johnson anchoring.
“We settled into that race nicely,” Sterling coach Dave Campbell said. “For Dale Johnson, it was going from seventh grade to running against varsity, since there was no track last year. He’s someone to keep an eye on.”
Johnson ran 4:36 in the 1,600 and took third behind the Dixon duo. He needed 4:31 for state qualification.
After watching his 4x800 relay downstate, this will be Campbell’s last season as Golden Warriors coach after six years at the helm.
Matthew Marcum joined Rock Falls teammate Blackburn as a qualifier with a second place in the 300 hurdles; his time of 39.62 currently ranks seventh in 2A. It was redemption after a botched handoff between him and Alan Carter on the last leg of the 4x200 relay that likely cost a state qualification.
Instead, the Rockets took third in 1:33.30. Up until that final handoff, it was even between Sandwich, Sycamore and Rock Falls.
With coach Eric Bontz pinning so much on this race, he could be seen in emotional agony after valuable seconds were lost on the exchange.
“That was it. You can’t mess up handoffs in big meets like this,” said Bontz.
Rock Falls placed fifth overall with 51 points. Besides the near miss in the relay, freshman Kohle Bradley was one spot away in the pole vault (3.21), and Carter took third (15.90) in a very competitive 110 high hurdle race.
In another heartbreak, the 4x400 relay of Bud Hillard, Booker Cross, Carter and Marcum hung with Dixon and Sycamore throughout the race, running 3:30.80 to take third; a time of 3:28.84 was need for automatic qualifying.