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PAXTON — The Panthers’ boys and girls showcased some youth movement at last Saturday’s Paxton-Buckley-Loda Regional.
The top runners for PBL’s boys and girls teams were each freshmen. For each team, the youth movement would serve well, as each Panther team advanced to next Saturday’s Effingham St. Anthony Sectional.
The PBL boys earned a trip to sectionals with a fourth-place score of 121. The girls took fifth place by scoring a 156.
“I think it’s great,” PBL co-coach Becky Kasten said. “It’s kind of what we’ve been working for all season. We want to get to sectionals and see what we can do there. We’re right on target with our goal, so that’s good.”
St. Thomas More won the boys meet with a score of 20. St. Joseph-Ogden (81) and Unity (82) took second and third places, respectively, with scores about 40 points lower than PBL.
The Spartans (33) won the girls meet with St. Thomas More (62), Unity (65) and Urbana Uni-High (85) taking second, third and fourth, respecively.
Still, senior boys runner Hayden Young says he is glad the PBL teams advanced to sectionals.
“It’s good,” Young said. “It’s definitely what should be expected, I feel, out of our team. I think, regionals, it should be understood that you qualify for sectionals. Hopefully, we can put it together, roll the dice and maybe qualify for state next week.”
Nick Porter led the PBL boys with a time of 16:31.8, good enough for seventh place on a course that was drenched by week-long rain.
“I thought I raced really well, especially for how the course was today and the condition it was in after the girls had raced,” Porter said. “I thought it was really good. I was happy with my plan, and I executed it.”
Audrey Bloomquist ran the girls race in 21:29.8 to take 18th place individually. Fellow freshman Helene Ellis was not too far behind, running a 23th-place time of 21:53.6.
“I thought Audrey had a really good race,” Kasten said. “Helene Ellis just did an awesome job.”
Kasten, who started the season as an assistant with the PBL Junior High cross country team, says freshmen Porter, Bloomquist and Ellis all have adjusted well from the two-mile track in junior high to three miles in high school.
“Nick Porter had an awesome race,” Kasten said. “It was a beautiful race. I was really impressed with how he did. He’s our freshman, so we have him for three more years, which is excellent. They’re doing really well. (Two to three miles) is a big jump for anybody. That’s a third longer, and they’re both doing really well kind of stretching into it. I feel like we have a strong team coming up.”
Porter said he credits his smooth adjustment to the three-mile course on his summer training.
“I feel like training over the summer helped a lot,” Porter said. “I don’t feel like it’s that big a difference, but it’s a difference. You just have to prepare mentally for it. It’s three miles, not two. I think it’s gone pretty smoothly, for the most part, so I’ve been happy with it.”
Young followed Porter on Saturday with a time of 17:09.5, good enough for 16th place. He finished one second ahead of Grey Emerson of Oakwood and about two seconds behind SJO’s Jon Crawford.
Grant Iverson took 30th place with a time of 17:54. Tyler Rubarts ran a time of 18:02 for 34th place while Kirk Vesely rounded up the scoring for the PBL boys with a 39th-place time of 18:10.
Corbin Riecks and Josh Brocato finished 40th and 43rd with times of 18:14 and 18:25, respectively. Neither time counted toward PBL’s final team score.
“Nick ran a fantastic race today,” Young said. “He was definitely out there. He ran exactly how he should have. I think I got a little carried away in the opening 600 meters of the race, but overall, next week, we’ll focus on sectionals, and that’s what we have to do. Nick ran a great race today, I’m happy with how the team ran, and we’re looking to make a statement next weekend.”
Jennifer Hustedt trailed Bloomquist and Ellis for the PBL girls, finishing the race in a time of 23:22 for 42nd place.
Paige Kuester took 47th place with a time of 24:02 while Paxton Johnson rounded up the girls’ scoring with a 53rd-place time of 24:47.
Brittany Jarboe and Tara Coady ran the race in 25:18 and 25:32 for 58th and 62nd place, respectively. Neither time counted toward PBL’s final score.
“There were some beautiful finishes," Kasten said. "I thought Tara Coady, who was, I think, our last runner, had a beautiful finish, so I thought the girls did pretty well, and we’re going to head on to sectionals and see how we do there.”
The Panthers will run in the sectional at Effingham’s Mid-America Motorworks. The girls will start their race with 10 a.m. with the boys to follow at 11 a.m.
“I feel like we accomplished our goals, so now we’re going to be working hard toward next week,” Kasten said. “Next week’s the big test.”
If either teams or any individual from PBL qualifies for the state meet, they will run a week from Saturday at Peoria’s Detweiler Park.
“That would be amazing,” Young said. “I haven’t ran in a state meet for cross country since junior high, and you know the tradition down there at that level. We haven’t had even an individual qualify for state since my freshman year when Tom Pacey did, so to qualify as an individual or a team would be a great honor.”
Porter said the prospect of making it to state in high school a year after going there in junior high would be a great feeling.
“It’d be awesome, to say the least,” Porter said. “That’s my goal right now — to get to the state meet and see what happens from there. But I feel like this year’s just a launching pad for the years to come. I’m happy with how I’m doing.”