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CHARLESTON — If nothing else, the Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys’ track and field team learned this last Thursday: State is a completely different animal.
“It’s pretty intense,” PBL long jumper Tyler Rubarts said.
Concluding what’s been a banner season, one that included what’s believed to be the first sectional championship in program history, the Panthers sent six athletes in seven events to the Class 1A state preliminaries Thursday at O’Brien Stadium on campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. PBL failed to qualify anyone for Saturday’s finals, a result that was for the most part expected. Only one of the Panthers’ entrants — discus thrower Cory Long — was seeded among the top 10 entering the state competition.
Still, the Panthers took a lot away from the meet. The seniors were nostalgic, appreciative of a chance to compete with the best at the end of a long journey, while the younger athletes vowed the experience will be a building block for what they hope is an even better season next spring.
Off to the races … too soon
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at state more pumped last Thursday than Andy Thompson. A split of his in the 800 meters proves it.
The PBL senior typically settles into the 800 by going out in 30 seconds for the first 200 meters. Amped by all that was state and top-level competition, Thompson covered the first quarter of the race in what he estimated to be 25 or 26 seconds.
It was a remarkable pace. A little too remarkable for Thompson’s own liking.
“I went out way too fast,” Thompson said. “I got out well, but I should have known better … That might’ve been the difference between running two (minutes) flat.”
As it was, Thompson finished in 2 minutes, 3.97 seconds, good for seventh in his heat. It would’ve taken a time of 2:00.67 or better to reach the finals.
“It was a good feeling to run out. It’s one of the best feelings you can experience as a runner,” Thompson said. “It felt great. I know that’s been the reason I’ve ran. It was a good way to cap off my career here at PBL.”
With graduation on tap Friday, Thompson said he’ll look back fondly on his track and field career at PBL.
“It’s been incredible. I went to outdoor state and got 12th indoors. It’s better than I thought I was going to do when I came into high school,” he said.
Setting a new mark
The record books will never show this, which is why it’s important for it to appear in this space. Nick Glover, a senior, set a personal record in the pole vault on Thursday, clearing 11 feet, 6 inches in his final competition.
The catch? The starting height at state is 12 feet. Glover’s clearance of 11-6 came in warm-ups, so you’ll never see it in the IHSA databases, which only noted his three official misses at 12-0. Still, Glover thought achieving a new height was a fitting way to end his career — even if it did come under the radar.
“It was a lot of fun. I’m very happy with myself that I made it here. I made a huge improvement while I was here, unfortunately I still couldn’t clear the starting height,” said Glover, whose previous best — talk about improvement here — was 10-0 at sectionals two weeks ago.
“I inverted more,” Glover said of the key to his new best. “I was getting my waistline at 12 feet, and we put 11-6 bar up while we were practicing, and I cleared it.”
Sliding over 12 feet on this day just wasn’t in the cards, Glover said. He uses a 12-foot pole, and it’s difficult to clear a height that’s equal to your pole. Glover tried to adjust up to a 13-foot pole, but he was losing so much speed and power that it wasn’t worth it, he said. Pole length be darned, the end result would’ve been the same.
“I just didn’t have enough time in the postseason. It was already too late in the season to get on a new pole,” said Glover, who then put his season in proper perspective with a hint of “How’d-I-do-that?” in his voice.
“I started this season vaulting like nine feet. Now I’m vaulting 11-6.”
One of those days
Thursday just wasn’t Long’s day. The PBL senior, who competed at state for the second year in a row, scratched on all three of his tosses in the discus and didn’t advance out of preliminaries.
It was especially tough to swallow because entering state, Long was seeded fifth out of 33 competitors based on all participants’ sectional marks, of which his was 156-1. If he’d duplicated that Thursday, he’d have advanced to the finals. Throws of 144-5 or more were good enough to move onto Saturday.
“It was different. There were all those people standing in my line of sight at the beginning. I don’t like that,” Long said.
Jamison relishes experience
PBL junior Reno Jamison’s analysis of his shot put showing was brief.
“The nerves got to me,” he said with a laugh.
Jamison threw 42-7 1/2 in the shot put, a sharp drop from the mark of 47-9 1/2 he recorded at sectionals the week prior. It would’ve taken a throw of 48-11 or more to advance to the finals in the event.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jamison said when asked if the shorter throws stemmed from a technique mishap. “I just had bad throws. It was just a bad day.”
A double state qualifier, Jamison didn’t have much time to rue his shot put performance. He soon was participating in the discus, where his best toss was 137-11. It was 6 1/2 feet short of the mark needed to advance to finals, but it was a quality effort. Jamison improved on the throw of 136-7 he had at sectionals.
“After that (shot put), I just tried to not think of anything in the disc and go in and enjoy the experience, prepare for next year. It’s good experience to have for next year,” Jamison said. “That’s all I was looking for, was a good experience.”
The trip to state was made more meaningful for Jamison because of what he went through a season ago. As a sophomore, he strained muscles in his forearm and was never 100 percent, and he didn’t even compete in the discus at the end of the 2011 season.
“Just getting down here is the highlight of the season,” said Jamison, who plans to attend a couple throwing camps over the summer in an effort to improve.
“I just can’t wait to get back here next year.”
Sophomores hope to build off unexpected appearances
They got straight to the point. Rubarts and Vaughn Gentzler, both sophomores, admitted they were surprised to make it to state this year. Rubarts had a mark of 19-3 inches in the long jump, about two feet short of qualifying for finals; Gentzler ran the 110-meter hurdles in 16.79, more than a full second away from time needed to qualify for the finals.
“I never would have thought I’d be going to state as a sophomore in long jump,” Rubarts said.
“I didn’t think I’d ever make it this year,” Gentzler added.
On that token, the two’s finishes weren’t what was most important. It was taking that next step, getting used to performing in a big environment, one with all the eyes watching.
“It was a good experience,” Gentzler said. “I was kind of nervous … I want to go to state my next two years. I got better, now I’m hoping to do better next year and improve my time.”
Rubarts, who set his personal-best with a leap of 19-11 1/2 at sectionals, has set lofty goals already for next season. He wants to reach 21 feet, a mark that would have put him in the mix of qualifying for the finals this season.
“I got two more years … I have to make sure I get up in the air. I need to work on that,” Rubarts said.
Falcons represented by Gardner, Ricks
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley qualified two individuals for state, though neither qualified for the finals. David Ricks competed in the 800, finishing 10th in his heat in 2:08.40. JJ Gardner took ninth in his shot put flight with his best toss being 45-3 1/4. It would’ve taken a mark of 48-11 or more to qualify for the finals.