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PAXTON — Last year, the Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys track team made history, winning its first-ever sectional championship.
The journey toward defending its sectional championship — if not going beyond that goal, began two weeks ago with its first week of practice.
This year, John Overstreet has been replaced as head coach after nearly three decades with Erik Ronney, with Mike Brehm serving as associate head coach.
Still, the goal for this team is to repeat as sectional champions and to send as many kids to Eastern Illinois University for the state meet as possible.
“The state level is where every coach should want to achieve great success,” Ronney said. “We’ve got a number of kids on the team that are going to hopefully qualify for state, and we hopefully we can get some placers this year. We’ve got a handful of seniors. It’d be great to earn another sectional title along with bringing a lot of kids to Eastern this year.”
So far, according to Brehm, this season has been smooth sailing accompanied with a large turnout.
“Right now, the kids are responding really well to what we’re asking of them,” Brehm said. “They’ve been working extremely hard and doing what we need to do to set the kind of culture that we want. We’ve got a good group of kids. They seem to be pretty solid. It’s a large group — we’re going to have between 30 and 35 guys, and they’re sticking, so that’s good. We’re into the second week of practice, and they’re still pretty enthusiastic, so that’s nice.”
“It’s definitely helpful to have the numbers,” Ronney added. “We could always use more. We’re just going to run with what we have and keep the structure.”
Among the 30-plus members of the track team this year are three of PBL’s six state qualifiers from last year.
Reno Jamison returns for his senior season after finishing second place in the shot put and discus throw in last year’s Class 1A Paxton Sectional, qualifying for state in both events as a result. Tyler Rubarts enters his senior season as well following a second-place finish in the sectional long jump event.
Vaughn Gentzler qualified for state with a second-place finish in the sectional 110-meter high hurdles. He returns for his junior season.
“We had a couple of near misses from the defending sectional champions, so we’ve got some experience there,” Brehm said. “Of course, the goal is not only to try to defend that championship, but to hopefully challenge for the conference championship and get as many folks down at the blue track at EIU as we can. That’s the goal.”
For Ronney, a trip to state would be a homecoming. He graduated from EIU in 2008.
“I would love to be able to go back there and have a handful of kids to show off and say, ‘Hey, this is what Paxton’s all about,’ and put us on the spot,” Ronney said. “It’ll be fun. I don’t know if I’ve got anybody down there that went to school with me. I hope they’re all out.”
PBL will get its first chance at official competition at 7:30 p.m. today, when it travels to Urbana for a meet hosted by Uni High.
“You’ve got to get started sometime,” Ronney said. “This will be a competition to see where we’re at. The kids are ready for it. They’re getting really excited. It’s going to be a good starter for the season to see where we can improve and where we’re ready to take on and see for the rest of the year.”
To prepare for the early start to the season Panthers have already gotten their practice routines for the season prepared. According to Brehm, they will need that preparation to be ready for meets like the Apr. 12 one at Monticello, the Apr. 19 contest at Tolono Unity and the Apr. 26 outing at St. Joseph-Ogden.
“We have it all planned out,” Brehm said. “In fact, we already have the entire season of workouts planned, so all we’ve got to do is look at the book and modify it — like tonight, we’re modifying it a little bit because of the weather. We want to get them out of here and be safe. Then they finish up with some other exercises at the end and a brief cooldown, and we send them all home.
“It’s regimented, but we know that we need that if we’re going to be successful. If we’re going to compete with the St. Joseph-Ogdens, the Tolono Unitys and the Urbana Uni Highs of the area — which are the quality track programs, we know what we need to do. I’ve known those coaches for a long time and know how they go about doing business, so that’s what we’re striving for. We’ll see them sometime either down at Monticello, Unity or St. Joe. We’ll catch almost all those teams somewhere along the lines, and we look forward to the competition. It’ll be fun.”
As well as Ronney and Brehm, volunteer assistant coach Mike Tipsord is a new coach with the high school track program after running the 400-meter dash and 4x400 meter relay as a member of the Paxton High School Class of 1971. He ran the 12th-fastest 400-meter time in school history and was part of the seventh-fastest 4x400 meter time.
He was a volunteer with the junior high track team last year and has been an assistant with the junior high cross country team since 2007.
“These guys here, from what I’ve seen — I’ve worked with a lot of these guys in cross country and junior high with coach Brehm — and some of them I just know who they are. I like their attitude. They want to be here,” Tipsord said. “I think they’re going to do some good things. It’s a good foundation there when you see what’s coming out of the junior high program and coming into here, and it shows. I’m looking forward to a good season. I think these guys are going to surprise some people.”