CHARLESTON – Roy Hummel didn't start running the 1,600 meters until the final month of the season.
Now the Dixon senior will have the opportunity to see how he measures up to the state's best. He turned in a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 25.86 seconds at the Class 2A boys state track meet preliminaries on Friday at O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.
The finals for classes 1A, 2A and 3A are slated for Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.
"Just being down here and running with the top guys in the state is a huge accomplishment for me," Hummel said.
Hummel concentrated on the 800 meters for most of the season, but his times were unlikely to hold up against elite competition. That's when he decided to add two laps to his workload.
He ran the 1,600 at the Sterling Night Relays, the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet and the Sterling Sectional, with a previous best of 4:27.74 at the conference meet.
His sectional time of 4:28.21 had him seeded 17th heading into the state meet, and he enters the finals seeded ninth among 12 runners.
"What you put on your wall at the beginning of the season is you want to be out here, you want to be good," Hummel said, "and eventually stand on the medals podium. Right now, I'm one step closer to the dream. It feels great. It means a lot of hard work paid off finally."
As for Saturday's race, he hopes that going against a top field led by Charleston's Riley McInerny, who posted a 4:20.41 in the prelims, will prod him along.
"I just need to stay with the pack," Hummel said, "and finish with a lot of heart."
Four other area Class 2A athletes – JD Gieson and Reid Deets of Dixon and Cornell Hartz and Jacob Kirchhoff of Sterling – came up short in bids to advance to the finals.
Gieson missed by a whisker in the long jump. His top effort of 20 feet, 3 1/2 inches came on the second of three jumps, and on a tough day for jumping, figured to place him squarely on the bubble.
Gieson ended up 14th, and the 12th and final qualifier, Donovyn Hammonds of Chatham Glenwood, posted a distance of 20-4. Gieson jumped 21-7 to tie with Hartz for top honors at the Sterling Sectional.
"A half-inch, that can be made up just by kicking my feet up a little bit farther," Gieson said. "I ran hard, but I just didn't get enough pop off the board, I guess."
Gieson also competed in the 300 intermediate hurdles. He turned in a time of 40.68, well off the 39.95 he had posted at the sectional.
"There was a little bit of headwind coming out of the blocks, and usually that's when I've got to make up my time," Gieson said. "At sectional, I ran real hard out of it to make up the stagger. It was harder to do that into this headwind."
A sophomore, Gieson is already looking forward to getting two more tries at state.
"A lot of it's just mental," Gieson said. "You can't let anything psych you out and just run your own race. Don't even think about what other people are doing or what time or distance you think you need. That will help me out next year."
Deets, who qualified on the number (22.46) at sectional in the 200, was unable to duplicate that effort at state with a time of 22.79. He was fifth in his heat and 18th among 26 competitors.
"I think nerves got to me on the straightaway," Deets said. "I kept hearing guys behind me, and that scared me a little bit."
Like Gieson, Deets is eager for a return to state next year.
"I'll be back next year and be stronger and faster," Deets said. "I'll have a better work ethic next year."
Sterling's two entrants both had rough days.
Hartz opened the long jump with a 19-7 3/4, nearly 2 feet less than his sectional distance, but as it turned out, it was the best he could muster. He fouled on his second attempt, then went just 19-7 on his third and final jump.
"Everything was perfectly fine – I was just a little beat up," said Hartz, who plans to attend Sauk Valley Community College for 2 years, then walk on at Eastern Illinois. "I'm just glad that I could come here for my senior year. It's a good feeling."
Kirchhoff's first triple jump of the day, he noted, would have been in the 42 feet-range, but he scratched by a fraction of an inch, according to a meet official. His next two attempts were not that close, and he fouled on both.
"The first two times my steps were off," Kirchhoff said. "After the second one, I hit my heel pretty bad, then I kind of gave out on my third one. My mark was just off today."