PEORIA – Seth Williams seemed perfectly fine with settling.
“Fifteen twenty-three?!” he exclaimed, his eyes huge with joy. “That’s a [personal record]!”
Actually, what he was told was 23, as in 23rd place at his first state cross country meet. The Rock Falls sophomore was not upset by the clarification.
“That’s amazing,” Williams said, his eyes growing bigger yet. “That’s truly amazing. That makes the hard work mean everything. I gave up my summer to run 450 miles, and this is what happens.”
Williams moved up a few spots in the final 400 meters to run the course at Detweiller Park in 15 minutes, 41 seconds and earn all-state honors. His Rockets were 16th as a team with 372 points, 62 more than 14th-place Newman.
Rock Falls freshman Brayden Hamblen was 32nd (15:54), 5 seconds faster than the Comets’ front-runner in 38th place, junior Bryson Reyes.
Drew Rosengren (54th, 16:11), Chris Ahlers (70th, 16:18), Micah Trancoso (101st, 16:35) and Brady Osborn (175th, 17:48) rounded out the Comets’ counting runners.
Osborn, a freshman, was thrust onto the big stage when junior Quincy Coomes hurt his shoulder in a spill at practice Monday.
“A young guy like Brady to not be scared, and to step up to a man’s race is just incredible,” Trancoso said. “That shows a lot of poise, and a lot of character.”
“It was nerve-racking,” Osborn said. “There’s just so many people out there. It makes you work a lot harder. It’s a lot more mental than it is physical.”
Reyes came away with mixed feelings. He controlled what he could, but succumbed to the wear and tear of the season.
“I gave it my all,” Reyes said. “It just wasn’t enough today. I had a bad day. In the middle of the race, I don’t know what hit me. But it hit me pretty hard. All at once, I just died.”
Williams said he’d never been so nervous before a race.
“I was scared. I was almost throwing up,” he said. “I was so nervous I was shaking. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna do bad. There’s so many great runners coming back from last year who placed.’ But I just dealt with it. It’s either step up and medal, or step down and have to wait till next year.”
Just before the shimmy leading into the slightly uphill homestretch, Rock Falls coach Mark Truesdell hollered, “If you want to medal, you gotta go now!”
Williams followed the instructions to the letter. Filling in behind him were Hamblen, who was in the top 25 for about the first 2 miles, Cayden Erickson (92nd, 16:29), Kasey Anger (170th, 17:41) and Brodie Henson 185th, 18:04).
Anger, the lone senior in the bunch, was beaming with pride as he discussed Williams’ performance afterward. But then, Anger had a hard time keeping himself from smiling since arriving in Peoria for his first state meet.
“This is all I wanted, was to make it here,” he said. “Stepping on the course yesterday, during practice…that was fun. Different. To think about how fast the people are who ran on this course? Crazy.”
“He wanted it so badly, to make state” Williams said. “It was so great to bring the whole team down.”
Leaving with a medal? What a pleasant surprise.