CHARLESTON – Kylian Lally may be a beginner when it comes to track, but he performed like a grizzled veteran at the 2A boys state track & field preliminaries on Friday.
Lally qualified for Saturday's finals in one event and helped a relay make it in another, as Dixon had a big day. The Dukes advanced to the finals in four of six events in which they had athletes.
Lally, a wrestler by trade in his first year out for track, turned in a time of 1 minute, 56.98 seconds to advance in the 800. It was nearly 3 seconds faster than his sectional time.
"I'm pleased with the time that I had," Lally said, "and I'm glad it took me to the next day. Today, it's about survival, and I'll worry about times tomorrow. I'm pretty happy with what happened."
Starting in lane 2, Lally burst out right away and stood in second place at the break. That was by design.
"I wanted to get out before they all merged because I was scared that I was going to get boxed in," Lally said. "I've had that happen to me before. And I don't like running other people's pace. I like to be able to do my own thing. Being dictated by the kids around me is not fun."
For the last lap, Lally only had one runner to chase, Normal U-High's J.D. LaFayette, who had posted the second-fastest sectional time and was the favorite in heat No.2. LaFayette won the race in 1:56.05.
"I knew that if I could keep up with him, I could make it to tomorrow," Lally said. "That was definitely good for me."
Lally has run as fast as 1:55.77 this season, and will likely need to exceed that in the finals if he is to be a threat to win.
"There's going to be a whole new atmosphere," Lally said, "and I'm excited for it."
Lally was also part of the 1,600 relay team that posted a season-best time of 3:25.23 to secure a finals berth. Matt Coffey, Alex LaMendola and JD Gieson were also part of that team. They sliced more than 2 seconds off their sectional time in the process.
"We ran 3:27 at sectionals," Coffey said, "and it's awesome that we could take 2 seconds off our time and make it to the finals. Hopefully, we can do even better tomorrow."
With elite teams Burlington Central and Springfield Southeast in their heat, the Dukes switched up their order. LaMendola, normally the anchor runner, instead led off, and he had Dixon in the lead after the first 400 meters.
"We figured Alex would get us in a good spot and get us out in front," Coffey, the No. 2 runner, said. "I had some room on the break, and that really helped us out."
Central (3:23.41) edged Southeast (3:23.43) for first, but the Dukes stayed relatively close. They then sweated out three more heats, and advanced with the 8th-best qualifying time.
Gieson also competed in a pair of individual events, with one good result and one not so good.
He advanced in the long jump with a distance of 20 feet, 8 3/4 inches. He did that on his first jump, and was unable to improve on that with two more attempts. He is seeded ninth among 12 finalists.
"I moved my steps back because I knew I could get in by just jumping from behind the board," said Gieson, who had gone 21-10 at the sectional. "It was not the best of days, but I've got tomorrow, and I can really take it out."
Gieson's top event, at least on paper, was the 300 hurdles. He had the fifth-best sectional time of 39.4, and was off to a fast start in his heat after clearing the first two hurdles cleanly.
After getting over the third hurdle, however, he took a tumble.
"Coming over the third hurdle, I brought my trail leg through, and caught my foot on the Centralia guy [Kalvin Johnson] right ahead of me," Gieson said. "My leg must have just swung wide. It was just too bad. I've never had a hurdle take me out, and technically I still haven't."
Dixon coach Bruce Luther checked to see if there were grounds for an appeal, but there were not.
The fourth Dixon qualifier was Simon Thorpe, who turned in a time of 4:25.48 in the 1,600. He finished fourth in his heat, and is seventh among 12 qualifiers.
Thorpe was second for much of the race before being passed down the stretch. Dixon distance coach Kel Bond instructed Thorpe not to chase those that passed him, as in the big picture, it didn't really matter.
"I could hear my coach and he said, 'You're fine,' so I didn't make an effort to catch those guys because I knew I was in the finals," Thorpe said. "That was the goal for today. I wasn't here to run any good times or anything."
Thorpe chose to skip the 1,600 as a junior to save himself for the 3,200. He was contemplating skipping one of the distance events this year as well, but Bond informed him only two 3,200 champs in IHSA history have not competed in the 1,600.
"Last year, other guys ran the mile, and I feel like they were a lot more ready to go than I was," said Thorpe, who took seventh in the 3,200 a year ago with a time of 9:28.99.
Dixon also competed in the 3,200 relay, but did not advance to the finals with a time of 8:15.49. Evan Grady, Austin Trevino, LaMendola and Lally posted a time that was 5 seconds slower than what was run at the sectional.
"I think it was just the nerves getting to us," LaMendola said. "We were all hyped up [Thursday] night, thinking that we were going to get it, so I think that also did it too. It just all depends on what you do on the track, and we didn't get it done."