ROCHELLE – Where does a person begin in describing everything that went on at the Rochelle 2A boys track and field sectional?
Was it the gutty wins by Erie-Prophetstown over Geneseo in the 1,600 and 3,200 relays? What about Nyrel Sullivan of Sterling denying Freeport star Deion McShane a fourth individual championship, and then McShane turning around and doing it to Sullivan?
How about Jacob Gebhardt of Sterling making a claim to be the one to beat in the 1,600 run at the state meet, or teammate Zach Kirchhoff qualifying in three events after coming up short in 2016?
With all the local highlights at the Doug Creason Athletic Complex, it was almost an afterthought that Sterling won its first sectional title since … who knows when?
“We were just talking about that and trying to figure out when the last time they won it,” said long-time Golden Warrior assistant Tom DePasquale. “It had to have been in the 1980s.”
Sterling scored 85.5 points to beat the largest 2A school in the state and defending sectional champ Kaneland, which had 80.5.
“We came here to send people downstate,” first-year coach Dave Campbell said. “This is an added bonus. We had a really good meet a couple weeks ago at Beloit where we almost beat Hononegah. We were hitting PRs and placing higher than our seeds. What happened tonight doesn’t surprise me.”
Sullivan led the scoring parade with wins in the long jump and 100, and a second in the 200. He also anchored a winning 800 relay, which saw the Warriors (1:32.08) move up three spots from their seed.
“I thought we had outside shot to qualify, but not to win it,” Campbell said. “We had decent handoffs, and Nyrel kicked in it for us. He wanted to win it for the other guys [Connor Bland, Marcus Shetter, Ramos Orlando].”
Dixon was seeded first, but had a bad handoff between the first and second legs that cost them a trip downstate. Arthur Cox got the Dukes back in it on the third lag, but it wasn’t enough.
In the 100, it was Cox and his former Duke teammate Sullivan battling for sprint supremacy. Sullivan won 10.82-11.01.
“I was looking forward to it because there’s been big talk all week about us running,” Sullivan said.
“He proved he’s faster than me and gets out of the blocks better,” Cox said. “This is the first time we ran against each other since indoors.”
In the 200, it was McShane running 21.92 to Sullivan’s 22.48 in a matchup of the two fastest runners of the meet.
“I’ve been running against Nyrel since seventh grade, and he’s always pushed me,” McShane said.
In the long jump, it was Sullivan taking first to McShane’s second, hitting the 22-foot mark.
Kirchhoff came up big in the jumps as well, hitting a personal best of 44-10.5 to win by a foot. He finished second in the high jump to teammate Reid Blackburn, with both jumpers clearing 6-3.
The effort he was most proud of, though, was fifth place in the 110 high hurdles. McShane won in a blistering-fast 14.26, but Kirchhoff’s 15.28 beat the state-qualifying standard a .01 of a second.
“That was my goal coming in,” Kirchhoff said. “I felt confident in the other two events. I have so much more spring in my legs than last year went I wasn’t able to qualify in anything.”
Running in the shadow of Rock Falls’ Brayden Hamblen all season, Gebhardt ran 4:20 to easily claim the 1,600 title. Hamblen was third at 4:25, also qualifying.
“Yes, I feel like I’ve been in the background to him,” Gebhardt said. “But Brayden’s a great runner and has been destroying the area all 4 years. I’ve just come onto the scene.”
Gebhardt, who missed by one spot of placing downstate in the 1,600 as a sophomore, opted out of the 3,200 to concentrate on the 1,600.
“That’s because I want to give everything I have to win a state title in the 1,600,” he said.
Hamblen did win the 3,200 with a strategized clocking of 9:26.
“He did enough to make the fast heat [downstate] and have something left for the 1,600,” RF coach Eric Bontz said. “He’s finally starting to feel a little better and cutting back on his training.”
Erie-Prophetstown started the meet off with a bang by setting a new school record of 7:57.75 in the 3,200 relay to hold off Geneseo (7:57.89). Kerrick Cameron kicked past Geneseo’s anchor in the final 50 meters for the margin of victory.
“It was the hardest race I’ve ever been in,”
Cameron said. “I tried not to think about my legs hurting.”
“I didn’t expect them to go under 8 minutes,” E-P coach Jon Schlagheck said. “I knew our three seniors [Conner Reiley, Kody Wetzell, Cameron] would be special, but sophomore Max Weidel has been a revelation for us.”
Those four returned to the track 3 hours later and engaged with Geneseo for another classic. It was just as close, with E-P prevailing 3:24.57 to 3:24.80 for the Maple Leafs.
“Those four kids are all from Prophetstown,” 50-year plus coach Irv Sanderson said. “It’s rare to find four distance runners like that from a small town. We don’t keep records from each school anymore, but their time in the 3,200 relay beat Prophetstown’s old record of 8:01 from the early 1980s.”
In between, Wetzell made it 3-for-3 in championships with a 50.91 to 50.96 win over Nick Swartzendruber of who else: Geneseo.
“What a meet for us,” Wetzell said. “I didn’t think we would have to run this fast.”
Returning pole vault state-placer Kyle Kruthoff (14-1) of E-P took second to 2015 state champ Danny Walker (15-3) of Kaneland.
In addition to Cox in the 100, Dixon’s other state qualifiers were Jared Harrison in the 300 hurdles (40.04), Collin Newman in the shot put (51.2), and the 3,200 relay (8:08) of Jonah Fulton, Lukas Wedekind, Blain and Sean Masterson.