PEORIA – Those who did not see last weekend’s extremely close sectional championship finish between Sterling senior Jake Gebhardt and Kaneland senior Matt Richtman got their chance Saturday at the Class 2A State Meet.
Gebhardt edged out Richtman by hundredths of a second at the Kaneland Sectional. Would it be another photo finish in their final high school race?
The way the two stayed together in the final mile Saturday, it darn near appeared to be that way.
In a mad sprint down the final straightaway, Gebhardt and Richtman raced side-by-side until about 500 feet left to go. Gebhardt, who had beaten Richtman in every race the two had been in this year, fell victim to one final surge from Richtman – and a rare case of tired legs.
Both finished with identical times of 14 minutes, 23 seconds, but Richtman
had an edge of a few feet on his friend and
Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference rival.
“It was all about who had the most,” Gebhardt said. “My competitive nature really kicked in. I just didn’t think it was enough.”
“It was a very similar race as last week with us, all three up there,” Richtman said. “Very, very similar to last week. It felt good to switch things around from what happened last week.”
The finish was odd for Gebhardt. It was the first time the Indiana commit hadn’t been able to walk after a race. Right after crossing the finish line and realizing he had lost his first race of the year, he put his hands on hips and slowed down to tend to his legs.
“The last 5 meters, my legs were so weak,” Gebhardt said.
“He ran about as well as he could have,” Sterling coach Greg Hendrix said. “Matt had a better race than him, and that’s what it came down to.”
Gebhardt, Richtman, and Crystal Lake South senior Jack Becker knew they were going to be in the top three toward the last stages of the race. Early on, they were behind a couple of runners who broke out fast at the start. Those runners soon faded, and most of the final mile became a three-way tradeoff between Gebhardt, Richtman and Becker.
After a passing try failed, Becker fell behind the top two runners just before the final turn to the straightaway and finished third in 14:31.
“With how the race shaped up, I knew it was going to end up being something like that: a repeat of sectionals last week with the three of us going at it,” Becker said. “I was expecting that coming in. I would have liked to win, but third place is a great accomplishment for me.”
Becker and Richtman will be teammates next year, as both will run at Bradley. Gebhardt and Richtman have developed a friendship throughout their 4 years of running against each other. Together with Sycamore senior Stephen Poorten, who finished seventh in 14:56, the three interact on an internet chat group and discuss a wide range of topics, including running.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Richtman said. “We race together a lot, and it was exciting that [the finish] was with him.
“He’s gotten very good this year. Last year, I beat him every time. This year, it’s finally good to end up on top in the last race.”
Gebhardt, Poorten and Richtman have had their battles in past NIB-12 Conference championships. Poorten won 2 years ago, Richtman won last year, and Gebhardt won last month.
“It’s pretty awesome that the NIB-12 is doing so good in the cross country side of things,” Gebhardt said. “If you really know cross country in the NIB-12, I think we’re one of the best conferences in the state.
“It’s pretty awesome that Matt won, and the NIB-12 won one, too. I knew it was going to be me or Matt, because we just know each other so well.”
Gebhardt was Sterling’s only runner. Richtman led his Knights to a sixth-place finish with 234 points. Poorten led his Spartans to a third-place finish with 151 points. Mahomet-Seymour won the 2A team title over Normal U-High, 91-114.
“It’s the top finish in Sterling High School history. It wasn’t my goal at the beginning of the season, but something definitely to be proud of,” Gebhardt said. “It’s something that I can always look back on and be proud of. It showed how hard work really does pay off.”
“Second in state is nothing to be mad about,” Hendrix said. “He had a great career, a great season.”