CHARLESTON -- St. Charles North senior Oshay Hodges had competed in the boys state track meet in Charleston once before, with much success. In 2011 Hodges finished second in Class 3A high jump.
Last weekend he again made Saturday's finals, going even higher than before, but not without difficulty due to a health issue.
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"Honestly," he said. "I didn't even think I was going to make my opening height."
Taking off in the second phase of his last triple jump on Saturday he slammed his heel onto the runway, aggravating an old injury. He completed the attempt but it was awkward and nowhere near the school-record 45-foot, 5½-inch distance he landed in Friday's preliminaries.
"I pounded on it and it just completely hurt, really bad," he said later. "And I was contemplating not even really doing high jump like that."
He hit the bar twice at 6 feet, 2 inches.
"I was like, you know what, this is not really going my way," he said. "I kind of sucked it up and I was surprised I got up to 6-8, which (ties) my personal best."
Though an inch improvement over Hodges' state mark last year, this year that height only was good for sixth place, with five jumpers clearing 6-9 including two-time champ Carl Heinz of Oak Park at 7-1. (Heinz unsuccessfully made three attempts at the towering 7-3½ state record set in 1985 by Heyworth's Tom Smith.)
"I'm happy with it," said Hodges, looking cool in the heat with his dark shades and "Like a Boss" T-shirt. "I like jumping against all these guys. It was nice, I'm not mad at all."
Saturday was the last time runners would take the existing blue oval at O'Brien Stadium. Eastern Illinois is redoing its football field and track facilities. Hodges, who said he decided on attending Eastern "about a month ago," will benefit.
"I can't wait," he said. "(This was) good practice for next year. It'll be nice."
Newbies: Hodges competed last year in Charleston, but it was a new experience for St. Charles North's Jack Feeney, Zach Kirby, Connor Larson, Grant Loess and Josh Phelan, who ran on either -- or both -- of the North Stars' qualifying 800 and 1,600 relays.
Kirby, a junior who also ran in Friday's 400-meter preliminaries, four slots away from making finals at 49.69 seconds, had been there before, but not as a competitor.
"It helped out a lot last year, coming down, getting the feel, knowing what's all going to happen," he said. "Seeing (his teammates) come in here, big-old wide-eyed, 4,000 people in the stands -- you know what to expect."
St. Charles North made neither relay finals, but with the exception of Hodges all will return.
"This season's been really good overall," said Feeney, a sophomore. "We've improved drastically since we started, so I'm pretty happy with that."
St. Charles North repeatedly lowered its program record in the 800 relay this season and hopes to do the same next season to earn a bid back to Charleston.
"There's great athletes all over the place," Kirby said. "You've just got to deal with it, and next year we have three returning people (on the 1,600 relay). We should have a good year next year, too."
Close counts: Aurora Central Catholic's 3,200-meter relay of Alex Duncan, Matt Marter, Zack Flint and Matt Meyers finished fourth in Class 2A at 7 minutes, 58.89 seconds. That was the second-best time in Chargers history, coach Troy Kerber said, a half-second off the 1979 record.
Kerber said a key was putting Flint, a junior, in with three distance runners. Saturday's finals were only the fourth time Flint, a converted sprinter, had run 800 meters.
Happy returns: Wheaton Academy freshman Noah Van Dyke, running in the Class 2A 800 preliminaries, was the first Warrior to see O'Brien Stadium's blue oval since distance runner Mike DeRenzo in 2009. Van Dyke was followed in the 400 by sophomore Matt Ruff. Neither reached the finals, but set the stage for the next few years.
"It's the best feeling ever, being able to come out here, represent Wheaton Academy," Van Dyke said. "We're a small school but it just goes to show we have heart. We're able to do what we need to get done. I'm very happy to be here no matter what happened today. It's just a privilege."
Ruff did call the competition "nerve wracking," but obviously was pleased to be in Charleston.
"It's very hard competition," he said, "but it's an experience that you can't forget."
They said it: Kaneland's Dylan Nauert, on the secret of his personal-best 300 hurdles time of 39.67 seconds in Friday's Class 2A preliminaries: "Just run. It's a fast track. I just ran. It's all about in between the hurdles. It's not the start and the finish, it's hurdle to hurdle to hurdle." (The sophomore dropped his time to 39.34 in the finals, good for sixth place.)
Marmion high jumper Pete Stefanski, second place in Class 3A at 6 feet, 10 inches, on the first of three 90-plus days for the finals in Charleston: "I like the heat, actually. I like the heat a lot. I can't jump in the cold weather, and up by where I live (Aurora) I rarely get hot meets."
Kaneland junior Dylan Pennington, leadoff leg of the Knights' third-place 800-meter relay, on his motivation: "My motivation here was trying to get (senior Sean) Carter his best, last race."
Carter, who anchored that 800 relay as well as a sixth-place 100 relay and seventh in the open 200: "I wouldn't ask for anything other than this, to be with these guys, this spot. We had a great time, we enjoyed every second with each other and I'm looking forward to coming back to watch them next year."
Geneva's Ben Rogers, a Class 3A all-stater in long jump and triple jump, in probably his last track meet -- unless he can convince his Cornell football coaches otherwise: "I've never been to a sporting event like this, ever. This is unbelievable, so I feel very blessed to be able to compete in an event like this. It was a great way to go out."