CHARLESTON -- Jake Hooker mentioned one motivation shared by most every athlete who competed in Thursday's Class 1A preliminaries of the boys state track finals.
"Just the thought that this could be my last race," the Timothy Christian senior said after placing second in his heat of the 300 hurdles Friday.
Fortunately for Hooker and several other locals, it was not. A returning qualifier who did not survive prelims last year, Hooker will return to O'Brien Stadium for Saturday's 1A finals -- just barely with the eighth-fastest time of 40.86 seconds, but he's in.
"This is my first time under 41 (seconds) this year," he said. "With a 40.1 last year I was disappointed through most of the season, but I will come back on Saturday, hoping for another PR (personal record)."
Lisle's 3,200-relay team of Jefferson Chan, Alex Lange, Ben Buchelt and Ryan Kilroy got one of those PRs as well.
Seeded 15th out of sectionals in the event, the Lions foursome -- only recently did freshman Lange join the three veterans on the relay -- ran 13 seconds faster on Eastern Illinois University's new, bright blue track. Their time of 8 minutes, 22.79 seconds is the ninth best time entering Saturday's finals.
"It's by far our best time," said Lisle coach Ken Jakalski. "The guys came through with the splits we thought they'd be capable of running. ... The kids feel really good about it. That's outstanding."
Lisle senior Nick Rizzotti didn't advance in the 110-meter hurdles but capped his prep career with a PR of 15.77 seconds.
IC Catholic Prep was unable to advance the 1,600-meter relay of Arturo Chaidez, Brian Anzures, Silvestre Saucedo and Tim Hipskind, but Hipskind reached the finals of the 400-meter dash. He felt sluggish over the last 100 meters, he said but ran the eighth fastest time out of 32 runners, 50.58 seconds.
"I hate losing this (relay) more than I like making it to the finals," said Hipskind, headed next fall to John Carroll University to play football. "I'd rather go with my teammates than make it by myself."
Aurora Christian has it both ways. The Eagles qualified their 800- and defending 1A champion 1,600-meter relays as well as individuals Jake Gehman, Jonah Walker and Josh Schien into Saturday's finals. Aurora Christian's five finalists are among five teams with that number, one behind Sterling Newman and two behind Erie and Pleasant Plains. Defending 1A champion Leo advanced four qualifiers.
"We've run a lot of meets before this, so it felt like another meet," said Aurora Christian junior Aidan Flanagan, not uptight in the least about joining a defending state champion relay. Flanagan and Grant Schweisthal joined leadoff Jake Gehman and anchor Johnathan Harrell to place a close second in their heat and fourth overall, at 3:27.81.
"We have a great team," Schweisthal said.
Harrell was on the relay last year until the week of the state meet when an innocent accident at school caused a knee injury that knocked him out of the finals and required surgery.
"Right now I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I hope now I can take that ice bath and come back Saturday."
Aurora Christian sophomore Kimani Mobley did not advance in either triple jump or long jump, but sophomore Josh Schien was among 14 pole vaulters to make the 13-foot cutoff. Junior Jonah Walker launched his third preliminary discus attempt 36 feet farther than his first two tries to enter Saturday's finals seeded sixth at 147-10.
In the 800-meter run senior Gehman ran 2:00.29, advancing to the finals. Due to off-and-on rain he did not warm up before his race, which came after the Eagles' unsuccessful 400 relay bid and one race before Gehman, Schien, Schweisthal and Harrell ran the fourth-fastest 800 relay going into Saturday.
"Lord, just let me do my best run," Gehman said he requested before his 800 race. "Just good enough to make it to Saturday."
Mooseheart's Wal Khat, the native of Juba, South Sudan, in his first trip to Charleston, showed the chops that made him Mooseheart's first all-state cross country runner last fall.
The tall, slim junior won his heat of the 800 and enters finals second overall, at 1:57.32. Later in the 1,600 he ran the 10th fastest time of 12 qualifiers, 4:30.98, good enough for finals but not for Khat.
"It's bad," he said.
He also joined Jeremy Kalicum, J.J. Odunsi and senior Oumaru Abdulahi in an unsuccessful 1,600-relay bid.
Abdulahi had a successful day, seeded sixth in both high jump and long jump after preliminaries. But for the three-time all-stater and 2011 high jump champ the buck stops there.
Before track season even began Abdulahi decided that, state finals or not, he'd return to Mooseheart for Saturday's graduation. At 19 years old he's lived more than half his life at the school since arriving on Sept. 13, 2002.
As for Khat, while the rains could go away he's hoping for more of this atypical weather for boys state track weekend in Charleston.
"My chances depend on it being cool," he said. "Everything comes slowly, step by step."