CHARLESTON -- Aurora Christian's girls track team set the bar high for the boys by winning the Class 1A girls state championship. Thursday the Eagles' boys team put itself in position to follow suit.
Of the 11 entries Aurora Christian sent to the boys 1A preliminaries at Eastern Illinois University, seven qualified for Saturday's finals where they'll join an eighth, Tanner Chada, seeded fifth in the 3,200-meter run. That leads all 1A teams and is one ahead of Teutopolis, Tuscola and defending champion Sterling Newman Central.
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"Overall I feel like we've done great," said Johnathan Harrell, who ran on two qualifying relays -- each the fastest of the day -- and open 200 and 400 sprints.
Before two storm delays suspended the action for more than four total hours, Aurora Christian's foursome of Noah Roberts, Noah Hagerty, Grant Schweisthal and Harrell dug into O'Brien Stadium's blue track to reserve lane five in Saturday's finals in the 400- and 800-meter relays, setting school records of 42.99 seconds and 1 minute, 29.54 seconds, respectively.
"The Noahs and Grant were just burning," Harrell said. "They gave me a good lead and that actually kind of helped me. When I start off and I'm in front of (opponents) -- as they've done twice in a row for the four-by-one and the four-by-two -- I actually get nervous of someone passing me up, so that helps me run faster and run all the way through the line."
Anna McQuade, who coaches both Aurora Christian's boys and girls teams, said last week's girls victory "absolutely" motivated the boys.
"The two Noahs were down here, watching, they saw everything, and it just made them so hungry for the competition," McQuade said. "I think it was really good that they were able to see the girls, watch them experience all that, because it made them really craving the victory, too."
Also advancing were returning state finalists Josh Shien in pole vault and Jonah Walker in discus -- with the farthest throw of the day, 165 feet, 10 inches -- plus Noah Roberts in long jump.
Roberts went out for track as a freshman but "wasn't that into it." A member of Aurora Christian's two state football champions, he returned to build speed for his college career at the University of South Dakota. Now, there's a sense another title could be possible.
"Yeah, I'm hoping to pull another championship in just like the girls did," Roberts said. "That'd be great, so it's not just a football school, it can also be track."
Mooseheart, runner up to Aurora Christian at the Seneca sectional, advanced four of the nine entries it sent down -- Jeremy Kalicum in triple jump, Joe Feemorlu in the 110 hurdles, Wal Khat in the 800, and the 1,600 relay. That foursome, of Kalicum, Josh Gordon, Brandon Gadson and Khat, ran the conclusive race in 3 minutes 26.44 seconds, fastest of the nine finalists.
Feemorlu, a Liberia native who moved to Mooseheart from Columbus, Ohio, ran the 110 hurdles shortly after noon and the 300s at about 6:20 due to all the lightning in the area.
"After the first delay it didn't really hit me, but after the second, I started to get nervous," he said.
IC Catholic Prep sprinter Jordan Rowell said that last year as an eighth grader at Lombard's Glenn Westlake Middle School, there wasn't enough funding to pull together a track team to go to the elementary school meet. He made up for that on Thursday.
Rowell won his heats of the 100- and 200-meter dashes to reach Saturday's finals. His 100 time of 11.45 seconds actually was the 10th fastest, but as heat winner he reached the field of nine. He had no worries in the 200, winning his heat with the fourth-fastest time.
The 6-foot-2 freshman also anchored the Knights' qualifying 800 relay with Andrew Oliver, Aaron Taylor and Luke Calles.
"It was really fun," said Rowell, who split Lisle's Aaron Harris and Reed-Custer's B.J. Bailey the last 10 meters to win his 200 race.
"The delay was kind of a bummer, but I knew after that I had to pull myself together and run the 200. It was my dream, definitely, to be downstate."
Results of each race are quickly posted on the O'Brien Stadium scoreboard, but in preliminaries it's still a guessing game as to who will make the finals. That's the situation Lisle's Harris was left with after Rowell edged him out in the 200.
"I hope I made the finals," said the sophomore, who last year stopped running a day before sectionals with a hip flexor injury. "That's all that is going through my head right now."
Harris was able to relax for a day after reserving lane 9 in Saturday's finals with his time of 22.64 seconds.