CHARLESTON -- Ben Barnes saw the opening and took it.
Cahokia's Jamari Ward, who had led Class 2A long jump since he went 22 feet, 10½ inches on his first attempt in Friday's preliminaries of the Boys Track and Field Championships, didn't go any farther his first try in Saturday's finals. The next time around, he passed.
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Barnes, the junior from Kaneland, responded with an 8-inch personal-record leap of 23-5 that catapulted him into first place. Dragged back into competition Ward, previously thought unbeatable at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium, managed 21-7.
Moving from third to first, Barnes got Kaneland off to a blazing start.
"I saw that as an opportunity," Barnes said. "I always just attack the board hard and I gave it all to my (jumps coach Ryan Gierke) because he made me move back farther than my regular mark because he knew that I was going to attack it hard and run faster than I would and just make sure I get that mark to hit that 23."
Meanwhile, near the awards stand, there sat Knights throwers Nate Dyer and Alex Snyder. Dyer had just notched his own PR with a first-place shot put of 58 feet, 5¼ inches while Snyder moved up to fifth place with another PR, of 54-5½.
"The great thing about the sport is we've got to be the best we can be individually to help out the whole team, and that's kind of got us all going," said Dyer, also seventh in discus.
After delivering 16 entries into Saturday's finals, then the big bangs of Barnes, Dyer and Snyder plus Dylan Kuipers' fourth-place finish over at pole vault, Kaneland had early momentum to potentially knock off favored Cahokia.
The Comanches, however, weren't three-time defending champions for nothing, and they eventually won their fourth. In a title race Kaneland coach Eric Baron accurately predicted would come down to the last event, Cahokia won the 2A title with 90 points to Kaneland's 84. The second-place finish was Kaneland's best since placing second in 2A in 2010.
"I'm so proud of my team, we never quit all day long. We just kept coming after them, coming after them," Baron said.
"They're the standard, and we went after it today. My hat's off to Cahokia, they did a great job. My guys did amazing all day today. That four-by-four at the end of the day just typifies who we are, we just don't quit. I couldn't be prouder of my team."
Kaneland's 1,600-meter relay of Brock Robertson, Brandon Bishop, Kyle Carter and Nathaniel Kucera nearly won gold when Kucera, taking the handoff in fourth place, ran his relay leg in 48.6 seconds to move into second for good -- but behind Cahokia -- with 200 meters left.
"I'm just really proud of how our team came together until today," Kucera said, "knowing we had a mission to do until today, and if we just did what we could do we could make it a show between us and Cahokia. They're a fantastic program and we knew coming in that they weren't going to back down from anything."
Kucera, Carter, Luis Acosta and Austin Kintz were held out of first in the 3,200 relay only by Illiana Christian's Class 2A record of 7 minutes, 46.38 seconds.
The Knights also earned all-state performances by Robertson and Dylan Nauert in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, by Kucera and Carter in the 400 dash, and by the 800 relay squad of Barnes, Bishop, Isaac Swithers and Nauert.
"We're just here to do our best," Bishop said after that, "you can't really ask more than that."
One week after Aurora Christian's girls squad won the Class 1A level, the Eagles boys team, eight strong, duplicated that feat by edging Eureka for the state title with 46.50 points to 42.
Senior Jonah Walker, who still has a tear in the supraspinatus muscle in his right throwing shoulder, became his school's first individual state champion when his discus throw of 165 feet, 10 inches held up from Friday's first preliminary effort.
"I've put in a lot of hard work since my sophomore year," Walker said. "I was the only sophomore at state to make it to the shot put finals. Junior year I was ninth in discus, and this year, first. So it's been a lot of hard work. I'm definitely recovering, I've had a lot of pain, but it's definitely worth it."
The Eagles' Josh Schien moved up 5 places from last year in state pole vault to place sixth, where freshman Tanner Chada finished in the 3,200 run.
The unsinkable Johnathan Harrell capped his day with a fifth-place finish in the 200. He was a little tuckered out by then, having placed second in the 400 and anchoring second-place 400 and 800 relays with Grant Schweisthal, Noah Roberts and Noah Hagerty -- who lost his shoes and had to borrow a Kaneland runner's.
Needing to get the Noahs on board for track, at the start of the season Harrell didn't feel this was possible.
"I didn't really think that we were going to be coming out here and doing anything special," he said.
"My husband (Craig) was working on the stats for the last week, so we were surprised," said Aurora Christian coach Anna McQuade. "I think it was 46-45 between us and (third-place) Tuscola according to the sectionals. So they knew they had to come and do some work if they wanted to clinch the title."
Also in 1A, Mooseheart won the 1,600 relay title with Jeremy Kalicum, Josh Gordon, Brandon Gadson and Wal Khat.
In Class 3A, York unseated three-time defending champion Lake Park.
In 3A high jump, the final five jumpers at 6 feet, 9 inches included St. Charles North's Erik Miller and Marmion's Tyler Maryanski. Maryanski bowed out having cleared 6-8 but Miller continued to duel Grant's Jonathan Wells. Miller missed his first attempts at 6-10 before clearing it on his third try. He was unable to match Wells' 7-foot jump, settling for second place with his top height since the last week of April.
"It was awesome," Miller said. "It would have been nice to win to have two state championships in the family with my brother (Steve, 2008 3,200 relay) but I'm definitely happy with 6-10, second place. I worked hard for it. Now I can't wait for Illinois State."
West Aurora's Chris Walker has a couple years before he can say that, but perhaps something similar awaits the sophomore. The first-year track athlete moved from fifth to second in 3A triple jump with his final attempt, of 46-11½
"It's just unbelievable," he said. "I never really thought I'd make it this far, but I made it. If it wasn't for all the coaches and teammates supporting me I probably never would have made it here -- and my family."
Burlington Central: During the more than three-hour bus ride to Eastern Illinois University, the members of the Burlington Central track team knew that winning at a trophy at the Class 2A state track and field championships this weekend at O'Brien Field was more than possible. That is, if the Rockets did what they were capable of.
The formula was simple. Watch junior Lucas Ege run real fast in his hurdles races and in the two relays and let the chips fall where they may. Of course, Ege had plenty of help too. SIU-Edwardsville-bound senior Matt O'Connor would place second in the 800-meter run to add 8 very valuable points.
But even with all of that, it would take a fantastic performance from Ege, O'Connor, Casey Matthews and Kyle Neubauer in the 1,600-meter relay to end the meet to give the Rockets the final push in points they would need.
The foursome from Central did just that, moving up one spot from their preliminary seed to third place and breaking the school record running 3:19.92. The final push of 7 points from the third place finish gave the Rockets 38 team points, securing the third place trophy in the meet. It was the first trophy for Central since a runner-up finish in 2001.
"This has been a great team from the get-go that has so much heart and they are mentally tough," said Central coach Mike Schmidt. "It was a hot day -- a hot couple of days actually and for them to overcome all that and do the things they had to do to be successful made for such an incredible day."
Ege along with Matthews, Jason Berango, and Travis Panariello made up the 400 relay team that got it all started for Central. The group ran 42.77 moving up from the seventh seed to fourth. Then it was Ege-time for the Rockets.
Though he didn't perform to his expectations in the 110 high hurdles, he did finish third in a blistering 14.49 clocking. The anger Ege felt only fueled the fire for his final individual race -- the 300 hurdles.
Just winning the race didn't seem to be enough. Ege made a huge statement by winning the championship and setting a Class 2A record in the event. His time of 37.34 bested the previous mark set by Marcus Greer of East St. Louis a year ago.
"I was expecting to do well I this event, but I wasn't expecting 37.3," Ege said. "I wasn't thinking about the state record until a few days ago until someone mentioned it then I glanced at it. "
Just before Ege's 300 hurdles race, O'Connor moved up and gave the Rockets valuable points with a second-place finish in the 800-meter run. His time of 1:55.13 was two full seconds faster than his prelim effort.
The combined efforts of all the racers are what finally put Central into trophy contention.
"I am mostly happy for all the seniors because we mostly killed it today as a team," Ege said. "I am so proud that we get to bring this home. It's amazing."