CHARLESTON -- 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. Cahokia won the Class 2A title with 90 points earning its fourth state title in a row. Kaneland ran second with 84 points.
"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."
Cary Grove junior Ricky Hurley also put together a comeback performance in the Class 3A discus. Though he did not catch eventual winner Stephen Hubona of Benet, Hurley improved his preliminary throw by 7 feet as he held on to his second place position. Hurley's best throw of the weekend as 176 feet, 7 inches.
Crystal Lake South earned its first 3,200-meter relay medal in school history when the foursome of Drew Kopfman, David Lenzini, Jon Prus, and Kyle Radosevich ran 7:50.26 placing ninth overall.
Other athletes who competed in Saturday's finals included Seth Conroy of Huntley in the 3,200-meter Class 3A run and Clay Musial of Burlington Central, who raced in the 3,200-meter run in Class 2A.