With Rockford Christian bumped up to 2A and perennial sectional contenders Byron, Oregon and Winnebago in down cycles, Forreston-Polo’s decisive 1A sectional win on May 17 was yet another demonstration of the program’s emergence as the top small school in northern Illinois.
Sending 13 events downstate and scoring 127 points to 74 for second-place Lena-Winslow, F-P earned in second sectional title in three years, to go along with a runner-up to Rockford Christian last year.
“We’re fortunate to have some really good athletes,” F-P coach Bob Wagner said. “An example of that is Jordan Neuschwander gets hurt (hamstring) and we have to pull him. He would have won the 200, but we are able plug other guys in the relays for him.”
In Neuschwander’s absence, Cailean Davids filled in on the 4 X 100-meter relay. Running with Dom Christensen, Evan Kelsey and Brady Webb, F-P won at 43.48. They also took the 4 X 200 relay at 1:31.94.
“It wasn’t pretty throwing it together like that, but it worked,” Kelsey said.
What excited Wagner and his team most was the 3:27.6 in the 4 X 400 relay, besting a 3:30 seed and leading three other squads to qualifying times. It was Davids, Cayden Shelton, Kelsey and Christensen taking F-P’s third relay crown.
“I’m speechless,” Wagner said. “We’ve been talking about doing 3:27 all year.”
F-P picked up plenty of points in the throws with Jace Coffey (156-feet-10) and Ethan Phillips (141-3) making state in the discus and Coffey (48-4) and Garett Badertscher (48-8) doing the same in the shot put. The team got a big surprise upon implement weigh-in when it was discovered their shot was a pound and half over weight.
“We’ve been throwing a heavier shot all year and didn’t even know it,” F-P throwing coaching Steve Christensen said. “Maybe that helped us today. Thankfully, Oregon let us borrow theirs.”
Coffey threw 20 inches over his previous best in the shot and Badertscher also had a PR. Phillips had the rare double of a triple jump (41-7) and throwing event qualification and only missed by 1 inch of making it in the 20-10 needed in the long jump. He had marks of 20-8, 20-8.5 and 20-9.
“Like Larry the Enticer says, ‘I’m just going to send it’,” Phillips said.
With some help from Dixon high school, Webb hit 22-1 for a season-best in the long jump and third straight sectional title.
“I’ve had some (mechanics) problems, so I went to Dixon to see my old jumping coach (Ryan) Deets,” said Webb, who also won the 100 at 11.17. “Him and JD Gieson fixed eveything. Now, it’s time to get ready for state.”
F-P got plenty of other firsts, with sophomores Bennet Soltow and Shelton showing promise for the future.
Soltow ran 15.71 to win the 110 hurdles, giving F-P its fourth straight 110 sectional hurdle title. He also took fourth in the 300s. Shelton came from behind to win his specialty, the 800 in a time of 1:59, his first time under 2 minutes.
Sophomores like those two and Jordan have improved so much this year,” Wagner said.
Christensen also took second at 11-3 to qualify in the pole vault, but will likely by concentrating all his effort downstate on the three relays.
Other non-qualifying placers for F-P were Kelsey fourth in the 100, Anthony Josephitis sixth in the pole vault and Caleb Scott, Draven Wells, Quincy Williams and Shelton claiming fourth in the 3,200 relay.
In the vault competition contested Wednesday at Oregon, Jake Mennen of Oregon set a meet-record of 14-9. Another Hawk vaulter, Ethan Gale (2009) had the previous record of 14-3.
“This year has been the most fun and least nerve-wracking,” said Mennen, who is headed downstate for the third straight year. “Its very stress-relieving knowing God is in charge.
When pole vaulting, I try to use the abilities He has given me to glorify Him.”
By the narrowest of margins, the 4 X 100 relay team of Dre Smith, Calvin Smith, Jackson Buck and Brigham Finch kept Oregon coach’s Jim Spratt 18-year record of sending at least one relay downstate. The foursome took third with a 44.34 with 44.38 the qualifying mark.
“It’s been a tough year for us, but I always had a inkling maybe one of our sprint relays could make it,” Spratt said. “I can’t tell you how gratifying it is see that group make it, especially with three seniors.
Even more surprising was the same group bettering their No. 4 seed by three seconds to finish second (1:32.55) in the 4 X 200 relay.
“Since the conference, coach changed handoffs,” Buck said. “Since Calvin is the fastest, he had him run a bit longer than anyone else.”
In a very close race for the automatic second, It was first-year runner Finch sprinting past Len-Win on the anchor to edge the Panthers, who still advanced on time with a 1:32.63.
“We ran unbelievable splits, with Calvin in the 22s and everyone else in the 23s,” Spratt said. “It’s a testament to the kids manning up and doing the work. Finchie came around the curve and really turned it on.”
Bobby Youngren rebounded from not throwing 140 feet in over a week to claim a discus qualification with a throw of 143-3 for Oregon.
“One thing that helps here is the brotherhood of different guys. We’ve gotten close to Forreston-Polo,” said Youngren, as F-P’s Coffey could be seen chest bumping all the throwers from other schools.
Oregon placed sixth as a team with 46 points.
“Other than Sully not going down in the 200 (third place, 23.24), we couldn’t have projected this better,” Spratt said.
Nathaniel Schone missed by one spot of making it in the vault with a third place, Andrew Harshman picked up a fifth in the 3,200 and sixth in the 1,600, Austin Ebert was sixth in both hurdle races and Carson Sweeney was sixth in the shot put.