Cross country: Rantoul residents help Sabers win state title

St. Thomas More’s boys’ cross-country team ran the table this season.

The state’s preseason top-ranked team finished the postseason  No. 1 on Saturday, with a no-doubt team performance, including two solid efforts from Rantoul residents Nick Hess and Brendan Remington, in the Class 1A state finals at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

“Every one of our seven guys ran a PR (personal record),” Sabers coach David Behm said. “I feel like we dominated. It was a great show by these guys.”

When the points were all tabulated to determine the state champion, the numbers weren’t close. St. Thomas More ended with 82 points. Runner-up Elmwood-Brimfield totaled 157.

The Sabers were led by two all-staters, Hess (third) and Jacob Helfrich (21st). Behm said by the end of the 3-mile race, he was confident of the outcome.

“We got out right where we wanted to,” Behm said. “After 400 meters, we were in perfect position. After a mile and a half, I thought, ‘Wow.’ We were doing awfully well. I was just worried about maintaining it.”

With Sam Powers (34th), Remington (45th) and Sean Kelley (46th) doing their parts, staying within 44 seconds of team-leader Hess, St. Thomas More finished strong.

“It felt good to be ranked No. 1, but there’s also pressure to live up to that,” Behm said. “It’s like Nick has said, ‘We are gonna put ourselves out there. If you want us, come and get us.’”

Twenty four other Class 1A teams tried — unsuccessfully — on Saturday.

“It feels great, there’s not another feeling like it,” said Behm, an individual all-stater (placing seventh in 1981) for Georgetown. “It’s one of those amazing feelings.”

Immediately after finishing, Hess returned to the course to cheer on his teammates.

“It was amazing to watch the way we put it together,” he said. “Some of our guys ran their best by 30 seconds. This is the greatest feeling in the world. Words can’t describe it.”

Veteran coaches helped ease Behm’s anxieties about whether his team’s performance would result in the desired outcome.

“Gary (Wieneke) and Dike (Stirrett, Unity coaches) came up and said, ‘Great job. You killed everybody,’” Behm said. “When our fourth and fifth runners came in, it was pretty clear.”

A year ago, the Sabers placed fourth, one spot away from a team trophy. Hess’ 15:01 time was his career-best. Helfrich finished in 15:23, Powers in 15:40, Remington in 15:44 and Kelley in 15:45.

“We got here by being strong,” Behm said. “Especially with this group, it was a mild taper. That’s the most fun as a coach, trying to figure that (when to reach a peak) out.”

Comets’ Davis narrowly misses All-State slot
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac cross country head coach Tim Lee told Comets freshman runner Jon Davis a time of 15 minutes, 45 seconds would give him a chance at All-State honors.

A time of 15:30, and Davis “ought to be golden,” Lee said.

Davis outdid both times during Saturday’s Class 1A state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria, but narrowly missed a top-25 finish that would guarantee him All-State honors.

Davis came to the finish line on the 3-mile course in 15:27, but ended up 26th after Monticello senior Andrew Hanselman edged him at the finish line for the final All-State spot.

“Jon was leading him, and then (Hanselman) got his chest just over Jon,” Lee said. “He got beat out at the line, but he ran great. You couldn’t ask for a better race from a freshman.”

Much like he did the latter half of the season at any meet or invitational the Comets went to, Davis’ finish was the best by any of the 21 freshmen competing in the 210-runner meet. Rockford Christian’s Nick Monkemeyer had the next best time for a freshman in 15:52.

“We just said to go out and stay with the St. Thomas More boys because we knew they were going after a state title (which the Sabers won), so we knew they’d be running hard,” Lee said. “He actually beat a couple of the ones that beat him at sectional. He put himself in position for All-State. When he came in at the first mile, he was 29th, so we knew he was right there. At the 2-mile, he was 24th. He was right in there battling the whole way.”

Davis’ time of 15:27 is the best time a Comets runner has had at the state meet.

“We’ve had All-Staters before,” Lee said, “but it was just a tougher year.”

Davis’ no-frills personality is already a topic of conversation along with his running skills.

“We had sort of an impromptu pep assembly for him on Friday with kids lining the hallways for him,” Lee said. “He never smiled his whole way out the door, and the kids that I took with him joke that he never really changes expression. He told me before the race ‘I’m nervous.’ I said, ‘It’s OK to be nervous. You’re a freshman at the state meet.’ He didn’t run like he was nervous.”

The progress Davis made in the past two months is pretty remarkable. Lee said he didn’t know what to expect from him after not seeing him at much of the Comets’ summer workouts, but knew he had potential after Davis placed third last May  in the 1,600-meter run at the eighth-grade state meet.

His first meet of the season, the Kickapoo Classic on Aug. 28, saw him finish with a time of 19:13. Two months later, he had knocked nearly four minutes off that time.

“That’s almost unheard of, but you could tell he was just getting into shape,” Lee said. “As the races kept getting faster and more competitive, he responded every time. He wants to be great. I don’t think he’s afraid of it.”
fkroner@news-gazette.com

— Matt Daniels contributed to this report.

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