ROCHELLE — Andrew Myers thought his high school track and field career was over.
Approaching the bar for his third attempt at 6 feet 3 inches in the high jump, Myers did everything he could to clear his mind of the cameras, the competitors and the coaches surrounding him. The Rochelle senior soared through the air, slightly tapping the bar as he fell to the mat on the other side.
It wobbled, but it didn’t fall.
The clearance meant Myers would be representing the Hubs varsity track team at the IHSA State Meet in Charleston next weekend. Myers was one of four athletes to surpass 6-3 during the IHSA Class 2A Sectional at Rochelle Township High School on Thursday.
“I had a little anxiety attack when I landed on the pit but it feels good,” Myers said. “It was definitely a nice way to end my senior year. I felt pretty good on the run-up and when I jumped I hit the bar so I kind of just accepted defeat. But then I landed on the pit and I don’t know how, but the bar was still on… It was the best feeling I’ve ever had in track.”
Myers was the first of five Rochelle athletes to qualify for the state meet on the Thursday. The second was senior Matthew Drendel, who ran the 100-meter dash in 11.13 seconds to take fifth (just missing out on state by .05 seconds) and returned a few minutes later to place second in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:00.95.
“It felt amazing, I’ve been practicing all year for this,” Drendel said. “I have to thank God because it’s hard to run an 800 right after running a 100, and just to have the last-second motivation to push harder that I didn’t think I would have… All glory goes to Him.”
The state standard for the 800-meter run was 1:59.94, and only Sycamore’s Evan Jacobs (1:59.87) ran under the qualifying time, meaning the top two finishers would punch a ticket to Charleston. Drendel had Byron’s Chase Sarver (2:01.27) and Burlington Central’s Josh Teets (2:01.67) on his heels, but the Hub senior hung tough over the final 100 meters and beat out both competitors for the No. 2 spot.
“It was kind of nerve-racking going into the race, especially after I just did a 100, but I felt prepared and I felt like my coaches helped prepare me,” Drendel said. “A lot of this is a mental game too and knowing how to mentally prepare yourself for the race and striving to do the best you can.”
Drendel returned to the track to lead the Hubs in their final race of the evening, the 1600-meter relay. Joining forces with seniors Lance Huftalin, Levi Johnson and sophomore Austin Walsh (who placed fourth in the 400-meter dash with a time of 52.11), Drendel and the boys took third with a time of 3:26.85, coming in less than a second below the qualifying standard (3:27.17) to seal a spot in the state meet next weekend. Erie-Prophetstown won at 3:24.57, while Geneseo (3:24.80) placed second.
“My leg has been hurting all season and it gave out during the 100, so I was really nervous about that,” said Huftalin, who took the baton from Drendel and ran the second leg of the relay. “The best chance we had of making state in these conditions was to get second, and I tried to stay right with the Geneseo kid… I’m so proud and right before we ran I told the guys that, no matter what happens, I’m proud of all of us.”
Seven teams had a legitimate shot at winning the event halfway through the race, meaning it would be up to Johnson to keep Rochelle’s hope of making the state meet alive with a strong third leg. The front of the pack got awful crowded around the back bend, but Johnson did his best to stay clear of any distractions in front of him.
“I was able to drop behind the Geneseo guy and that’s when everyone came around,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t feeling tired until around the 250-meter mark and then I was just able to pick it up until I came around the corner and I was able to pass them all since they were hitting the wind so hard… It feels great and I’ve been trying to make state for the last three years. Every year I’ve been a little bit closer.”
With 1200 meters down, it was Walsh’s turn to take the baton. The youngest of the four relay runners, Walsh showed no signs of backing down, and the underclassman held on long enough for the Hubs to advance to the state meet, edging out Burlington Central’s Adam Kries by .11 seconds for third place.
“It was so hectic at the beginning since there were four guys around me and everybody was trying to push each other around,” Walsh said. “Once I finally got the baton I saw Kaneland running behind me so I had to kick it and go as hard as I could to try and close the gap between us and E-P and Geneseo. I was glad to be able to bring it home for my team.”
Rochelle and Dixon finished tied for eighth place as teams with 30 points. Junior Frantz Vardman stepped up in the long jump with a leap of 20-1 ½ for sixth place, while senior Michael Drendel finished sixth in the pole vault with a clearance of 12-1. Junior Bazil Bennett took eighth in the shot put (43-6).
The Hubs missed out on the state meet in the 400-meter relay by .74 seconds, taking fourth overall with a time of 44.13 behind Matthew Drendel, Michael Drendel, Johnson and Huftalin. Johnson took 10th in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 42.32.