Known throughout Illinois as a perennial small school track and field power, Oregon reinforced that image with a state championship in the 1,600-meter relay and a fourth-place finish in team standings at the IHSA Class 1A track and field meet on May 25.
Additionally, the Hawks medaled in the three other relays and added another state place in the pole vault.
Sterling Newman won its first-ever team title with 41 points. Monmouth-Roseville, behind Martel Hunter, who replicated Jordan Thomas’ 2009 feat of two firsts and a second in the 100, 200 and 400 (when the Hawks won the state meet), was next at 31 and Erie-Prophetstown third with 26.
Oregon nipped season-long rival Lena-Winslow 23.5 to 23 for fourth. Rockford Lutheran was fifth, giving this part of the state five of the top six team-placers.
Ironically, it was Le-Win that pushed the Hawks to the title in the 1,600 relay.
In the most exciting race of the meet, Oregon anchor runner Garrett Newman took the baton 25 meters behind Sterling Newman and Le-Win. Along the backstretch, he passed both teams on his way to a blistering 49-second split and the win. Coming down the homestretch with the PA announcer calling his name and the crowd at O’Brien Field loudly cheering, Newman barely held off Le-Win star runner Tevin Sellers in the final 50 meters.
“I needed to get ahead of Sellers because he has a kick. I knew I could hold him off if I could catch him because I did it at the sectional,” Newman said.
“That was all Garrett Newman,” said Pierce Dhaese, who ran the second leg for Oregon.
“He was phenomenal,” added lead runner Trevor Otten.
Of the five times Oregon went against Le-Win this season, it wasn’t until the last week that the Hawks were able to gain the upper hand.
“Isn’t it something to go against Le-Win, who was the driving force for us to develop this year,” Oregon coach Jim Spratt said. “They were our measuring stick.”
In the cold and rain, Oregon time of 3:23.67 was a second off the 2004 school record. Le-Win was next at 3:23.90. With the 10 points for first place, the Hawks made a huge jump from 19th to fourth place in the final team standings just in that one event.
Spratt, a master relay strategist, opted to put the freshman Otten first against the eight other teams’ stronger runners. “I was glad to see Trevor didn’t panic against all those horses on the first leg,” Spratt said.
Dhaese, with his distinctive thoroughbred running style, passed a couple runners and handed off the Tommy McCormick, who completely changed the complexion of the race.
McCormick, a 4-year veteran of running on the big blue track at Charleston, ran a perfect leg and got the baton to Newman with striking distance of the two leaders.
“I knew when I was gaining, we’d have a chance,” McCormick said. “We all played our roles.”
Role-playing also played a part in each of the state-placing relay. The 3,200 team of Newman, Austin Burkart, Adam Weller and anchor Otten ran a personal best time of 8:09 to take fourth. Champaign's St. Thomas More won at 7:57, with Byron second at 8:07.
“What a great race and way to start the meet for us,” Spratt said. “Garrett had his typical 2:00 split and Austin, Adam and Trevor finished it off for us. And, other than Garrett, the other three will be returning.”
In the sprint relays, Sterling Newman dominated, winning the 400 in 42.38 and the 800 in 1:29.60. Their time in the 400 would have won 2A and finished second in 3A, a remarkable statistic considering he caliber of competition in the bigger schools.
Ashton Rutherford, Jake Adams, McCormick and Nick Newman had a 43.64 to place sixth, which also would have been good enough to place in either 2A or 3A.
“We’re losing a bunch of guys, but I feel like we could be strong for next year and into the future,” Newman said.
In a rainy 800 relay, it was Adams, Dhaese, McCormick and Nick Newman running in puddles on the track to a time of 1:32.24. It was slower than its qualifying time, but good enough for seventh place.
“It was just great to come downstate every year with the guys you love to be with,” said Adams, who closed out a stellar track career at Oregon with four state medals.
The meet also brought the total of medals won by Oregon athletes under Spratt to over 100.
“We always seem to bring out the best in one another. In terms of being a Hawk, that’s important to me,” McCormick said.
The final state medal came from pole vaulter Mark Schmidt, who placed ninth at 13 feet. It was a peculiar weekend for the 1A vault, as two 14-footers failed to advance out of Thursday’s preliminaries, as did returning state-placer Matt McMullen of Byron.
Then in the finals, another state placer was a no-show. Schmidt, who had more experience downstate than any other vaulter, looked to be in a perfect set-up for his first-ever medal.
Unfortunately, he had on off day and could only manage 13-0, well before his capability. Just when it looked like he would be off the awards stand, Jack Denby of Carlinville, a 15-0 vaulter, no-heighted at 13-6, opening the door for Schmidt to grab the final medal.
“With all the variables, the pole vault can be iffy,” Spratt said.
Freshman sensation Adam Coulon of Downs Tri-Valley cleared 15-9 in the rain to win. Coulon wanted to try for a 1A state-record of 16-3, but the weather was too inclement.