By FRED KRONER
On a steamy, sultry, spring day, Mahomet-Seymour’s boys’ track and field team made history on Saturday.
Since M-S became a Class 2A school 21 years ago, the school had never earned a state trophy in the sport.
Since leaving the Class 1A ranks, the Bulldogs had never had an individual state champion.
In the span of about six hours at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Field, M-S came away with two individual champions, an individual runner-up performance and the second-place team trophy in Class 2A.
“I’m insanely happy,” said junior Mathias Powell, who placed second in the 3,200-meter race.
“Amazing to be part of this my senior year,” said Brandon Bretz, a two-time All-Stater in the 400-meter race.
“It feels great to do it with only five guys,” added senior Riley Fortune, a state medalist in the 800 meters.
All five Bulldogs who competed on the final day of the season improved either their time or distance, or else their position during the finals.
Sophomore Hunter Hendershot became the second M-S athlete in school history to eclipse the 60-foot mark in the shot put, winning the event with a toss of 60 feet, 3 1/4 inches.
He added a third-place finish in the discus (169-3).
Senior pole vaulter Callan Whitehouse — who set the school record indoors at 16 feet, broke the school record outdoors at 16 feet — and won his specialty by nine inches.
Powell cut nearly 25 seconds off his sectional time in the 3,200, placing second with a 9:20.96 time.
Bretz captured sixth in the 400 (50.11).
Fortune was ninth in the 800 (1:57.07). He tried to come back in the 1,600 and ended 12th (4:46.60).
“It was hot enough that while you were running it was hard to breath even if you’re in prime shape,” Fortune said. You have to push through it.”
A team trophy has been in the back of coach Todd Lafond’s mind since January.
In an email to state running publication Milesplit, Lafond outlined his expectations.
“I said if we stay healthy and perform, we have a chance to trophy,” he related. “I picked all seven of these events (where the team had state finalists).”
The first part of that equation, however, didn’t happen.
One senior, Ryan Hodge posted the state’s second-best time in the 3,200 during the regular season, but was injured and unable to participate at sectional.
Whitehouse suffered a back injury at the indoor state meet and had limited participation thereafter.
On Friday — the day set aside for qualifications at Charleston — Whitehouse passed until the bar reached 13-6, and then cleared it on his first attempt. It was his only jump for that day.
Bretz dealt with both mononucleosis and the flu during the track season. Powell battled issues with his iron level throughout the spring.
“We had a lot of hardships,” Powell said. “There was a time we were questioning where we were going.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park.”
In retrospect, Lafond was impressed by the way his athletes overcame the obstacles they faced.
“It’s one thing to think it’s possible in January and another for it to take place in May,” the coach said.
After qualifying on Friday, Hendershot stood third in the shot put and ninth in the discus.
In the finals, he unleashed an effort in the shot put (56-11) that was a career-best and lifted him into first place. He scratched on his second attempt and then reached an exclusive level with his last toss of 60-3 1/4.
It is just under the school-record mark (60-8) of 2007 graduate Jason Seaman — who was in the national news on Friday for his heroic efforts in subduing a school shooter in Noblesville, Ind.
Seaman was released from an Indianapolis hospital on Saturday.
“(Friday), I held back a little (in the shot),” Hendershot said. “(Saturday), I got the adrenalin going and ripped one out there.”
His victory was something that he predicted — almost 10 months ago.
“Last July, at the Freedom Fest, he told me, ‘I’ll win shot next year,’ “ Lafond related.
Hendershot explained his confidence.
“A lot of the seniors (from 2017 meet) were gone,” he said. “It was just me and the kid from Dunlap (Jack Pompe).
“I was weightlifting. My technique was getting better. I was putting in a lot of hard work.”
Throughout this spring, some doubts crept into his mind.
“In the middle of the season, I was scratching a lot,” Hendershot said.
It turned out, he had only scratched the surface of his potential.
On Saturday, he raised his personal-best by nearly 5 feet in the span of three attempts.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” he said.
Whitehouse passed on Saturday until the bar reached 14-6. By that time, seven of the finalists had already been eliminated.
He cleared it on his first try, got over 15 feet on his second attempt and sailed over 15-6 the first time he attempted it.
That leap clinched the 2A state title.
“Coming in, I knew I could get over 15, but I wasn’t sure how high I could go,” Whitehouse said. “With my back, I wasn’t sure it would be super-possible to do well at state.”
He had been using a short approach for the majority of the outdoor season — to alleviate stress on his back — but lengthened his approach on Saturday.
He made 16 feet on his third — and final — attempt. and officially surpassed the outdoor M-S school record of 15-7, set by Bryan Clark in 1995.
Until Saturday, Clark also had the distinction of being the Bulldogs’ most recent individual state champion in track and field. His pole vault title was secured 23 years ago.
Pole vault is the event where the M-S boys’ program has had the most champions. Whitehouse is the third. The first, in 1992, was Ben Williams.
Hendershot was the school’s second shot put state titlist. The first was Dirk Handlin in 1992.
Powell added a state runner-up finish in the 3,200 to go with the school-record time he achieved (9:14.76) earlier this season. Powell’s performance matches the school’s best at that distance. Alex Keeble was the state runner-up in 2015.
Though he led the longest distance race with 20 meters remaining, Powell was accepting of the outcome.
“I gave it my all and the person who beat me (Metamora’s Adam Gilbreath-Glaub) was great,” said Powell, who was less than four-tenths of a second behind the champion.
Gilbreath-Glaub’s time was 9:20.62.
Bretz became the first M-S athlete to place in the 400 meters in back-to-back years.
Though he didn’t match his time from prelims, he improved his place. He entered the finals seeded eighth and wound up in sixth.
His time was 50.11.
He dealt with the 90-degree temperatures by trying to avoid being outside.
“I tried to stay out of the heat and in the gym, where the air conditioning was on,” Bretz said. “That helped my warmup.”
Fortune was the lone Bulldog to compete in two running races on Saturday.
His first event was the 800 and Lafond asked him to focus on the two-lap race.
“I told him to give everything in the 800 like it was his only event,” Lafond said.
“He was timed in 1:57.07, cutting more than 2 1/2 seconds off his qualifying time from the previous day. He also improved his position from 11th to ninth.
“In the 800, I pushed as hard as I could,” Fortune said. “In the 1,600, I gave what I had left, but I didn’t have much left.”
Fortune ended 12th in the 1,600 (4:46.50). He also had the 12th-best qualifying time.
Seniors Bretz, Fortune, Hodge and Whitehouse may be finished with their seasons, but not with their track and field careers.
Bretz will run in college at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Fortune has signed with Illinois State University. Hodge is headed to Baylor University and Whitehouse will take his vaulting talents to Indiana State.
Aurora Marmion Academy won the 2A team title with 44 points. M-S, which was tied for first with two events to go, totaled 40 points. Former Corn Belt Conference rival Normal University High was third with 36 points. A total of 67 Class 2A schools scored points at state.
M-S tied its best-ever team state finish in boys’ track and field. The 1987 team was the Class 1A runner-up. The school’s last team trophy in the sport was in 1992 for third place.
Saturday’s IHSA trophy was the fourth in track and field The first was for third place in Class 1A in 1980.
Upon their arrival back in Mahomet on Saturday at 7:15 p.m., the team received a two-fire truck escort down Rt. 150 to Division St, then to State St. and finally to the high school.
Mahomet-Seymour’s softball team staged a successful comeback for the second straight postseason game.
The end result was a 9-3 victory over a 20-win Rochester team and the school’s fourth Class 3A regional title in the past eight years.
Coach Lisa Ayers was not surprised by a team which now has a five-game winning streak.
“The girls did a great job keeping their heads in the game,” Ayers said. “Strong defense took the pressure off of us offensively.
“The defense made plays I hadn’t seen them make.”
M-S played errorless ball on Saturday in the regional title game on their own field.
M-S (16-14) scored twice in the third inning to take a 3-2 lead, an advantage it increased with a five-run sixth inning.
Five Bulldogs ended with two hits apiece: Layne Acree, Aubrie Shore, Kameryn Brotherton, Madi Scott and Ashley Wheeler.
The team’s 11-hit attack featured five for extra bases. Shore belted a double to go with her school-record 13th home run. Brotherton, Wheeler and Emma Clements all had doubles.
Acree and Scott scored two runs apiece.
Shore (11-11) pitched a complete-game five-hitter. She yielded three earned runs. She held Rochester (21-13) to just one extra-base hit.
Shore walked eight and struck out five.
M-S returns to action on Tuesday at Mount Zion High School in a 6:30 p.m. sectional semifinal game against Charleston (30-4), a team that swept M-S in an Apollo Conference doubleheader.