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CHARLESTON -- A total of 24 student-athletes from the JG-TC area are to compete in the 123rd annual Illinois High School Association State Track and Field meet which is to start Thursday with the Class 1A preliminaries at 10 a.m. The meet is to take place at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium. 

It is the ninth meet in the three class system after 35 years of the two class system. The 3,200 is the only event that does not have preliminaries and is to be Saturday. 

Cumberland has the most area competitors with six in five events, which is the most in school history since 2006 when five individuals and a relay went.

"This is a big deal for the program and school," said Cumberland coach Bill Ault. "The kids have worked hard to make their mark and are really fired up about the state meet. As a coach, I am very, very pleased with the progress we have made in the past few years and a big part of that has been due to the support of the administration, the booster club and the community."

Arcola has five in two events and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond had five in four events. Shelbyville has four in five events, while Casey-Westfield/Martinsville has three in four events and Tri-County has one in one event. 

A total of seven seniors, nine juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen from the area are in 12 events.

Eleven are to compete at state for the first time, while juniors Logan Hall (A-L-A-H) and Kyle Carver (Casey) are to compete for their third straight time as juniors and Dillon Birch and Tyler Pasley (Shelbyville), seniors are to compete for their third consecutive year. 

"We are all excited to be here and be apart of the experience; to be part of the best competition in the state," said A-L-A-H coach Bryton Ragon. 

Hall is the top-seed in the 1,600 and second in the 3,200, while Shelbyville's Tyler Pasley is second in the 1,600 and third in the 3,200 and Cumberland's Dillon Howard is third in the 400.

Arcola

Mario Cortez is making his second straight state appearance, but first in an individual event. Cortez has going 21-1.5 in the long jump, which he achieved at the Tuscola Sectional. 

"The strength of Mario's long jump is how he lands in the pit," said Arcola coach Tommy Eddleman. "He has good form when landing and it gives him those extra inches."

Eddleman said he hopes Cortez can get close to 22 feet.

The 4x800 team of Sam Crane, Ben Crane, Conner Strader and Ivan Franco ran their best at the sectional in 8:28.61. It is the first state experience for freshmen Ben Crane and Franco. Sam Crane was part of the twelfth place 4x800 last year that ran an 8:27.17.

"The 4x800 is starting to peak at the right time, said Eddleman. "We dropped a bunch of time at the last couple meets."

The Purple Riders enter with the ninth best time in the state. 

"Looking at the other teams it is going to be really close between placing (top nine advance to finals) and not placing," said Eddleman. "I would like our 4x800 to get down to 8:20 or 8:21. We know anything can happen at state so we are going to try our hardest to make it to Saturday and hopefully have some huge personal records."

Arcola was to practice at EIU Wednesday. 

Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond

Hall was second in the 3,200 last year with a time of 9:37.76 and fifth in the 1,600 in 4:32.74. 

"Logan has improved because of his total commitment to his running," said Ragon. "He's from what I have seen in the past year the 'real deal'. Logan does absolutely everything he needs to do to better himself from his workouts to his diet."

Hall holds the school records in both the 1,600 and 3,200. 

"He leaves nothing to chance. If there is something to improve on, you better believe that he will be working to make it better. That goes to show his strength and determination, which are probably his key attributes. He has the drive to win both events."

Kobe Wells is making his second straight appearance at state. He is going in the long jump where he went 6-2. 

"He has the potential for much greater heights," said Ragon. "I think finals is a good goal for him."

Adam Day, Wells, Justin Laughlin and Austin Romine make up the 4x800 with Day making his first tripe to state. Laughlin and Romine were on last year's 16th place 4x800 (8:31.63) along with Wells.

This season the 4x800's best time is 8:32.96, which was at the sectional.

"Austin, Kobe and Justin are phenomenal athletes that have the experience," said Ragon. "Justin, being the senior, has really stepped up in these last couple of weeks to push them and lead them to the state appearance. Day missed some time last year, but has made great strides towards making this 4x800 what it is."

Ragon is hoping the 4x800 makes it to finals. They are currently ranked 17th.

Casey-Westfield/Martinsville

Christian Cochonour, who will be competing in the state Class 1A tennis tournament, has qualified at state in the high jump, where he has gone 6-4. Also making his first appearance at state on Saturday is freshman Cort Ross, who is the 3,200. His best time is 10:35.8.

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Carver is ranked ninth in the 110-meter high hurdles with a time of 15.75 and has run a 15.55, while he is 17th in the 300 intermediate hurdles with a time of 41.51. 

"Experience is the key when you step on the track at Charleston," said Casey coach Kevin Currey. "I hope that his experience (22nd in 300 hurdles last year and 31st in 110 hurdles as a freshman) can help Kyle run well. He is coming along well with his times despite the challenging spring weather."

Currey said his goal for Carver is "to make the finals in either one of his hurdle events would be an accomplishment this season."

It is the first year Cochonour, a senior, has been in track. 

"He has an excellent vertical jumping ability," said Currey. "Taking into consideration it is the only year he has run track in high school, his personal record of 6-4 is pretty impressive."

As for Ross, Currey said "He is just a running machine. He has a true love for running and that will take him far. Being able to run at state in front of Saturday's crowd is amazing for a freshman to experience. This will be a confidence booster for upcoming years."

Cumberland

It has been a year of record for coach Ault and the Pirates, who have set four records including in the high jump where Tyson Magee, a junior, who has not bee in in track since sixth grade, cleared 6-5, breaking a record that had stood since 1973 when Dan Kimble went 6-3.

"He has consistently improved, despite not getting to practice much due to the weather this year," said Ault. "He is finally starting to get a feel for it and has learned to use his arms more, which got him over 6-5.He has come on strong and has a very good chance to place in the high jump where he could go 6-7. Some credit goes to Trevor Beard, who jumped last year at Cumberland and has helped Tyson with a few of the finer points."

Magee is ranked sixth based on the sectional performances.

Howard just missed placing last year, earning 10th in the 400 with a time of 50.21 seconds. 

"Dillon has been hungry all year," said Ault. "He really worked harder in the weight room this year to, which has paid off. He feels he has something to prove at state. He should finish high in the 400, especially if he can get under 50."

Howard has the school record in the 400 breaking Ty Sutherland's record set in 2014 at 50.28.

Joining Howard in the 400 is sophomore Myles Gerhardt, who has run a 51.78. Ault is hoping he can break 51.

Kort McClellan was 24th in the 3,200 last year with a time of 10:19.50. 

"The 3,200 is really loaded this year," said Ault. "We would like to see him go under 10:00."

The 4x400 team of Gerhardt, Ryan Yaw, Cole Willenborg and Howard broke the school record with a time of 3:27.11, breaking the previous mark of 3:27.16 set in 2014 twice.  It is the first time to state for Yaw and Gerhardt. The team is seeded eighth. 

"We are in a great spot having run one of the fastest times in the state this year," said Ault. "We feel that we have a shot at the top spot and the boys want to break 3:25. 

The 4x100 team of Yaw, Magee, Gerhardt and Howard have run a 44.71.

"The 4x100 has the toughest road, because the race is always so fast," said Ault. "With good hand-offs, we could break 44, which would make us all happy. At the very least we want to get the school record of 44.70."

Shelbyville

Birch set the school record in the shot put at 53-9 1/4 and Pasley set the 3,200 record with a time of 9:38.92.

"This is Dillon's third year for qualifying for state and I know he is on a mission to bring home a medal," said Shelbyville coach Kevin Kramer. 

Pasley's best time in the 1,600 is 4:27.04, which was at the Tuscola Sectional.

"Tyler has just had a fantastic senior year from the moment he began training last summer for cross country," said Kramer. "He has improved in every area of running from his mileage to his speed training. We want a couple of personal best times for him in the 1,600 and 3,200 and if he does that everything will follow into place."

The only non-senior of the four is junior Brett Spears, who is out for the first time. He is going in the 1,600 where he has run a 4:36.85. 

"He is still learning the event, but has done a great job," said Kramer. "Our goal for Brett is to improve his seed and place as high as possible."

As for the three seniors Kramer said, "I am very happy that they put themselves in position to be successful at the state meet this year. They are probably the three hardest working kids we have had on the team this year so they reaped the rewards from their efforts. Getting Brett (Spears) some state experience will set him up for a really good senior year."

Tri-County

Ramsey Hunt, a freshman at Oakland who competes for Tri-County, is going in the triple jump, where he has gone 41-1. 

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Sports writer

Mike Monahan covers area sports for the JG-TC.

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