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Centennial boys' track and field ready for more

May 11—CHAMPAIGN — Bringing a state trophy back to Champaign wasn't entirely unexpected last May when the Centennial boys' track and field team arrived in Charleston.

The Chargers did tie for fifth at the 2022 IHSA Class 3A state meet. Did have an outstanding sprinter in Daniel Lacy who could wow the crowd at O'Brien Stadium and did have a virtually unheard of sophomore Voldy Makabu who had vast potential.

But the Chargers did finish tied for third at the Class 3A Edwardsville Sectional the week prior. And only had one team state trophy — a second-place finish in Class 2A in 2015 — in their collection.

Lacy and Makabu, however, had other plans. Lacy sprinted to state titles in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash, with Makabu earning an unlikley state title in the high jump. Those four performances accounted for all 40 of the Chargers' points at the state meet, good enough for Centennial to win a third-place trophy and finish just behind state champion Homewood-Flossmoor (58 points) and state runner-up Neuqua Valley (42 points).

Lacy is no longer at Centennial. The 2023 News-Gazette boys' track and field Athlete of the Year is in the midst of his freshman season at EIU, where he earned second-team Ohio Valley Conference honors in the 400-meter dash in indoor track earlier this year and is continuing his outdoor season this weekend with the OVC Championships at O'Brien Stadium.

Makbu, though, is back with the Chargers. And is a clear favorite to repeat as the 3A state high jump champion as the talented junior tries to clear 7 feet.

Despite all of the recent success, Centennial coach Josh Sterling said his athletes aren't entering this year's postseason with outlandish expectations. Centennial is set to compete in the Danville Sectional on Wednesday before the 3A IHSA state prelims begin on May 24, with the IHSA state finals on May 25.

"Oddly enough, I don't believe more eyes are on Centennial," Sterling said. "Last year, we didn't have any recognition until after our third-place finish as a team. We flew under the radar all year last year, and we're doing the same this year."

Centennial finished fourth earlier this week at the Big 12 Conference Meet, but won the Twin City Meet at the end of April.

"We are a young team, much younger than we have been the past two years," Sterling said. "We've had a few injuries to some of our upperclassmen and are somewhat limping into the championship part of the season. But we are still very talented."

Especially with an athlete like Makabu, who won the state high jump title last May by clearing 6 feet, 81/4 inches. At the Twin City Meet on April 30 in Champaign, Makabu exceeded 6-103/4. Sterling is quick to credit the work of assistant coaches Quan Gladney, Jess Streepy, Nicole Nguyen, Karl Geissler, Mike Evans and Randy Strohl for the program's success.

"We are all excited to see what Voldy can do in the next few weeks," Sterling said. "The keys to his success are to listen to Coach Streepy, stay focused and have fun."

Jordan Steward, a senior, is one of the Chargers' leaders and could qualify for state in the shot put. Fellow seniors Tahj Bradley and Exauce Kalala are vital in the sprints and sprint relays, while junior Travion Wilson and sophomore Eli Duma both contribute in those two specialties. Jake Geissler, another junior, is the Chargers' top option in the distance races.

If it all adds up to in the next two meets, Centennial might have to make more room in the school trophy case.

"We seem to be trending in the right direction," Sterling said, "and hopefully, we can make some more noise at state this year."