IHSA boys' track and field state notes: Vasquez, Martin among area standouts thriving in 1A prelims

May 24—CHARLESTON — Just a couple hours before his first event of Thursday's Class 1A boys' state track and field prelims, Salt Fork senior Brysen Vasquez was walking around O'Brien Field in a Hawaiian shirt, flashy shorts, hat and sunglasses.

He passed the shot put field, where teammate Maddax Stine was competing, and a couple Storm fans joked that he sure looked ready to go. Vasquez gave them a smirk and a quick comment that made them laugh.

He strolled the complex like he owned the place, exuding the confidence needed to make multiple state finals, which was exactly what he did.

"Winning state," Vasquez said of his expectations for Saturday's finals. "The confidence has taken me pretty far, especially being the backbone of the team this year."

Vasquez qualified for both the 200- and 400-meter dash finals with respective placements of seventh and eighth on Thursday. It was earlier this year when he set his mind to earning individual glory after winning a title in the 800-meter relay last season and team championships the last two years.

"I had to give myself the option of bodybuilding or track," Vasquez said. "I gave up one of my favorite things in the world for another one of my favorite things. It's my last year, so I knew I had to go all out."

Friday is not only Salt Fork's graduation, but it's also Vasquez's 18th birthday. What a graduation/birthday present that would be if he could end his high school career as an individual state champion.

"That gold medal would mean more than all the other medals I already have," Vasquez said.

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Stine is another Storm athlete in the hunt for a title, as he qualified fifth in the discus. His motivation comes from former Salt Fork stud Garrett Taylor, who won a state championship in the discus and shot put last year. Stine is the next thrower in line, and he's doing his best to live up to his predecessor.

"That guy pushes me every day," Stine said. "It's a chase. You want to chase him, be like him and improve from what he did."

The Storm didn't bring the same firepower to the state meet as the last couple years, so it doesn't look like a team three-peat will be in the cards, but that isn't going to stop the finalists from giving it their all.

"We've got nothing to lose," Stine said. "No one's really looking for us. We all know our guys are capable to go out and get it. It's a determination factor. We really want that third in a row. Why not? Set the bar high, and chase it."

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The team favorites after Thursday's prelims look to be Tuscola and Ridgeview/Lexington, and if the Mustangs want that narrative to continue, they need a repeat performance from Dominic Martin.

The senior finished the day in the top spot for the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump and was fifth in the 200. If you ask him, though, he doesn't know how he got to this point.

"I don't know where it came from," Martin said. "I was injured all of last year, and I didn't get in much hurdles at all. All of a sudden, I started improving out of nowhere. It's been a surprise, but it's been a nice surprise. It's just great to be here."

Now, he's going into Saturday as the favorite in three events. He said that adds a little pressure in that he can only go down from there, but he's focused on not getting too cocky and staying at the top of the leaderboard.

"It's starting to sink in, but I think it's going to hit a lot more on Saturday for the finals," Martin said. "Right now, it almost seems like just another meet, but it's really going to hit me when it for sure matters on Saturday."

Of course, Martin can't bring home a team state title by himself. Zane Hoffman squeaked into the 100 final with the last spot, and the 400-meter relay and 800-meter relays each placed in the top five. If they can move up a spot or two while Martin does his thing, Ridgeview/Lexington will certainly give Tuscola a run for its money.

"We had hardly anyone here last year. This year, everyone decided to step it up and give it their all," Martin said. "We're definitely shooting for the top trophy. We had some people qualify for finals that we didn't think were going to qualify, so that definitely bumped up our spirits a lot more."

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Ayden Ingram had his own personal escort walking him around O'Brien Field during Thursday's prelims. The Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior was in the first flight of both the long jump and high jump, and an IHSA official made sure he got where he needed to go before the starters scratched him.

"It's definitely weird," Ingram said with a smile. "It makes me feel a little more important."

Ingram was the only Blue Devil to qualify for the state meet, and he did so in four events, also competing in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.

He's been Mr. Do It All for BHRA this year, having an All-State football season at wide receiver, leading the boys' basketball team to a regional title and now ending his high school career as a four-event state track and field qualifier.

"It's awesome," Ingram said. "It's everything I've wanted since I was a kid. I've always planned on being the star athlete, competing and being the best I can be."

Believe it or not, Ingram also ran cross-country before high school. His football aspirations kept him from continuing, and he lost some of his endurance, so he eventually became a sprinter.

Ingram only made the finals in the high jump. Despite only going one for four, he approached the meet with the utmost confidence and is doing the same for Saturday's high jump final.

"You've just got to forget everything and go in with a mindset of winning," Ingram said. "It's the last meet of the season, so you have to compete and expect to win."

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Cole Pemble was two inches away from a state long jump title a year ago.

"It was fun. Last year was special," Pemble said. "The wind was throwing everybody off, but me and one other kid definitely came out and jumped pretty well. It was fun to be up there on the podium and see everyone else cheering me on."

That performance gave Pemble all the motivation he needed to get back and win it this year as a senior with Blue Ridge.

Then, he tore his hamstring last summer with his club team.

Pemble hasn't been able to compete at full strength all season, but his near-best was good enough for fifth-best for Thursday's prelims, sending him into Saturday's final to represent the Knights.

"I'm just now getting back into it, and to come back in fifth place is pretty nice," Pemble said.

He placed fourth as a sophomore and second as a junior. There's only one spot above where he's been, and he's not going to talk his way out of getting there this time.

"Injuries happen. It sucks, but I'm working my way back into it," Pemble said. "I jumped 6.54 (meters), which is definitely not my best, but I'm not going to jinx myself this year. Every year, I've said I'll do better the next day and then don't. This year, I'll say I'm going to try my best."

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Uni High junior Ben Newman had never run track before this season.

"I was doing tennis before, but I wasn't good at tennis, so I definitely wasn't going to stay," Newman said. "Thought I might be better suited for track."

He thought he was faster than most of his peers, but he wasn't quite fast enough to compete in the 100, so he compromised and started running the 400.

That decision hasn't failed him, as Newman is now 1.64 seconds away from breaking the Illinek record in the event not even one full season into running it.

"Started a bit late, but we've got about a year to get there," Newman said.

He admittedly doesn't even know how exactly to run the 400. It's not an all-out sprint like the 100, but you also can't ease up like some distance races. He said his weakest area is getting out of the starting blocks. He's planning to join a club team this summer to help him improve his technique going into his senior year.

"We're definitely still learning," Newman said. "My coach was telling me I haven't really gotten the backstretch down yet. It's something we'll work on."

With Newman being so new to the sport, he didn't know what to expect. He certainly didn't expect to make it as far as he did, coming just over a half second away from qualifying for Saturday's finals.

"I didn't expect to get to state," Newman said. "I thought I might be the fastest at my school, but I didn't think I'd be at state."