Pekin has been accustomed to getting off to fast starts at boys track meets this season.
Before the gun sounds for the first track event, Pekin already sits near the top of the leaderboard, thanks to their work in the field.
At the Mid-Illini Conference track meet on May 10, Pekin put up 54 of its 134 total points in the field alone.
Some of that can be credited to standout junior Julian Hill who scored 20 total points in the long jump and triple jump, 10 points for each first place finish. Jacob Donath added 10 points after netting first in the high jump. Trey Bailey (8), Max Turner (6), Colton Reader (2), Cole Gianessi (4) and Mason Carr (2) filled out the rest of Pekin’s 54 points in the field.
The early lead is a motivator for the Dragons, not a deterrent.
“It’s nice to get those field events right at the beginning of the meet because those can drive the whole team,” Pekin head coach Eric McCann said. “You get a good start and people start seeing it. You see the guys gathering and notices how the others are doing. You have successful field events and guys stepping up — getting better marks than they ever have through the season — and all of a sudden that translates to the track too.”
The Dragons took second in the Mid-Illini Conference meet, and look to parlay that success into state qualifiers at Friday’s IHSA Class 3A Collinsville Sectinal.
Former Dragon Cole Henderson casts a looming shadow over the Pekin track program. After notching three state championships during his junior campaign, Henderson picked up two more as a senior before attending the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana.
His name is still a constant at track practice, especially with Hill.
Hill is bursting out of the shadow cast by Henderson. The junior holds the school record in the triple jump. He broke the 42-year-old school record of 43 feet, 8 inches, by jumping 45-0 at the Mid-Illini Conference meet.
McCann said he can name off the number of competitors he saw reach 45 feet. Those numbers don’t come around often.
Hill scratched on his first jump. On his second jump, he broke the record.
In the air, he knew he had a good jump.
“When I was in the air, I was thinking ‘This is a good jump,’” Hill said. “I was kind of nervous, I was like, ‘Oh, I hit a 43-9, maybe.’ “I was like, ‘Oh wow, a 44-10, that was a whole foot and few inches further (than the school record).’”
On his third jump — the fifth time in his career he competed in the event — he hit 45-0, good enough for a fifth seed at sectionals.
“I’m going to go in, and being at sectionals, knowing there are guys better than me, it’s going to push me.”
After talking to teammate Connor Eubanks at practice, Hill ended up trying the triple jump for the first time. After a practice jump, he told McCann he wanted to give it a go at a triangular with Canton and East Peoria on April 12. By the end of the meet, he had already jumped 42-5 1/2.
“Coach has been coaching me up and telling me what I need to fix, and I’ve been doing it. It’s been great,” Hill said.
Next up is Henderson’s long jump record of 23-11 1/4.
“He’s going to challenge for Cole’s mark. I always told Cole put it out there so no one can get it, put it over 24, but it’s still there. Julian’s eying it,” McCann said.
Hill, who enters sectionals as the No. 5-seed with a distance of 22-9 1/2, has looked up to Henderson throughout his career.
“As a freshman, I really looked up to Cole, knowing he was the fastest in the state,” Hill said. “I knew about him well before I even came to Pekin, and was super excited to meet him.”
During every jump, he still thinks of Henderson.
“Every time I’m in the air, I’m thinking, ‘Was this what Cole was doing?’” Hill said.
Hill will also compete in the 100-meter dash and the 4x400-meter relay on Friday.
Donath is the top-seed in the high jump, at sectionals after jumping 6-7 at the Mid-Illini meet. Not only does he have his sights set on a state on a state berth, but also on the 6-8 school record.
At the Mid-Illini meet, Donath nearly eclipsed the school record, jumping 6-9, but his elbow clipped the pole on the way down.
“I was pretty disappointed,” Donath said. “On the way down I was yelling.”
The record is likely going to fall, it’s just a matter of time. He wants to break it. Then he wants to continue to break his own record.
As a freshman last season, Donath was jumping at a height of 6-2. Since then, he’s added five inches and has no signs of slowing down.
“Jacob Donath has jumped out of his mind this year,” McCann said. “We knew we would have two high jumpers, but we ended with one and he’s a standout,” McCann said.