Josh Goen and Drew Bell will be making their second trips to the IHSA boys state track and field meet this weekend at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.
But their return paths to Charleston have very little in common.
Bell has been mentally and physically prepping for another shot at the big blue track since making his state debut a year ago as a sophomore.
The Vandal junior has regularly been running 40 miles a week, a regimen that paid dividends two weeks ago with an SCC Meet title run, and again Friday, as Bell booked his return ticket to state with a second-place time of 4:34.6 in the mile at the Robinson Sectional.
Goen, on the other hand, was hoping to redeem himself for missing out on a return to state in the triple jump a year ago. He came up short again Friday, but the Vandals’ senior Most Valuable Athlete will be going to state, nonetheless.
That’s because Goen shocked himself with a first-place time of 41.75 in the 300m intermediate hurdles – an event that wasn’t even on his state radar heading into sectionals.
‘I didn’t expect it at all,’ said Goen of his performance. ‘I had never run that fast before.
‘I came in ranked seventh, but I just blew by everybody. It’s so surprising. It feels great, though.’
Goen’s previous season best of 46.2 seconds came in a first-place showing at a recent meet in Greenville. But he made a mockery of that time at the perfect time Friday.
He credited the four-plus second improvement to working with VCHS head coach Jane Bell and assistant Derek DeBarr over the past two weeks.
‘I think (improved) form really got it for me,’ said Goen. ‘They’ve been telling me to get my lead leg over (the hurdle) and work on my trail leg. It’s paid off for me.’
The performance helped ease the disappointment of missing state in his strongest event – the triple jump – for the second year in a row. After qualifying for state with a leap of 39-8 during his sophomore year, Goen’s leap of 38-10 Friday left him in third place, a spot short of qualifying for state.
‘It was a big disappointment last year, and missing it again this year was the same,’ Goen said.
But the joy of qualifying in the 300m hurdles brightened Goen’s mood in a hurry. And based on his remarkable recent improvement, Goen is optimistic he can finish better in Friday’s 11:30 a.m. preliminaries than his No. 31 seed would indicate.
‘To see my name in the finals would be very rewarding,’ Goen said.
Getting to the finals is Bell’s primary goal, and his No. 9 seed suggests such an accomplishment is a definite possibility.
Bell will also be able to draw on the wisdom gained after a somewhat disappointing eighth-place finish out of 13 runners in his preliminary last year.
‘Last year, I think I found out what it takes as far as the race plan, to get into the top three or four in the heat,’ said Bell, who clocked in at 4:34.72 last year, but was unable to emerge from a second-tier pack.
‘I was a little slow coming out,’ Bell said. ‘I just need to stay with the pack and not get boxed in, so I can make my move on the third or fourth lap. I really just want to finish strong.’
Seeded 10th last year, Bell knows that preliminary rankings based on sectional times mean little, as he expects a very competitive field.
‘There are a lot of people bunched in from 32 to 37, so it’ll be a really close race,’ Bell said.
Friday’s time was Bell’s second-best of the year, but he feels he’s capable of more when he hits the track Friday at 11:45 a.m.
‘Hopefully, I can run a little bit faster than that, because I didn’t really feel very well that day,’ Bell said. ‘If I can get a good race plan going, I can probably get near 4:30.’
Having ‘been there and done that’ at state should be a valuable asset for both Vandal reps.
‘It was a little bit nerve-racking,’ said Bell of his state debut last year. ‘But this year, hopefully I’ll be a little more calm and know what to expect.’
The Vandals were hoping to have another return state-qualifier heading to Charleston, but senior Jon Denning’s sixth-place time in the mile (4:45.96) left him short of the cut.
Sophomore standout sprinter/high jumper Angel Osorio was also hoping for a shot at state this year, but he was unable to recover fully from a recent hamstring injury in time to compete at the sectional.
Despite missing out on state, a handful of Vandals finished the year with very solid showings.
Drew Stewart placed fifth in the discus (124-1 1/2) and 12th in the shot put (38-8).
Matt Grove added an eighth-place triple jump of (34-5) and a ninth-place time in the 800m (2:21.7). Andy Koonce was eighth in the 400m (56.41).
The Vandals 400m relay team (Michael Galletto, Cody Cortelloni, Andy Koonce and Codee Street) placed seventh with a time of 51.6, as did the VCHS 800m relay (Galletto, Austin Schukar, Daniel Bell and Street) with a time of 1:50.50.