The four Western Big Six runners from the Quad-Cities — all seniors — sound like they plan to keep it pretty simple at the Class 2A and Class 3A state meets Saturday at Detweiler Park in Peoria.
Moline’s Andrew Ellison simply wants a personal record and will let the rest take care of itself.
Alleman’s Addie Pulley, the lone Quad-Cities girl competing, wants to run with the Dunlap girls and see how things go. It is Pulley’s second trip, having gone when the Alleman team qualified in Class 1A as a freshman, and Dunlap is one of the best teams.
United Township’s Dalton Martin is coming off having a cold and flu and has added a stress fracture in his ankle to his ailments, so he has no profound strategy in Class 3A.
Then there’s Alleman’s Spencer Smith, whom Martin beat for the first time in cross country to win the Western Big Six individual title. Smith not only wants a personal record, but the Alleman record as well, which would require about a 14-second drop over his previous best. He’s the only one who’s admitting an individual title is a possibility in Class 2A.
“I am just looking to PR and hopefully crack the top five,” said Smith, who was injured a year ago and fell short as a sophomore. “And maybe even win. It’s not an extremely hard task to do, but it’s going to be extremely challenging. There’s a lot of great guys down there.”
Cold weather, the runners agree, would not be a problem, but winds and precipitation can be.
Smith has run the course twice already, and that experience could come in handy.
“I’ve told myself the first 800 to just go out kind of relaxed but near the front pack and just hold on to that lead group as long as I can.” Smith said.
Pulley wants little or no wind and to stay with Dunlap.
“I would like to run with the Dunlap girls because I know they are going to be strong and they are super consistent,” she said.
Martin is the most experienced Q-C runner at the Illinois meet, having finished sixth last year and seventh as a sophomore, but strategy is not the name of his game.
“Just get out and see what happens,” he said of his plan.
He’s feeling better in terms of energy, but he’s still coughing a little bit, and he’s working on his ankle with icing, wrapping and stretching.
But it’s obvious; his ailments leave him in a difficult position.
“Honestly, I have no idea (how high) I can finish,” he said. “I have not looked at the rankings or other sectionals. I am kind of clueless going into it.”
Moline’s Ellison has made the kind of improvement over his four years that make him a role model for others, coach Tauwon Taylor said.
It’s going to take a “monster race,” for Ellison to earn top 25 and All-State honors, he said. When he started running as a freshman, his time was in the 18-19-minute range. Now, he’s at 15:24.
“He’s a textbook athlete that I hope to have all my guys and girls model,” Taylor said. “Being coachable and (doing all his miles) over the summer … it’s paid off.”
Like Pulley, who plans to simply enjoy the race, Alleman’s Stoll believes having two athletes with a chance to be all-state is something to be cherished.
“As a coach, you don’t get this too often,” he said. “It’s a pretty special opportunity for things to happen.”