OREGON — Sherrard junior runner Jacob Belha couldn’t stop smiling as he finished his race on Saturday. He placed 8th with a time of 17:23, which gave him a very high likelihood of going to next Saturday's IHSA State Cross Country Meet in Peoria.

“This feels amazing,” Belha said. “To have no doubt that I’m going next weekend is great.”

What Belha didn’t know, what no one knew at the time, was that the rest of his team would be joining him in the 1A race at Detweiller Park.

The Tigers placed fifth, the last team from the Oregon Sectional to qualify for state, with a score of 169 points. Dayton Hauger (27th, 18:14) and Mike Gorey (42nd, 18:42) helped Sherrard with top-50 performances.

Sherrard coach Ryan Buchanan was impressed with how his team raced, considering the Tigers have no seniors on the team.

“Last year, we were young and had growing pains,” Buchanan said. “But this year we sorted them out and we’re looking forward to next week.”

According to Buchanan, Belha came in and surprised everyone on the team with how he was running and inspired the team to work harder.

“The work he put in this summer really showed early on,” Buchanan said. “The rest of the group came in and wanted to step up and his performances really raised the bar for this team.”

Also qualifying in the boys' race from local teams were Morrison senior Koby Brackemeyer (10th, 17:29) and Rockridge senior Tyler Kibling (12th, 17:31).

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Brackemeyer took a unique route to qualifying for state, as the Oregon Sectional was only his third race of the season.

“The first race of the year at Rock Falls I knew something was wrong,” Brackemeyer said. “I had pain in my lower back and we weren’t sure what was happening. We went to multiple doctors to get approved for an MRI and when we finally got the results back from the MRI, they found I had a lumbar disc popped out.”

That kept Brackemeyer sidelined for most of the season. Four cortisone shots in his back allowed him to race at the Rock Falls Regional two weeks ago.

“A lot of the race was mental for me,” Brackemeyer said. “I had to push through the pain with my head and my heart on such little practice. I took it easy between races and this morning I hid my phone on the way here and imagined myself running the course. I believed I could do it.”

Kibling’s path was more traditional than Brackemeyer’s, but one that was not without drama. Unlike in races past, Kibling found himself counting places checking to see if he had qualified. The senior wasn’t too happy with how he performed in the race.

“I sort of sucked,” Kibling said. “I should have worn spikes instead of flats. I’m happy that I qualified and hopefully I can do better next week.”

Erie-Prophetstown (10th, 281), Riverdale (13th, 316), Alleman (14th, 352) and Ridgewood (15th, 417) all failed to qualify as teams.

Riverdale’s Tommy Murray (16th, 17:41) finished just seven seconds back of the last individual qualifier, but is only a freshman and will have a few more chances to qualify for state. Individuals Austin Early (53rd, 19:02) of Annawan-Wethersfield and Colin VanStechelman (54th, 19:04) of Kewanee also had their seasons ended.

In the girls' race, only one local individual advanced to state. Annawan-Wethersfield sophomore Crystal Musgrave (19th, 21:00) qualified for her second year in a row. Orion finished 9th as a team with 286 points and junior Maryn Bollinger finished 37th, failing to qualify for state after a trip to Peoria last year. Erie-Prophetstown finished 18th with 465 points.

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