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By Randy Whalen

Perhaps more so in track and field than in other sports, the result is based on a single moment in an event.

Sometimes those moments and performances go your way and sometimes they don't. 

The Joliet West track and field team was a perfect example of this. The Tigers did fantastic at the sectional meet. That was the Class 3A Joliet Central Sectional, which was pushed back a day because of bad weather and held on Friday, May 17. 

"Sectionals was a great day for the Joliet West Boys Track team," Tigers coach Joe Tucker said. "Overall we had 18 athletes (including alternates) qualify for the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state meet. I’m very proud of the effort all our athletes competed with all year. They continued to work and believe in themselves and their teammates. It paid off."

Yes, it did with a bevy of state qualifiers, who set personal and school records along the way.

"We set a new school record for the 4x800 at 7 minutes: 57.87 seconds," Tucker said. "The relay was (senior) Ethan Podmolik, (junior) Julian Esquivel, (sophomore) Payton Hudson, and (senior) Marcellus Mines."

That relay placed sixth and was one of eight to make it to state in the event.

The Tigers also qualified in two other relays, as those also sent eight foursomes to state. Those were a seventh-place finish by Podmolik, Esquivel, sophomore Joshua Calvert, and junior James Kokuro with a time of 3:24.23 in the 4x400 relay. Also, in the 4x200 relay, it was sophomore Jordan Bennett, freshman Tristan Jackson, Calvert, and senior Aiden Rodriguez who placed eighth and went to state with a time of 3:24.23. 

Keldon Caldwell, a senior, qualified in the long jump with what Tucker termed "a massive PR" of 6.80 meters, which placed him fourth. Also in the field events, senior Darius Strother had a mark of 1.80 meters in the high jump and just missed qualifying with a sixth-place finish. 

Kokuro qualified in the 400-meter dash with a third-place time of 49.30 seconds. But the best performances were turned in by Mines. He won the 800-meter run in a time of 1:55.82, as nine runners made the qualifying time. He also captured the 1600-meter run by .13 of a second with a mark of 4:14.31.

"Marcellus Mines is an amazing runner and had an amazing career at Joliet West," Tucker said. "He probably ran the best sectionals meet I have seen from a distance runner. He anchored our school record 4x800, then came back and won the 800-meter and the 1600-meter races."

Neuqua Valley won the sectional with 81.5 points. Naperville Central (76.5) and Oswego East (74.5) rounded out the top three. 

Bolingbrook (64.33), Lockport Township (61), Plainfield North (51), Joliet West (40), Hinsdale Central (35), Naperville North (34.33), and Hinsdale South (28), which tied with Sandburg (28) made up the top 10. Joliet Central (26), Lemont (22), Plainfield East (19), Benet Academy (16.5), Downers Grove South (16.33), and Romeoville (6) completed the 17-team field.

But the great results of the sectional didn't transfer over to the State Finals, which were held between Thursday and Saturday, May 23-25 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. 

A big reason is that disaster struck for Mines in warmups. After placing third in the state in the 1600 last year and seventh his freshman season, he had state title aspirations. But he got hurt before he could compete in the preliminaries and had to scratch in the 800 and 1600. 

"He had a great week of practice leading up to the state meet, but unfortunately, as he was warming up on Friday for the 800m he got injured," Tucker said. "We tried to work with the trainers and work through the injury, but it did not improve. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to complete in either the 800 or the 1600."

With Mines out, the Tigers seemed deflated as no one advanced out of the prelims. Kokuro placed 19th in the 400-meter dash with a time of 50.06 seconds and Caldwell was 35th in the long jump with a distance of 6.02 meters.

The 4x800 relay was then Podmolik Esquivel, Hudson, and senior Jose Nevarez and they placed 41st (8:25.81). The 4x400 relay took 29th in a time of 3:27.25, and the 4x100 relay ended up being disqualified.

Still, there were positives for Joliet West. Especially from the experience factor. 

"Many of our qualifiers were underclassmen and they really got to experience the state meet," Tucker said. "The IHSA state preliminaries didn’t quite go as we had hoped, but it was a great experience for our returning athletes.

Mines had overcome injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons. So it was too bad that he couldn't compete on the highest high school stage one final time. 

"I ask the seniors to leave the program in a better place than when they came and Marcellus did that," Tucker said. "He helped put Joliet West, especially in distance running, back on the map. Marcellus is committed to attending and running at the University of South Carolina next season where I’m sure he will do great things."

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