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By Randy Whalen

The event was the triple jump. But the rewards were doubled for the Joliet Central boys track and field team.

A pair of Steelmen seniors, Zion Kostyra and Jamari Straughter medaled in the triple jump in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A State Finals. Those were held between Thursday and Saturday, May 23-25 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. 

Kostyra had a distance of 13.92 meters (45 feet- 8 inches) in the state finals and missed his PR by an inch. But he still placed sixth. Straughter nearly equaled him with a PR of 13.86 meters (45 feet- 5.75 inches) to place eighth. The Top 9 medaled.

Straughter was at state in the triple jump for the second straight season. Last year he placed 25th with a distance of 12.83 meters. So this time around was much better.

"I came up a little short last year and really didn't know what I was doing," Straughter said. "This year I was ready and knew what to expect. So many guys that I knew made the finals."

But not everyone medaled. In fact, Kostyra and Straughter became the first Steelmen to medal at state in the triple jump in 50 years. Steve Martin placed fifth when there was still a single class in 1974. Tom Herring was second in the state at the now-defunct Joliet East in Class AA in 1978. When the sports programs between Joliet Central and West combined, Tristan McKinnis placed seventh in Class AA in 2004. 

"When Zion and I were on the podium it was knowing all our hard work paid off," Straughter said. "It really was great. I was always the underdog and to see all the people cheering for me for making the Top 8 made me feel really accomplished. 

"Just seeing my mom and coach Reed there and knowing that I made them proud."

He sure did and Kostyra, who was unsure of going to college for basketball or track back in April, knows he did as well. After never trying the triple jump, he excelled at it.

"I've started with the long jumper but I tried it and it went pretty well," Kostyra said of the triple jump back in April. "I (wanted) to get to state in the event in my senior year. I was in some relays, and the 100 also. But the triple jump is my favorite event now. It's a blessing. It's a difficult event, but when I enjoy something, I get better at it."

Yes, he did. Although he came up just a little short of breaking the school record, which was 46-feet-1 inch by Deston Martin in 1975, Kostyra ended his season and high school track and field career on a great note.

"We were at Lockport for an indoor meet (The Lockport Triangular on March 9) and Zion came up to me and told me that he could do it," Joliet Central coach Brian Reed said of the triple jump. "He jumped over 40 feet (42 feet, 4.25 inches at the meet) his first time and he just started tripling after that."

Before Kostyra and Straughter went to state in the triple jump, Reed remembers the last Steelmen to do that.

"They qualified for state for state as the first Joliet Central guys since I did it in 1991," Reed said. "So it was an awesome thing to see."

Straughter, who will continue his track and field career at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, also qualified for state in the 110-meter hurdles. In an event like that where every little hundredth of a second is big, he placed in the top half with a 19th-place finish of 15.09 seconds. That was a PR and just half a second out of placing ninth.

"Just competing in the 110-hurdles was something," Straughter said. "The experience was amazing."

Kostyra was also a multi-event performer at state. He was also in both of the Joliet Central relay teams and was the only senior on both.

The 4x200 relay consisted of Kostyra, sophomore Deven Triplett, along with juniors Antwi Boakye and Anthony Miranda. They placed 36th with a time of 1 minute: 30.47 seconds. In the 4x400 relay, Triplett, Boakye, Kostyra, and Miranda placed 40th with a time of 3:30.46. 

Also making a splash at state was Steelmen freshman Nathaniel Gabriel, who placed 40th in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:02.10.

A highlight for the Sreelmen took place in mid-May. That's when they hosted their own Class 3A Joliet Central Sectional, which was pushed back a day because of bad weather and held on Friday, May 17. 

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 Steelmen got to showcase their recently refurbished facilities. 

"It was awesome, Reed said. "We have a fast track and we got to showcase that and our building. I thought it was great.

"That was our first time ever hosting a sectional and (Athletic Director) Jon (Pereiro) did an excellent job hosting and putting on a great event."

The 4x200 relay was  Kostyra, Boakye, Triplett, and Miranda. They placed seventh in a time of 1:29.86 and were one of eight state-qualifying teams to advance. In the 4x400 relay, the order of Triplett, Boakye, Kostyra, and Miranda placed ninth with a time of 3:26.20 and was one of 10 state-qualifying teams out of the sectional.

In the 800, Gabriel had a PR time of 1:58.14 to place ninth and meet the qualifying time. Straughter took sixth and was the final qualifier with a time of 15.35 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles.

The highlight of the sectional was Kostyra, with a distance of 13.86 meters (45 feet - 5.75 inches), and Straughter, with a distance of 13.67 meters (44 feet - 10.25 inches) placed first and second in the triple jump. 

"That hadn't happened in a long time," Straughter said of a pair of Steelmen placing first and second at a sectional. "It just felt better at home It was a good day and it didn't feel real. It felt like an out-of-body moment."

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