BY DAVE PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Jordan O’Reilly was laughing at his three rookie Rockford relay team members earlier this track and field season, but was smiling with them after the 4×200 relay finished second at the State Class A track and field meet Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.
O’Reilly was the only proven known factor back on the relay that qualified for state last year. He also had placed third in the 300 hurdles where he wanted to make a run for the title this season.
At state, O’Reilly burst to the lead in the hurdle finals before hitting the second to last hurdle with his calf on his lead leg and hobbled to an eighth-place finish. The senior was to anchor the 4×100 relay that dropped the baton in the prelims on the first exchange and was disqualified.
The incredible rise to the top by the 4×200 relay relieved some of the pain for O’Reilly, who anchored the relay that included junior Alex Byers and seniors Brock Deering and Brendon Schumacher.
The competition at state had no clue that Deering, Schumacher and Byers were running track for the first time as dual sport athletes who also played for the Rocket varsity baseball team this spring.
“In the beginning they had no running form and it was so funny to watch them try to learn to run in a straight line,” said O’Reilly. “Brock told me since he was way bigger he would run over me at the handoff. He didn’t realize we can get up to a sprint in a couple of steps. Eventually, they got the feel of it.”
The plan at the start was for the three newcomers to compete in field events because they were really good jumpers in other sports. O’Reilly says they were getting bored with waiting to jump three times and go home. They wanted to be more involved.
“The three were put on the relay with me and I thought, ‘what am I going to do with these guys,’” recalls O’Reilly. “We won our first meet, but it was really ugly because of the bad handoffs and running form.”
By the section meet the relay had cut nearly five seconds off its fastest time. In the state prelims it was the first time all four runners had perfect handoffs this season when taking third with a season best time. In the finals Rockford jumped up one more spot to be state runner-up.
The 4×200 relay set the school record and earned the highest medal in school history. Coach Chad Robran said the success came because some runners with natural athletic ability were easy to train.
In other action, senior Abby Botten got the same time and place as last year, taking eighth. The boys 4×100 relay that qualified for state had Byers, Kenny Gilb, Deering and O’Reilly.
Senior Jordan Weeding also was doing well when she hit a hurdle near the end in the prelims and finished 19th. Sophomore Erik Olson went a foot short of his section height in the pole vault and ended 13th.
O’Reilly had won the prelims in the 300 hurdles last year and said there was a lot of pressure in the finals. This year he wanted to be seeded third or fourth in the finals, and then planned to go all out in the finals.
“It was rare for me to hit a hurdle,” said O’Reilly, who will run track at St. Thomas next season. “I was feeling good and knew I was on past for a state record. It was a bummer.”
Coach Robran and Paul Hurda will conduct the first track and field technique camp for hurdlers and pole vaulters, noon to 3 p.m. July 14-16 at the Rockford Community Center where participants can register.