BY CHAD DARE
Just missing the finals in the 2012 IHSA Class 1A State Track and Field Meet has been on the mind of Westville senior Nick Woods all year.
On Thursday afternoon, a year’s worth of work paid off as Woods made the shot put finals with a toss of 50 feet, 4 inches.
“Three years of qualifying for state and I finally made the finals,’’ he said. “This year, qualifying was an expectation for me.
“I throw a lot with Salt Fork’s Alec Dutton (who also qualified with a throw of 51-6½) and coach (Herb) Wilkins. We knew that 50 feet would get us in the finals.’’
Woods admitted that his attitude was a little different this year than his previous attempts.
“This year, I’m loose, excited and easy going,’’ he said. “A lot of that is because of my training. I spent my summer in Mahomet at a camp.
“I changed from a glide to a spin and I’ve been more consistent and more powerful that way.’’
Woods is currently sixth as Villa Grove’s Ryan Pearce had a prelim-best toss of 58-6¾. But the Westville senior believes he could have been third if he hadn’t scratched on his second throw.
“That one was close to 53 feet, but I just stepped over the toe board,’’ he said. “My goal is to finish in the top three.
“I think I can get close to a 55 feet, but I just have to kick the toe board and come back around. I know I can do it, it’s just getting the job done.’’
While Woods is making the finals for the first time in his senior year, a pair of Vermilion Valley Conference freshmen secured berths in the state finals in their first trip to state — and both of them had a little drama along the way.
Tyler Owen of Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman missed his first two attempts at 6 feet, 3 inches, but the 2012 IESA Class 8A high jump champion made it on his third and final attempt to reach Saturday’s finals.
“I just had motivation to keep going,’’ he said. “It’s kind of weird being a freshman jumping against all of these seniors and juniors.
“My goal coming down here this year is to place and all that matters today is that I made the finals.’’
Owen wasn’t the only one to save his best for last.
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac’s Jon Davis barely nipped Michael Brown of Carmi-White County at the line in third heat of the 1,600-meter run.
“At the end of the third lap, I really thought it was going to be a pretty tight squeeze,’’ Davis said.
And just like he did in last week’s sectional meet at Unity, Davis ran a strong final lap, but he didn’t think he won the race.
“With the rain and everything, I thought he got me,’’ said Davis as the runners had to deal with a cold, heavy mist during all four laps. “But, I would have been satisfied with fifth — just being here is an honor.’’
Actually at the start of the season, Davis has very modest goals.
“I just wanted to break into the 4:30s and I’ve surpassed that mark — I’m very thrilled,’’ he said. “And all season, just making it to state — even if I got dead last — has been my goal.’’
Also qualifying in the 1,600 was Schlarman Academy senior Jesse Hahne.
“Thankfully, the conditions didn’t get nasty until the final 600 meters or so,’’ said Hahne, who will run in both the 3,200 and 1,600 on Saturday. “You just have to go with it. You just have to make the best of it.’’
Hahne will be running for the fourth consecutive year in the finals of the IHSA Class 1A state meet.
Joining Davis, Hahne and Owen on Saturday in the state finals will be Salt Fork’s duo of Dutton (shot put and discus) and Nick Hedges (100).
Dutton had the second best throw in the discus (161 feet, 7 inches) and the third best in the shot (51-6½) on Thursday.
“The goal today was to get the first one out there about 150 feet, which I did, and from there I could go from some big pulls,’’ said Dutton about the discus. “My best one came on my second throw and I’m in a really good spot going into Saturday’s finals. I can put all my heart into three throws.’’
But Dutton wasn’t sure what to expect during warm-ups as the cold, heavy mist that affected the 1,600 races was also a factor in the discus competition.
“During warm-ups I was getting pretty worried because it was a mist and it turned into a rain, the ring was getting really slick,’’ he said. “I was throwing in my tennis shoes instead of my throwing shoes.
“Luckily by the time I got my last warm-up throw, I was able to use my throwing shoes. The ring dried up and I was able to get some grip.’’
Dutton is currently second to Pearce of Villa Grove, whose toss of 162-1 came right after Dutton’s best throw. Those two have been throwing against each other for years.
“In discus this year, we have had some good back-and-forth competitions,’’ Dutton said. “It brings a little excitement and we both throw better because of it.’’
Hedges, who hasn’t run track since the seventh grade, got off to a good start as he qualified for 100 finals with a time of 11.14 seconds.
“I’m out here to get in shape for football, and I’m doing good while I’m out here,’’ he said.
Hedges isn’t the only Salt Fork runner at the state meet because of football.
Senior Clayton Fauver, who played baseball in his first three springs, ran the leadoff leg on the Storm’s 800 relay team.
While that group, which included Hedges, didn’t make the finals, Fauver said it was still a great experience.
“I never thought I had a chance of running at state,’’ Fauver said. “And I really wasn’t competitive until I got on this 4-by-2 relay.’’
And while the Salt Fork baseball team will play for a sectional title on Saturday, Fauver said he doesn’t regret the change.
“I think track will help me become better athlete for Division III football at Aurora University more than baseball,’’ he said. “I’m at state this week for track and I hope the baseball team makes it to state next weekend.’’