BY AARON PATTERSON
To say the Danville Vikings boys track and field team has been through a bit of adversity this season might not do it justice. From the minor tweaks and injuries all teams experience, to distance favorite Caleb Hummer working his way back from a series of injuries that began at last year’s state meet, and the team losing members in the final weeks that coach Steve Luke said, “couldn’t make it through the season,” the Vikings have had to work through unfavorable circumstances.
So while they hoped for the best on Thursday, hosting the Big 12 Conference meet at their newly-dedicated Wayland-Young Athletic Facility, they knew repeating as team champions would be a challenge.
Mother Nature didn’t do the Vikings any favors, first delaying the meet because of rain, and then further saturating the field and soaking the track for the second half of the meet.
Danville ultimately finished fifth (56.5) in the team standings, far behind the first-place Bloomington Purple Raiders (184). But that didn’t stop Hummer and Johnny Leverenz from winning individual battles with a Bloomington duo hoping to rain on the Vikings’ distance race title plans.
Hummer picked up a win in the 3,200-meter run, and Leverenz took home two Big 12 titles in the 800 and the 1,600.
“We can always count on Johnny and Caleb to be pretty consistent as far as how they go about things,” Luke said. “We always kind of look for them to have a good meet, especially Johnny. We can’t keep him off the track. He wants to run everything in the world, and we give him a shot to run. I’m real happy with what he ran today. That was a heck of an 800 for those conditions.”
Leverenz, who entered the meet with the state’s 10th-best time in the 800, set a new personal record of 1:56.25. His time was almost one full second ahead of second place Nathan Allyn of Decatur MacArthur who Leverenz also defeated in the conference indoor championships.
Leverenz was so focused on winning the race that he wasn’t even aware Allyn was trailing him.
“I thought he was going to come out stronger and stick with me and then just try to out-kick me,” Leverenz said. “I don’t really know what happened because he was behind me. I don’t know who was behind me.”
Though Leverenz left little doubt as to who would win the 800, he made the 1,600 even less of a contest by defeating Bloomington’s Keith Meyer by a full three seconds. With two laps to go, Leverenz pulled away from an otherwise tight race between himself, Meyer, and Sam Doud, also of Bloomington.
His strategy of sticking with the Bloomington duo before unleashing his kick would have been sufficient, but he might have also benefited by watching Meyer and Doud’s approach in the 3,200.
Hummer drafted Doud through the first six laps with Meyer staying close by. But with two laps to go, Hummer made his move, Doud began to tire, and Hummer quickly distanced himself from Meyer, who finished second.
“I expected them to push hard through the mile and then after that, I just knew that all three of us would be hanging on,” Hummer said. “Whoever could hang on the longest would win.
“I felt one of them fall off and I knew it was just me and Keith up top. I just trusted my foot speed.”
He also trusted his rehab and the work put into returning from an injury-plagued offseason and indoor season.
“I didn’t run at all this fall because of my injury,” he said. “About two weeks into indoor season I started running. I got hurt again and took another two weeks off and then started running for the outdoor season.”
Hummer shattered his personal best of 9:42, and won Thursday’s 3,200 in 9:34.79. Winning the event and defeating two of the conference’s top distance runners gave him the confidence he will need for the upcoming sectional meet and a hopeful second chance at state.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Hummer said. “I think there is one other guy that is running about what I am in the sectional, so I’m just going to do what I can do.”
Luke has complete confidence Hummer and Leverenz will have a successful sectional meet, and much credit is given to coach Todd Orvis.
“He’s probably the best distance coach I’ve ever been associated with, and I’ve had some good ones,” Luke said. “I had a very good one before I ever came back down here. He does a heck of a job. He knows exactly where the kids need to be. I’ve never questioned anything he does. That’s the guy I’m impressed with because he gets these guys ready to run. They have talent and they are great kids, but he gets them where they have to be.”
Danville’s Lonnie Buggs finished third in the 110-meter hurdles, Chris Collier took fourth in pole vault, and Aaron Hardimon finished fourth in shot put.
The Vikings are scheduled to compete in the Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional on May 16.