PLANO — Damion Allen regained his confidence on Friday.
After the junior on the La Salle-Peru boys track and field team ran the 400-meter dash in 51 seconds at last week’s Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference Meet, Allen’s began to question himself.
“Running that 51 blew my confidence, especially coming into sectionals and with (automatic) state qualifying being 50.8,” Allen admitted. “I told my coach (Marty Makransky) that my confidence was gone — and it basically was.”
On Friday at the Class 2A Plano Sectional, he got his confidence back.
Allen ran a time of 50.53 seconds to not only crack the 51-second barrier but to win the sectional title in the 400 to advance to his second straight Class 2A IHSA State Meet, which will be held next Friday and Saturday at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
“This just showed me that you can have off days in track and field, too,” Allen said. “It’s just like any other sport.”
Allen was one of three area athletes who claimed a sectional title.
In addition to Allen, Princeton senior Austen Stewart jumped 6 feet, 3 inches to win the high jump, while Mendota sophomore Wyatt Martinson won a razor-close 200 with a time of 23.16 seconds.
Allen was also one of four L-P athletes to advance to state, as junior Clay Vaini finished second in the long jump, sophomore Eric Walters placed second in the 110 hurdles and sophomore Brett Kowalczyk finished fourth in the shot put but advanced after he threw state-qualifying distance.
The four state qualifiers were an area-most and helped L-P (45) to an area-best fifth-place team performance behind champion Pontiac (127), runner-up Aurora Central Catholic (67), third-place Geneseo (61) and fourth-place Plano (51).
“I’m just tickled pink,” said Makransky, the first-year Cavs coach. “I’m just so pleased. Clay in the long jump was a great way to start the day and, with Eric in the hurdles, it was amazing to get him through. I’m really happy for Brett. He was having a really good week of practice and we felt like he was right there. Just getting everyone we got through is great.”
In addition to the six, Ottawa senior Austin Burant also qualified for state in the long jump to round out the seven athletes who advanced to state.
After qualifying for 1A state in the high jump two years ago as a sophomore, Stewart missed advancing to state last year as a junior.
On Friday, the senior left little doubt as he jumped 6-3 and won the high jump over Prairie Central’s Ian Briscoe on misses.
“The pressure was on even more this year because I didn’t want to miss state again like I did last year,” Stewart said. “I did everything I could this year to prepare and get myself ready for the meet. It’s just so exciting to be back there again. It’s a little bit of redemption.”
While Stewart narrowly won his event, so did Martinson.
After Martinson failed to qualify for state in the 100, the Trojan sprinter overcame a start in the 200 in which he almost toppled head over heels and edged Sandwich’s Austin Breunig by two-hundreths of a second.
“I’m so happy,” said Martinson, who has battled an injured hip flexor all spring. “I was disappointed in the 100 when I was ranked first (after the prelims) but got fourth, but it’s cool to be the first person from Mendota to advance to state in 2A. I’m just really happy.”
Vaini started L-P’s day as he jumped 21-10 ¼ in the long jump to finish second ahead of Burant, who placed third with a jump of 21-10 but advanced after surpassing state-qualifying distance.
“I’ve been working toward (getting to state) the whole season, and today it finally happened,” Vaini said. “When I first had my jump, I thought it was 20-9, but it ended up being further and really shocked me. I didn’t know I had that in me.”
Burant hit his state-qualifying jump in the second of his three jumps in the finals.
“It’s pretty amazing. I’ve been working hard the last four years going down to speed training and doing extra lifts to prepare for this,” Burant said. “I knew if I put the extra work in I could do it.”
Kowalczyk wasted little time in claiming his spot to state in the shot put as his first throw of 51-5 ¾ qualified him for state.
“It felt awesome to qualify after one throw, and it was really hard to get down after the excitement,” Kowalczyk said.
Walters qualified for his first state meet as he ran a time of 15.95 seconds to place second in the 110 hurdles.
“I always had it in my mind that I could make it to state if I really just tried and had a blank mind,” Walters said. “I just had to focus on me, the hurdle and the finish line, and that’s what it took to get to state.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.