After Austen Stewart finished fourth at state in the Class 1A high jump in 2011, the Princeton jumper just assumed he’d make it back to the Class 2A state meet last spring.
However, in his road to last year’s state meet, something unexpected happened: he didn’t advance out of the sectional.
After jumping 6 feet, 5 inches at state as a sophomore, Stewart failed to clear 5-11 at last year’s Class 2A sectional.
“I wasn’t very prepared last year,” Stewart admitted. “I was coming off my sophomore year where I jumped 6-5 and got fourth at state. I think I figured I could just do it again, but the pressure was on more and I just didn’t perform like I should’ve.”
This year, however, Stewart hasn’t taken anything for granted.
A rededicated jumper, the Tiger senior cleared 6-3 to win the high jump at Friday’s Class 2A Plano Sectional to advance to the IHSA Class 2A State Track and Field Meet, which will be held Friday at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
Stewart is one of seven area 2A athletes who will compete at state, which has 2A preliminaries on Friday and the finals for all events on Saturday.
Stewart, who is seeded 10th with 16 other jumpers who also cleared 6-3 at the sectional, doesn’t expect 2A to be too different from jumping in 1A.
“I don’t see it any differently. I am still going to have to jump upwards of 6-8 or 6-10 to win it,” Stewart said. “That’s obviously my ultimate goal — to win — but just being down there is a dream in itself and I’m more looking forward to that than placing.”
Joining Stewart is a quartet of L-P athletes along with Mendota sophomore 200-meter dash runner Wyatt Martinson and Ottawa senior long jumper Austin Burant.
Martinson, who won the Plano Sectional title in the 200, will be making his first trip to state. The sophomore — who has battled injuries all spring — is seeded 23rd with a sectional time of 23.16 seconds.
“I just expect some really good competition,” Martinson said. “I hopefully can do something at state that can help me next year. I’m just so happy with what I’ve done this year after last year. I’ve made some big improvements.”
The Cavs are led by junior Damion Allen, who is the area’s lone returning 2A state qualifier.
Allen, who won the 400 at the Plano Sectional, is seeded 15th in the event with a time of 50.53.
“I loved state, and it was a great experience,” Allen said. “My first year at state really opened my eyes up to what I needed to do. Now that I’m going back, I expect to place ninth or better for sure.”
Beyond Allen is a trio of first-time state qualifiers for L-P.
Junior Clay Vaini will compete in the long jump after he finished second at the Plano Sectional. At state, Vaini is seeded seventh with a sectional jump of 21-10 1/4.
Sophomore Eric Walters will compete in the 110 hurdles after he finished second at the sectional. He is seeded 20th at state with a sectional time of 15.95 seconds.
Sophomore Brett Kowalczyk will compete in the shot put after he placed fourth in the sectional but threw automatic-qualifying distance. He is seeded 13th at state with a sectional throw of 51-5 3/4.
“I wish some other guys could’ve made it, but it feels really good to be part of a team that made it instead of one or two guys,” Kowalczyk said. “We’re all young, so it’ll be nice to get some experience and to know that in the future we can be a force to be reckoned with.”
The senior Burant will join Vaini at state in the long jump. Burant, who finished third at the sectional but jumped automatic-qualifying distance, is seeded eighth at state with a sectional jump of 21-10.
“I’m going to see a lot of great athletes, and hopefully it pushes me to work harder and be better,” Burant said.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.