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La Salle-Peru junior Clay Vaini lands in the long jump pit Friday during the IHSA Class 2A State Track and Field Meet at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium in Charleson. Vaini leapt 20 feet, 7 1/4 inches to advance to today’s finals. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
CHARLESTON — La Salle-Peru junior Clay Vaini put his best foot forward in the long jump Friday at the Class 2A State Track and Field preliminaries, while Ottawa senior Austin Burant saved his best for last.
Despite the different routes, the duo each earned a trip to today’s state finals, where they will join Princeton senior high jumper Austen Stewart.
Vaini recorded a jump of 20 feet, 7 ¼ inches on his first jump, and then struggled with his mark on the board with back-to-back scratches.
Burant needed all three of his jumps to reach finals as the Ottawa senior had two jumps of 19-4 before soaring out to 21-2 ¾ on his third and final attempt.
“I was getting nervous and a little shaky there, but my adrenaline was pumping and I was way faster on my final one,” said Burant, who enters today’s competition seeded seventh. “My final jump definitely felt great. It was a great relief. I feel good.”
Vaini, who will be seeded No. 10 entering finals, said extra energy led to his late launches.
“I had so much adrenaline going, it just happened. I went back on my mark, but I just had too much adrenaline,” said Vaini, who gave himself an extra six inches on his third attempt and still took off late.
Making finals was vindication for Stewart, who missed out on a trip to Charleston as a junior after finishing fourth in the Class 1A high jump his sophomore season.
“It’s been tortuous after doing well my sophomore year and messing up as a junior at sectionals,” Stewart explained. “It’s always in your mind while jumping, ‘Will I go 6-6 or go out at 5-10?’”
Now, after clearing 6-3 in the high jump, Stewart’s torture, which included some mid-season inconsistencies, is finally over.
“It’s unexplainable,” said Stewart of making his second trip to the finals in his prep career. “It’s one of the best feelings. Every high school athlete wants to get to state — the height of their sport.”
With the pressure off, Stewart is shooting to top his best jump this year of 6-8 in an effort to break the PHS school record of 6-9.
“I’m always going to be nervous, but even if I wouldn’t have qualified I would have been happy. It’s more about getting down here than how you finish,” Stewart said.
While Vaini made the finals for L-P, three of his Cavalier teammates saw their season’s come to a close.
Junior Damion Allen finished sixth in his heat of the 400 meters with a time of 51.65 seconds.
“I thought I ran strong. There’s a lot of good competition at state. I just came here to compete and try to do my best and that’s what I did. I would say I’m content with my performance,” said Allen, who favors running shorter sprints but plans to focus more on the 400 after earning his second straight trip to Charleston in the quarter mile.
Sophomore Eric Walters finished sixth in his heat and 15th overall in the 110 hurdles with a personal-best time of 15.58.
“I’m proud of my result,” Walters said. “That’s a good day. It’s been fun. This is my first year and I didn’t know what to expect. There’s been a lot of off time, and a lot of fun with my teammates.”
Fellow sophomore Bret Kowalczyk managed a top toss of 47-6 in the shot put to finish 2 feet, 1 inch away from advancing to the 12-man final field.
“It didn’t really turn out how I wanted, but it’s just good to get here,” said Kowalczyk, who didn’t match his sectional mark of 51-5 ¾.
“I was kind of trying to go faster and it desynchronized the rest of my throw,” Kowalczyk said. “But I’m only a sophomore and I’m looking forward to having two more years.”
Mendota junior Wyatt Martinson also fell short of qualifying in the 200 as he placed sixth in his heat and 15th overall with a personal-best time of 22.7.
“I think he had a great season. It’s something to really build on for future,” said MHS coach Brock Sondgeroth. “He had a little spell there where he was injured, and he did great job coming back and making state in 2A.”
Martinson hopes to finish better next year.
“It felt pretty good,” said Martinson. “The track is really nice. It just felt like I was flying.
“I can’t wait (for next year). Hopefully, I can improve upon this year and hopefully place next year.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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