FLOSSMOOR | Last year, few expected Thornton Township to be in trophy contention in the Class 3A track and field championship.
The Wildcats came through, tying Belleville West for third place with 39 points, and grabbing a prize for their trophy case.
"We're better than we were last year," said senior Demitri Smith, winner of Thursday's 100-meter dash in sectional meet at Homewood-Flossmoor. "We're stronger, we work harder, and we've come together as a family. That's what puts us on top."
Thornton advanced 11 entries to next week's state championship at Eastern Illinois, one more than the Wildcats sent downstate last year. And quantity, combined with quality, is how to get into trophy contention.
"We walked in with a plan to be the state champions, and we can be the state champions," coach Vince McAuliffe said after the Wildcats clinched their second sectional title in as many years. "There are no excuses."
Smith's 10.79-second time in the 100 final prompted him to say, "I am officially tired." But he had enough left to hold off Lincoln-Way North's Julian Hylton in the 200 final, just as he had in the 100, to double his state pleasure. Smith's 200 time was 21.82, 15 hundredths faster than Hylton. Smith beat him by seven hundredths in the 100.
Margins like that carried the Wildcats, though the 1-2 sweep of Thomas Taylor (22 feet, 11.5 inches) and Maurice Buchanan (22-7.5) in the long jump was larger. Thornton also advanced Jonathon Anderson in the 110 and 300-meter hurdles, Jalen Banks in the 100 — where his time of 10.94 was not only good for third place, but a state ticket to the hundredth of a second — Jeff Myles in the shot put, Taylor in the triple jump, and quartets in the 400-meter (winning in 41.89) and 1,600-meter relays.
"We're going to do the same thing as last year," McAuliffe said. "We don't miss a beat."
Crete-Monee's Rashad Hulbert won the 110 and 300-meter hurdles, easily surpassing the qualifying standard. His 110 time was a sparkling 13.99.
Junior Patrick Bolton put Thornwood in the winner's circle first by capturing the high jump. Bolton and T.F. South's Jalen Woods each jumped 6-3, but Bolton's clearing of 6-1 came on the first attempt, and Woods needed two jumps, which gave Bolton the tiebreaker. Both advance to the 3A championship.
"I didn't feel as good as I did in the conference meet, but I came through and feel I should be better for state," said Bolton, who quarterbacks the Thunderbirds football team in the fall and plays basketball in the winter. "I think it should be a great experience for a junior like me, and I'll expect to go down again next year."
Woods also advanced by winning the triple jump in 46-4. Homewood-Flossmoor's Matt Anyiwo captured the 800 in 1:56.02. Bloom Township's Kaleb Williams won the 400 in 49.57 and took second in the 200 (22.21).