BLOOMINGTON | Cornelius Strickland had the proverbial target on his back since the first track call-out this season.
State runnerup in the 100-meter dash and third in the 200 as a junior, the Bowman Academy sprint star came into Saturday's IHSAA meet as the top seed and prohibitive favorite in both entertaining events.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Just 50 yards from the finish line in the 100 finals, Strickland went down face-first with a pulled right hamstring, his dreams of two state championships dashed as well.
“Why me? Why me? Why me?” Strickland sobbed as he was led off the track by close friend Dylon Collins of Merrillville, who finished second in 10.83.
Later in the meet, the Indiana Universty-bound Strickland refused to scratch in the 200, hobbling the painful distance in 1:24.97 as the crowd of 4,631 stood and applauded his courage.
Strickland finished ninth in both sprints.
“My game plan was to win both. I prayed, ate good, got some sleep, but things happen for a reason,” he said. “Fifty yards away, I felt a snap in my hamstring. It came out of nowhere.
Top nine finishers earned medals.
“I'm glad I got second but I'm a football guy and after this, I'm going to a football camp,” Dylon Collins said. “(Track) is what (Strickland) does.
“We've known each other since middle school. Winning state was big for him. This is what he was waiting for since last year.”
Lawrence Central took the team title. Locally, Chesterton (sixth), Portage (11th), LaPorte (15th), Lake Central (21st) and Merrillville (26th) did the Duneland Athletic Conference proud.
Chesterton's Justin Zosso tied for third in the pole vault at 15 feet, 3 inches. Penn's Kyle Johnston, grandson of former Hobart coach Jim Johnston, won it at 16-1.
“I've been looking at his vaults since my freshman year,” Zosso said. “We're good buddies (so) there's no intimidation. I always go after him. He pushes me. I have fun.”
Lake Central's Gelen Robinson was third in his specialty, the discus (181 feet), and seventh in the shot put (55-4).
“I could've done much better. I had the potential to get to 190 if I had gotten higher in my throws," Robinson said. “In the shot, I've been throwing farther in practice than today — the 57s and 58s — and again, I didn't get high enough in my throws."
Chesterton also got a third-place from Joe Troop in the 400 (48.82), who just nipped Portage's Alvin Best (48.98).
“I've got speed, but not like him,” Best said. “Joe's a good kid. I'm sure he's going to be at the top of the podium next year.”
Kouts' high jumper Stephen Keller was fourth at 6-7.
“I dunked pretty much every basketball game, which pretty much put me in this event last year,” Keller said. “My personal best is 6-8 but it's all-state, so I'm definitely happy.”