FLOSSMOOR — Tylar Mack going to state is no shock — the TF South senior has been one of the state's top-ranked sprinters all season.
But all the company he's going to have, with South advancing to the Class 3A finals in eight events out of Wednesday's Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional?
That's a happy surprise.
"Going to state for that three-hour ride won't be as boring as I thought it would be," Mack said.
In fact, it's been an exciting stretch run for South. First came a South Suburban Blue title last week. Then came the sectional, when South earned automatic qualification in five events by finishing in the top two.
South added three more qualifiers, including a pair that hit the IHSA qualifying standard on the nose: high jumper Christian Heffner, who was fifth at 1.90 meters (6 feet, 3 inches), and the 400-meter relay team of Derek Smith, Joseph Turner, Ryan Coleman and Mack, which took third in 42.77 seconds.
Mack also was runner-up in the 200 (21.73) and third in the 100 (10.94) despite a nagging groin injury that led him to scratch from the 800 relay.
"Coming out in the first 10 meters of the race, I felt it in the 100," Mack said. "So I was like, I need to take it easy."
Still, taking it easy isn't what got Mack to this point. Hard work has helped him become elite and earn a scholarship to Purdue Fort Wayne.
"It's crazy to me," he said. "Two years ago, I was just a sophomore running 12.19 (in the 100). Now I'm one of the top three in the state."
He isn't the only South athlete who has made huge strides since the last full track season in 2019 (the 2020 season was a casualty of the pandemic).
Two South hurdlers advanced: senior Favour Ojelabi, who won the 110s in 15.69, and junior Navonte Arnold, who was second in the 300s at 41.24.
"I came in here ranked second," Ojelabi said. "Me and the first (ranked hurdler) were basically neck and neck. I was actually really nervous. My block start, it was decent, it wasn't the best.
"But in the middle of the race, I just started picking up and picking up and catching up to everyone."
Arnold wasn't catching anyone two years ago. Missing last spring "was tough, I was kind of disappointed," he said. "I wanted to show that I got better because my freshman year I was, like, the worst 300 runner. I got last in all my races."
But now he's going to state at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston on June 19.
Also qualifying for South were discus champ Isaiah Isom at 47.62 meters (156-2 3/4) and triple jumper Joseph Ogunbode, who was runner-up at 13.67 meters (44-10 1/4).
"This is by far, since I've been coaching, the most kids we've gotten down," South coach Steve Nelson said. "I'm excited."
South finished fourth in the 15-team field with 65 points and TF North was 12th with nine points, advancing 400 runner-up Matt McClain (51.12).