Pekin boys run away with title, several golds at State

The Pekin boys' track team accumulated 72 points as they cruised to their first State track title since 1979. They got major points by winning the 400m, 800m, 4x400m relay, 4x800m relay, DMR and took second in the 800m sprint medley.

It’s not easy to be named the best team he’s ever coached, but Pekin boys track coach Davis Eidahl said that his boys from this season were the best team he’s coached, from any sport. Eidahl has had numerous teams, in his even more numerous years coaching the Panthers, make it to the postseason or make it to State. This past year alone, the Panthers sent some of their boys and girls to the cross-country State meet, the volleyball team made it into the postseason and the girls basketball team came within a fraction of making it to the State basketball tournament. Nothing tops his boys winning the State track title on May 19, the first for Pekin since 1979.

    “I’ll never see this again,” Eidahl said after seeing his boys hoist the trophy. “Overall, I’ve had some good individuals, but this group, the way they got the job done with their comradery and work ethic, is probably the best group I’ve ever coached. They made the job easier for me. I had to sit back and enjoy it, because I may never see this caliber again.”

    Pekin amassed 72 points on the weekend, taking down the state’s best runners in multiple events. Those wins came from the 400m run, 800m run, 4x400m relay, 4x800m relay and distance medley relay. While Pekin came in expecting to win most of those events, having dominated their opponents in them all season long, one stuck out more than the others.

    “I think the thing that most people didn’t know that would give us momentum was our sprint medley,” Eidahl said. “We came in seeded 14th, but we switched some runners up and taking second propelled us forward.”

    Pekin ran a time of 1:37.26 at District competition on May 10, finishing fourth that day. The determination of those running in it at State (Levi Long, Dayne Eckley, Monico Requena and Sam Roth) combined with the speed the Blue Oval provides, led Pekin to run a time of 1:33.84. At that time, the Panthers quartet had not only run the fastest time through two sections, they’d also set the new State record.

    With one section to go, the four boys waited on the infield to see if their placement would stand. With one leg left, the boys from Beckman in the third section were keeping pace with what Pekin had run, and it was going to be close. Coming around the final turn the Pekin boys watched as Beckman was just barely able to edge them out, running .15 seconds faster to break the State record Pekin had just set.

    “It was pretty nerve wracking to just stand here and watch,” Requena said. “It was like the Drake Relays all over again with our distance medley. I’ve got to give it to Beckman, they pushed hard, and it was well deserved for them.”

    Pekin had come into that event having already won the 400, 4x800 and DMR and accumulating 30 points from them. Another eight points from their sprint medley finish had Pekin sitting right, and though they hadn’t secured the team title yet, it was getting closer to their grasp.

    The Panthers saw a personal best run by Isaiah Wittrock in the open 400m run, as he was able to use his signature kick in the final stretch to hold off his opponents, beating out second place by just under one second. Wittrock came into the State meet having run a best of 49.48 seconds on the season and was able to take off a full second by running 48.93 to get the win. His name would come up a lot over the span of the three-day track meet, acquiring four gold medals along the way.

    Wittrock also helped his team win the 4x800m relay on the first day of competition as the group of Chandler Eckley, Roth, Cameron Millikin and Wittrock ran a time of 7:59.95, winning by a staggering 6.3 seconds.

    “My goal was to give Sam a good lead because we knew Mid-Prairie would be pushing us. We had to get out strong and get that lead,” Chandler said. “We all finished strong and got another win. We just have to keep performing well and we’ll be contending for that title.”

    Points came in bunches over the span of the final two days of competition as Pekin earned them 10 points at a time. Before advancing past prelims on Saturday, the Panthers put together one more win by taking gold in the DMR. Dayne Eckley, Requena, Roth and Chandler were able to combine for a time of 3:31.49, beating out Wapello by nearly three seconds. It was the first time Pekin had won the DMR since they won their State title in 1979.

    Pekin tacked on two more wins on the final day with Wittrock winning the open 800m run and anchoring the 4x400m relay team to end the day. Those were his third and fourth golds earned at State, one of the best performances put together by any individual of any class that weekend.

    Wittrock had a personal best time of 1:58.08 in the 800m run, but he would have to do better if he had a chance to push for gold. He was passed midway through the second 400, and then relied on his reserves to carry him home.

    “I never thought I would’ve won it. I didn’t start running 800s till last year and I just got the 2A title,” Wittrock said. “South Central came around on the final lap and passed me, I hung with him on that third 200 and then I needed to take off.”

    Wittrock did just that, as he widened the gap between him and second place, while narrowing the gap between him and the finish line. He crossed the line with nobody near him, running a personal best 1:55.94. His teammate, Chandler, also finished fifth in the event and picked up more crucial points for the team. The two Panthers started out side by side and continued to do so for a majority of the first lap.

    “It’s pretty cool to run alongside him and he’s a great runner. I’m proud of him for sweeping the 400 and 800,” Chandler said on Wittrock’s win. “I’m not completely satisfied with my result, but I’m grateful for the finish and that we got those points.”

    Having all but officially been named 2A Champions, Pekin had one event left to make it official. The quartet consisting of Cameron, Roth, Chandler and Wittrock ran a combined time of 3:21.76 in the 4x400m relay, winning by over five seconds.

    Those ten points pushed Pekin to 72 points earned, a dominating display compared to the 38 points earned in the previous State title for the Panthers.

    “Every meet these guys rose to the occasion and they improved so much this year,” Eidahl said. “They were kind of disappointed with their runner-up finish last year, and they knew that wouldn’t happen again this year. They got the momentum going early in the season when we took them up to Iowa State and they ran well, it pushed them throughout the rest of the year.”

    The Panthers also had some mixed results from their other events at the 2018 State meet, most by guys who will be returning next season with the desire to get back. Two of those individuals are Colten Glosser and Brady Millikin. Both are young endurance runners and cross-country standouts who will be some of the veterans going forth.

    Glosser qualified for State by competing in the 3200m run, barely sneaking into the competition.

    “I was 24th coming in and my goal was to not get 24th,” Glosser said. “Those guys are fast, it’s a lot easier said than done to keep up with them.”

    Glosser was able to accomplish his goal, finishing 22nd with a time of 10:44.05.

    Brady had similar hopes, to improve upon where he was seeded coming into the State meet. He came in with the 14th best time run in 2A in the 1600m run and finished in 18th place at State. While he didn’t improve his seeding, he did set a new personal best with a time of 4:42.65, nearly one second faster than what he’d run before.

    “We have some good talent coming back and they got a chance to work with these group of seniors which will help them next year,” Eidahl said. “Our seniors set a good example all season long from warm up and getting focused during practice to coming in with the mentality of winning and getting it done. I won’t see that caliber a group again.”