CHARLESTON — The apparent ease with which Zachery Bradford won his third consecutive Class 3A state pole vaulting title on Saturday should have earned him extra credit.
Instead, the Bloomington High School star had to settle for adulation from an O’Brien Stadium crowd he had just dazzled with a clearance of 17 feet, 6 inches that broke his 2017 meet record of 17-4.
Upholding the Pantagraph area banner in Class 2A was a Jared Schuckman-led University High squad, which followed last year’s co-championship with a third-place trophy effort that required 36 points. Only Aurora Marmion (44) and Mahomet-Seymour (40) were better.
“I can’t be more proud,” said U High coach Lester Hampton, who saw every point come from distance events. “People have said for years it’s pretty much impossible to get a trophy with distance events. To be honest, with these (85-degree) conditions, I was scared out of my mind.”
Schuckman eased those fears by sweeping the 800- and 1,600-meter titles with times of 1 minute, 53.87 seconds and 4:19.97. A year ago, he helped his 3,200 relay win. This time, the Pioneers won without him in 7:52.17 with Zach Wolford (1:59.1), Jackson McClure (1:59.3), Nathan Clay (1:57.2) and Harris Porter (1:56.4).
Also earning the lifetime honorific of state champion was Clinton’s Austin Rauch, who added three inches to his career best in the high jump to win at 6-10.
Bradford became the first three-time pole vault champion in the meet’s 124-year history. After missing three times at 18-1, he felt the vacuum of a journey’s end.
“This meet was a lot different knowing it was my last high school meet with ‘Raiders’ across my chest,” said the Kansas recruit, who was among 14 Pantagraph area individuals and four relays to medal in Class 2A and 3A.
“That last attempt brought all the emotions down. I’m surprised I kept myself together.”
Bradford said getting on one of his biggest poles and failing to position the standards perfectly probably hurt him at 18-1.
“It’s been a lot of hard work ever since fifth grade when I started,” he said. “It means a lot to me to win it three times in a row.”
Bradford gave new meaning to the term “victory lap” when his 50.0 anchor leg helped his 1,600 relay finish fifth (3:22.11). Joining him were James Ellis (50.3), Gemonte Lyons (51.4) and Drew Crooks (50.2).
The Iowa State-bound Schuckman trailed teammate Matt Zacharias much of the final lap in the 1,600, but sprinted to victory while Zacharias took fourth in 4:20.24.
“He made a great move,” Schuckman said. “I just tried to cover it the last 100. It was fairly difficult (to double back from the 800), but I had a good hour-and-a-half recovery so it wasn’t too bad.”
Schuckman’s 1:53.87 800 ranks fourth in area history.
“Coach Hampton deserves almost all of the credit,” Schuckman said. “It’s my mind, but my mind is shaped by him.”
Zacharias, who will run for the Air Force Academy, was at Schuckman’s side most of the way, but couldn’t match his teammate’s 61.5 last lap.
“I just didn’t have it the last 50,” lamented Zacharias, who was otherwise thrilled with fourth.
Wolford and Porter were part of last year’s winning 3,200 relay.
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“I honestly think (this feeling) is even better just because I wasn’t expecting us to run this at finals,” Wolford said. “I felt we were kind of like an underdog team.”
The relay's only senior, Porter, was handed the lead and he thrived under the pressure.
“All of us have been here before,” he said. “This is nothing new.”
Few expected victory from Clinton’s Rauch, whose 6-10 high jump ties the fifth best mark in area history. The 6-foot Knox College basketball recruit went out at 7-0 after making personal record attempts at 6-8, 6-9 and 6-10.
“I was honestly not expecting to do this well today,” he said. “There were no nerves to it at all. It was just, ‘Okay, I’m going to go out here, try to beat a couple people and maybe pick up a medal.’”
Pontiac’s Cameron Dawson, 10th a year ago in the triple jump, took third with a final attempt of 45-3¾.
“It was a nine-inch PR (personal record), so I was happy with that,” said the future Illinois State decathlete.
Eureka’s 1,600 relay finished third in 3:21.91 to break its Friday school record of 3:22.18 courtesy of senior Jake Bachman (52.7), freshman Aden Sears (49.8), junior Connor Standish (49.7) and freshman Micah Senior (49.6). The Hornets also finished eighth in the 800 relay (1:31.22) with Job Knapp, Senior, Bachman and Sears.
“It’s going to be a great next couple years,” predicted Bachman, who wishes he had more eligibility.
Teammate Chase Hunzicker was ninth in the discus (151-4).
Prairie Central medalists were pole vaulter Chandlar Ifft (4th, 14-6), shot putter Zach Matson (4th, 53-2¾) and 110 high hurdler Aidan Krieger (8th, 15.21). Matson and Krieger (14.90) couldn’t top their school records from Friday.
In the 800, Lincoln’s Blake Jones broke Bob Fults’ 1962 school record of 1:57.94 with a 1:56.04 in sixth.
Other 3A placers, all with career bests, were the Normal Community duo of Franky West in the 200 (6th, 22.00) and Reed Wilson in the pole vault (8th, 14-6) and Normal West’s Tyler Dunn in the 800 (6th, 1:54.49). West broke Marcus Harris’ 2010 school record of 22.04.
“I’ve been working for this for a long time,” West said.
Dunn overcame early season bronchitis.
“I’m really happy with how that race went,” he said.
A junior, Wilson finished behind seven seniors.
“Next year, I’m hoping I can go for the school record at 15-6¼,” he said.