The hopes of Minooka — and of the area — having a boys track and field state champion came down to the final event of the prep season in 2013.
Seniors Daniel Ingram and Alex Pierce and Jake Smith did not disappoint. Their time of 3:19.15 was sufficient to outlast second-place Wheaton North, which finished in 3:20.47, and win the 4x400-meter relay at the Class 3A State Final Meet at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston.
For their win, Ingram, Pierce, Smith and Wilson are the 2013 Morris Daily Herald Boys Track and Field Performers on the Year.
Ingram literally and figuratively led the Minooka 4x400 team in 2013. He moved into the leadoff position after running the second leg of the relay at state in 2012, when the Indians placed second.
As a senior and the elder statesman on the team — he was also on the relay at state in 2011, when the Indians placed ninth — Ingram also served as the emotional leader.
“He brought a belief that my dad knows what he’s doing,” Dan Ingram, Daniel’s father and a sprints coach for the Indians, said. “When a son believes in his coach, and especially when that coach happens to be his dad, people will see by his actions if he believes in what I’m doing.
“He was constantly pushing people, constantly encouraging, kind of being a team leader. Chris and Jake were sophomores (in 2012), and so they kind of grew to look up to Daniel for leadership.”
On a state level, Minooka’s progression from an unknown to an emerging power coincided with the careers of seniors like Ingram and Pierce.
“We are very proud of the fact that we have gone from a program ... at the bottom to near the top,” Minooka head coach Nick Lundin said. “Those two individually, along with Joey Santillo, made an awful lot of progress in this program. With their leadership skills and work ethic, losing those guys will be tough.”
The new guy
Ingram, Smith and Wilson all ran the 4x400 at the 2012 state meet. The fourth runner was then-senior Tevin Hopkins, which left one void entering 2013. It was filled by Pierce, a senior who had previously specialized in longer events like the open 800-meter run and the 4x800-meter relay.
Pierce made his 4x400 debut at the second indoor meet of the season, the Normal West Invitational on Feb. 22. Ironically, he was the one of the four that ran at state to compete in the event that day. Pierce’s split time was more than two seconds lower than any of the other Indians that ran the relay at Normal West. Pierce teamed up with Ingram, Wilson and Luke Stovall to win the 4x400 at the following meet, the Mustang Relays at North Central College on Feb. 25.
“It was a lot like state,” Lundin said. “I thought we would do better than we did in some of the earlier events, and everything started to go wrong and we fell behind, and the 4x4 saved the night at North Central.
“After seeing all the progress (Pierce) had made in the 800 through our practices indoors, we kind of knew he would be the fourth guy. We tried them out, and from the get go he made it clear he wanted to be in that relay. Pierce meshed well with those other guys.”
While Pierce was not always able to equal the split times of his teammates — at state, for example, his 50.98 was more than two seconds slower than both Smith and Wilson — it was something he learned to accept as the season unfolded.
“At first, I knew (Pierce) was pretty nervous, but we made him feel right at home and backed him up,” Smith said. “Sometimes he would be disappointed with how he ran. We kept letting him know that all we needed him to do was keep it close. He pulled it out for us and did great.”
When Smith got the baton at state, the Indians were in seventh place. By the time he handed it to Wilson, and had finished his 48.67-second split, they led.
“That’s kind of the story, or had been the story, for the 4x4 all year. It’s up to Dan and Alex to keep it close, to try to keep it as close as possible for me and Chris, and then we spring it home,” Smith said. “What was really going through my head is, ‘Either I get this to Chris in first, or we don’t finish in first. That’s what willed me to pop that crazy time and bring it home to Chris.”
Wilson outdid Smith, finishing his leg in 48.13 seconds to complete the winning effort.
“I would say Jake Smith gave me a good five-meter lead,” Wilson said. “When I saw he was in seventh place when he got the baton, I was actually cheering for him while we were waiting. When I saw he had come all the way back from that, I thought, ‘There is no way I could lose this lead after that.’ He had basically won the race.”
In Smith and Wilson, the Indians will have two key pieces in place as they attempt to defend their championship.
“On the way home, we were already talking, ‘How are we going to win this again? Who wants to be part of a state championship 4x4 relay?’” coach Ingram said. “I don’t mean to sound cocky, but you think we did something this year? Wait ‘til next year. That’s how these guys really think.”