Neoga’s Derek Williamson was on the verge of proving himself among the state’s fastest Class 1A sprinters last spring before injuries late in the track season kept him from competing at 100 percent leading up to sectionals.
Williamson is back healthy this spring, and the times he’s put up since the start of the outdoor track season have cemented his spot among — if not at the top of — the state’s best.
But Williamson won’t be the only favorite heading into Friday’s Class 1A Shelbyville Sectional. Neoga also has sophomore jumper Corey Kersey, who bounded his way into the state’s best Class 1A triple jumper at Tuesday’s Herald & Review Area Best track meet and holds one of the top long jump marks despite his preference for his main event.
Williamson currently has the No. 1 time in Class 1A for the 400-meter dash at 49.61 seconds — the time he ran to win the National Trail Conference title in the event on April 30. That mark is also good for No. 13 in the state regardless of class.
Add in the No. 2 time in Class 1A in the 100 and 200, and Williamson gives Neoga a serious threat for a multiple-event state qualifier. Williamson’s time of 10.75 in the 100 only trails Central A&M’s Jason Pokalsey (10.72) in Class 1A, and his 22.29 in the 200 is just behind Shelbyville’s Eli Miller (21.90).
“Derek has worked really hard,” Neoga coach Tim Mueller said. “Last year we knew he was a good contender, and he pulled up toward the end of the year kind of injured and pretty well shot us out of any state hopefuls. It’s too bad we’ve got to keep (him) to four events because he’s a vital part of two relays.”
Mueller said Williamson would almost certainly run the 200 and the 4x100 relay. His other two events would come down to the 100, 400 and 4x200 relay.
Despite Williamson’s top time in the 100, the shortest sprint might lose out.
“Last year I was focused more on the 100,” Williamson said. “This year I grew a little, and I’m more in the 200 and 400. I’m better at the 200 and 400.”
Williamson will face stiff competition no matter which sprints he enters. Miller, Pokalsey will likely make the finals in both the 100 and 200, and the return of Tuscola’s Broc Smith from injury might make the 200 field a toss up.
“That right there could be the state race truth be known,” Mueller said. “Derek knows that’s his competition. If we can get good weather, I think Derek can give it a good run.”
It’s going to take some good jumps for any of the competitors at Shelbyville to catch Kersey in the long jump, let alone the triple jump.
Kersey has the 11th best triple jump mark in the state — and best in 1A — after jumping 45-11 1/2 to win Tuesday’s Area Best meet. He also improved his long jump mark Tuesday and stands fourth best in 1A at 22-0 1/2 despite claiming to dislike the event.
“I usually freak out on long jump, so I just did my thing,” Kersey said Tuesday after winning the event. “I like triple jump. In triple jump, I just jump. I just go.”
The strides Kersey has made in his sophomore season — particularly in the triple jump — surprised Mueller. Kersey qualified for state last year as a freshman at just 41-7 1/4.
“At the indoor meet we really realized, ‘Man, he’s really taking a hold of this thing,’ ” Mueller said about Kersey winning the triple jump at the Illinois Prep Top Times meet in late March. “Once the outdoor season started and we were able to get on some runways, he was looking better all the time.”
And Mueller hasn’t been the only one surprised with Kersey’s leaps-and-bounds improvement.
“It amazes me,” Williamson said. “He’s going to be really good when he’s a senior.”