Disappointment is the best word to describe the Pekin boys cross country team’s day Saturday at the Minooka Class 3A Regional meet.
Motivation is the next best word.
The Dragons failed to qualify as a team for this weekend’s Granite City Sectional.
“Shocking. A tough pill to swallow,” said Pekin coach Cole Stoner. “We expected to advance to the sectional.”
Indeed the Dragons did, after a season of success that included an impressive second-place finish behind perennial power Metamora on Oct. 13 at the Mid-Illini Conference meet.
“We missed the cut for the sectional by seven points, which means we’re all responsible, including me,” Stoner said. “It was my job to get the guys ready for the regional. I have to go back to the drawing board.”
So where does the motivation come in?
Of the seven Pekin runners in the regional, only one is a senior. Nearly everyone will be back next season and they intend to make amends, Stoner said.
“This is not the way we wanted to finish as a team this season,” he said. “We’re not going to let it happen again next year.”
The Dragons needed to place among the top six of 10 teams at the regional, but they didn’t do it. They finished seventh on the water-logged 3-mile course at Channahon Community Park in Minooka.
Three stretches, including a 90-degree turn, had ankle-deep standing water.
No. 20-ranked Yorkville (65), Lockport (69), Normal Community (100), Minooka (101), Joliet Central (129) and Moline (156) qualified for the sectional.
Pekin (163), Joliet West (184), East Moline United Township (216) and Bradley-Bourbonnais (244) missed the cut.
There is good news for the Dragons. Two runners — Kolton Dunkelbarger, the lone senior in Pekin’s regional group, and Brody Blackwell — qualified as individuals for the sectional.
The top five individuals not on qualifying teams moved on.
Dunkelbarger finished fourth in the regional race in 16:01.38 and was the second individual qualifier for the sectional.
Blackwell overcame a nasty fall at the 1-mile mark of the regional race that left him cut and bruised to place 21st in 16:39.30. He was the fourth individual qualifier for the sectional.
“Outside of Dunc and Brody, it was a tough regional for our team,” Stoner said.
Bennett Custer (38th, 17:07.67), Seth Kasinger (44th, 17:25.02) and Jayden Tabb (56th, 17:54.60) also scored for Pekin.
Andrew Wolfe (57th, 17:58.15) and Noah Sivori (67th, 19:16.53) rounded out the Dragons’ lineup.
It will be Dunkelbarger’s third straight trip to sectionals, the final step before the state meet.
He missed qualifying for state by a combined 6.6 seconds the past two years, including .6 seconds when he was a sophomore.
Blackwell will be making his second consecutive appearance at sectionals.
The state meets for boys and girls in all three classes will be Nov. 4 at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Steve Stein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.