Up next for Morton: State meet

Bryan Veginski
The Morton boys cross country team qualified for the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state meet after placing fifth Saturday at the East Peoria Sectional at Illinois Central College. The runners will compete at state at noon Saturday at Detweiller Park in Peoria. Pictured are, in front, from left: Potter girls individual state qualifiers Caitlin Pribble and Ashley Pribble; second row: assistant coach Dick Conklin, co-captain Joe Zeller, co-captain Nick Piper, Austin Bradford, Nick Steffen, Grant Klobuchar, Luke Riffle, Walter Jankowski and head coach Joel Zehr. The girls’ race is at 11 a.m., also at Detweiller.

The Morton boys cross country team accomplished something that has not been done since 1960.

The Potters will compete this weekend in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state final, just the second berth ever for the program.

With 165 points at Saturday’s East Peoria Sectional at Illinois Central College, Morton finished in the fifth and final advancing position.

“They really thought that was possible since June when they started working together,” MHS head coach Joel Zehr said.

He added many of the runners on the veteran-laden team have looked forward to this possibility the last couple seasons.

It was especially gratifying after Morton narrowly missed a state berth a year ago after a sixth-place sectional standing.

Potter girls Caitlin Pribble and Ashley Pribble will run at state as individuals after gaining the last two spots for contestants on non-qualifying teams.

The Morton boys were 33 points ahead of sixth-place Galesburg, so it did not have to sweat out the final computations.

“It could have been closer, but we had a lot of guys run well,” Zehr said of the standings.

Senior Nick Piper was in 12th place overall for the Potters in a team-best time of 15:47. Also breaking the 16-minute barrier was junior Austin Bradford, who was 14th in 15:50.

Senior Joe Zeller’s 29th-place result gave Morton three top-30 competitors.

Juniors Nick Steffen and Grant Klobuchar were 54th and 68th overall, respectively.

Luke Riffle and Walter Jankowski also were part of the Potters’ top seven.

Normal U-High won the boys’ title by 25 points over runner-up Yorkville.

Caitlin Pribble was 16th for the Morton girls in a time of 18:34, one second and one slot in front of sister Ashley.

“Both had real nice races,” Zehr said of the juniors. “They definitely pulled together with two of those qualifying spots.”

As a team, the Potters were 12th with 297 points.

Hannah Behle (72nd), Brooke Goodyear (93rd) and Macaela Bennett (104th) also figured into the Morton score with their overall finishes.

Yorkville ran to the girls’ crown by 23 points over second-place Dixon.

State: The state meet is Saturday at Detweiller Park.

The girls’ race is at 11 a.m., while the boys start at noon. The awards ceremony for Class 2A is at 1 p.m.

“We plan to fare pretty well there at the state meet,” Zehr said of the boys’ team, which navigated arguably the toughest 2A sectional. “I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys can do.”

Morton is enthusiastic about getting to state as a group, but does not want to stop with that achievement.

“They’re very dedicated and focused to do their best on Saturday,” said Zehr.

Also, there are a couple individuals who could be in line for all-state honors with a good race. The top 25 finishers receive that accolade.

Zeller was an all-state athlete in 2009.

Both Pribbles also are shooting for an appearance on the awards stand.

“They definitely have a chance to be in one of the top 25 spots,” Zehr said of the twins.

Zehr said he sees some excitement  in the younger runners and hopes this will help cultivate an environment that makes the state meet an annual event.