Morton track team looks to build on series of top-four spots

Bryan Veginski

The Morton boys track and field team has been in the top four of the Mid-Illini Conference in five consecutive seasons.

The Potters have a chance to extend that string to six with a line-up that includes capable athletes in a variety of areas.

“If you’re improving and getting better, you’re going to be successful at track and field,” said second-year MHS head coach Kevin Hodel.

Morton was productive in a beefed up indoor season that concluded last week.

“I’m happy with the performances,” Hodel said. “The guys have been working as hard as you can for not having a great spring.”

Brady Carius, a senior, will be a catalyst in the distance category.

The accomplished runner placed second in the 3200-meter run in a time of 9:52.62 on March 21 at the University of Illinois in the Gene Armer Invitational, a meet that attracts top talent from the Chicago and St. Louis areas.

Senior Cody Hilliard has cleared 6 feet in the high jump.  Like Carius, he is not far off of the IHSA state-qualifying standard for Class 2A boys.

Jeff Abney is another senior the Potters will count on this spring. A sprinter, he specializes in the 100 and 200 dashes.

Abney was second-team all-league in 2013 in the 4x100 relay.

Trace Cooper is a senior who continues to improve in the 400 dash.

Sam Rodeghiero, a junior, is expected to contribute in the short-distance races. He also recently set a personal record by six inches in the long jump.

A trio of juniors — Peyton Hopkins, Richie Cox and Trevor Knoerele — could help Morton improve its prospects in the shot put and discus.

The rest of the 32-member team consists of: seniors Tristan Riegler and Josh Stuckey; junior Nate Schneblin; sophomores Dagon Bivin, Bret Hilliard, Dalton Klein, Ben Lange, Tony Monferdini, John Pray, Patrick Rettke, Andrew Rhode, Sean Saunders and Jackson Yoder.

Freshmen, which make up more than one-third of the roster are: Reese Collins, Cole Erwin, Michael Gryl, Travis Gudeman, Brian Himmel, Michael Hoodley, Dakota Kaiser, Garrett Orrico, Garris Radloff, Derek Roche and Connor Thompson.

Morton is using D.J. Zahn as a great example for its young squad. The former Potters state medal winner is a nationally-recognized sprinter for the University of Illinois, where he is now a senior.

“It’s fun to be able to show a Morton track alumnus being successful,” said Hodel.

Hanging in Champaign is a huge poster of Zahn, who kept working hard and making progress before arriving as one of the best in the country.

Programs Morton utilizes allow individuals to get constant feedback on their progress with updated performance reports.

“For a lot of the kids, it’s encouraging to them,” said Hodel, who added that top results across the team also are readily available.

The Potters have some scheduling issues with athletics complex upgrades at the high school.

Like girls track and boys tennis, Morton will not have a home meet. Metamora’s track will be available two days for practice.

The Morton Co-ed Relays on April 23 and the Morton Relays on May 8 both will be at Washington, but the Potters will handle all hosting duties.

Despite every competition being on the road, most drives are within a manageable distance for fans. Plus, most meets have a free admission.

Dunlap has won back-to-back conference championships. Hodel expects the Eagles and Metamora, the 2014 runner-up, to be out in front.

Pekin should still be solid, but lost a giant when four-event league champion Cole Henderson graduated.

“We should be right there after that,” Hodel said. “We want to be in the top half of the conference.”

Morton was fourth in the M-I a year ago with 34 1/2 points, a half-point ahead of Washington.

The Potters are in action next when they face Pekin and host Dunlap on Tuesday.