Jackson McClellan was happy supporting his Moline teammates at the state cross-country meet in Peoria the last two seasons, but that only whet his appetite.
“I just knew that running at state with all of those great runners was somewhere I wanted to be,” McClellan said. “I told myself last year that I didn’t want to watch another one.”
McClellan, a junior, earned his chance to run with the top runners in the state this season at Detweiller Park by qualifying at the IHSA Class 3A Normal Sectional with a 14th place finish of 15:49.
Despite being the sixth state qualifier out of seven, McClellan wasn’t anxiously waiting to hearing his name called as an individual qualifier.
“I knew that there was a lot of great individual talent at the sectional,” McClellan said. “I felt really good about the race that I ran and where I finished.”
Last season, McClellan went to Peoria to cheer on classmate Lylia Gomez, who finished 114th at the state meet with a time of 18:16. Gomez returns to state as well for a second straight year and is happy to have a teammate at the race with her.
“I’m really excited for Jackson,” Gomez said. “We both worked hard all season and I’m happy to have another runner down there with me.”
“The more we get to the state meet, the merrier,” Moline coach Tauwon Taylor said. “I wish we could have taken more, but both of these runners have worked extremely hard and it’s nice for them to be rewarded by racing in the state finals.”
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Both runners are looking to run personal best times today. McClellan set his PR of 15:31 at the Freeport Invitational last season and her state time of 18:16 was Gomez's PR.
“We want them to run a career best time,” Taylor said. “I told them to visualize how they want to race and to get aggressive early. It should be a great day weather-wise and the course should be in good shape for race conditions.”
Both Gomez and McClellan each have a race strategy to help them achieve that goal.
“My goal is to work with some of the faster girls that I can identify early,” Gomez said. “I was talking to Coach Taylor about it today and we saw that my box is next to Batavia, so I hope that I can run with some of those girls to keep pace.”
McClellan has a similar idea of who to keep up with, which includes familiar Western Big 6 foe Fiker Rosen of Quincy.
“Fiker and I have been competing together for two years now, and I know if I stick near him I’ll be fine,” McClellan said. “There’s also a few guys from Yorkville I want to keep with, and they’re easy to pick out because they have cool uniforms.”
Detweiller is a course that forces runners to be at their best or fall behind to the competition. McClellan is hoping that he can stay with the top runners.
“It’s such a fast course that the intensity of the race pulls you along,” McClellan said. “The goal is to get out and stick with the top runners and stay in a good mindset.”