Knoll, Hutchison Advance to State

Kayci Woodley
Charger Kennen Hutchison zips to first place in the 400-meter dash at the Sherrard sectional on Friday, May 22. He will run at the state meet this week.

Two members of the Orion boys’ track team qualified for the IHSA state meet starting Thursday, May 28, in Charleston.

At the sectional meet on Friday, May 22, in Sherrard, senior Matt Knoll qualified in both triple and long jump while junior Kennen Hutchison advanced in the 400-meter dash.

A crowd lined the triple jump runway. This particular crowd was there to cheer on Matt Knoll in his quest to qualify for the state track meet.

“When you have the crowd behind you, it makes you want to please the crowd even more,” said triple/long jump coach Mike Gavin. “(Knoll) likes jumping in front of people, and I think it just adds to his ability when jumping.”

In Knoll’s first event, triple jump, a crowd anxiously awaited the call of Knoll’s name and a hush fell over the crowd when he stepped onto the runway. 

With a first jump of 40 feet, ½ inch, in the preliminaries Knoll could relax and the crowd could cheer.

“I was really happy with my first jump in the triple,” said senior Matt Knoll. “I had a lot of adrenaline going with people in the community coming out and supporting me. That helped a lot.”

For Knoll, it was all about hitting his mark. After scratching on several attempts in the conference meet, Knoll knew he had to be sure his steps were on in the sectional meet.

“Once I get that mark, I can focus on other things like getting height and getting more distance,” Knoll said. “The mark is my first priority and then I work on form.”

In his second jump Knoll posted 41-3 1/2, his best jump of the night and enough to give him first place in the event and a trip to Charleston for the state meet.

In his last triple jump Knoll’s hand touched the sand on his landing just behind his footmark so the scorer had to measure from that spot. He ended up jumping 40-1 1/2, still one of the best jumps in the competition, but it was close to a 43-foot jump where his feet had landed.

In between leaps, Knoll confided in Gavin for guidance and to get away from the track, the crowd, and the other competitors to discuss upcoming jumps.

“I told him to relax and think about his next jump and not think too far ahead,” Gavin said.

“Sometimes athletes think about other competitors and worry about them more than they do about themselves.”

It only took one attempt in the long jump, and Knoll knew he had qualified for the state meet in another event. In his first pursuit, Knoll flew 21-5 1/2 and tumbled out of the end of the sand pit with a sea of supporters surrounding him. After the official scorer announced his length, an ovation came from the Orion fans as Knoll pumped his fist in excitement.

There may have been a crowd to watch Knoll jump to victory, but that crowd had multiplied by 8 p.m. and the Orion fans awaited the race of junior Kennen Hutchison in his best event.

Walking down the front side of the track alongside his competitors, Hutchison gave a big wave and a beaming grin to the crowd screaming his name before the race. 

In the starting blocks, Hutchison thought about anything but running 400-meter dash.

One of the toughest races in the sport, the 400 “dash” is in between a sprint and a run. It is very difficult to sprint the entire lap around the track, but at the same time it has to be ran at a much quicker pace than the 800 run.

To start the race, Hutchison was amidst the other competitors, but on the backstretch of the track any spectator could see his long strides slowly taking the race from his opponents. Coming around the last curve of the track, Hutchison pulled away and finished well ahead of his opposition.

Following the sectional meet, Hutchison’s face had glee written all over it. The Orion junior couldn’t stop smiling.

“This is huge for me,” Hutchison said. “I’m really, really happy.”

Hutchison’s determination was displayed throughout the season, winning nine straight 400 races prior to the conference meet in Sherrard. However, in the conference meet Hutchison placed third and seemed to freeze up after an opponent passed him in the last 20 yards of the race.

“If anything, it took the pressure off,” Hutchison said. “I felt like everyone had my number and after losing that pressure was gone.”

Hutchison maintained composure and didn’t let the loss rattle him, and just a short week later in was back where he belonged—at the top. Hutchison placed first in the 400-meter dash at the sectional meet with a time of 51.83 seconds and nearly five strides ahead of the other competitors.

“He ran an excellent race, probably the best one he’s run yet,” said head track coach Bruce Redding. “He looked good and got out faster than he usually does.”

After advancing to the state meet and running a personal best time in Sherrard, the pressure is gone and Hutchison now has a chance to relax and just have fun.

“Now that I have qualified for state, anything else is just an extra bonus,” he said.

Matt Knoll of Orion wins the triple jump at the Sherrard sectional to qualify for the state track meet this week at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston. He also qualified in the long jump, in which he placed second at sectionals.