Distance runners give Liberty advantage over Highland at Unity Invitational

Highland’s Dustin Wakefield eyes the finish line as he runs the anchor leg for the Cougars’ 4x200 relay team, which won the race at the Unity Invitational in 1 minute, 41.08 seconds. That was nearly two seconds ahead of Central. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Apr. 23, 2014 12:22 am Updated: May. 7, 2014 3:15 am

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

MENDON, Ill. — Brett Genenbacher heard the public address announcer divulge the team standings before he ran the 1,600-meter race.

With Liberty trailing by two points, the Eagles needed as many points as possible.

"I could hear them announcing it as I was warming up," Genenbacher said. "It gave me a little more motivation because my team needed me to perform. It was in the back of my mind the entire race."

Genenbacher came through, winning the event in 4 minutes, 55.09 seconds. Teammate Brady Cook finished third as the Eagles captured 16 team points in that race, pushing them to the championship of the Unity Invitational. Liberty outscored Highland 128-114.

Eagles coach Jared Schmidt was also aware of the standings and sent the message to his runners.

"I just told them we need the points and go get it done," Schmidt said. "The seniors needed to be the ones to get it done, and at some point, it becomes a pride thing."

Distance running is usually Liberty's strength.

When the 1,600 arrived, Highland coach Michael Allgood knew Liberty had an advantage.

"I knew we would need a fourth-place finish," Allgood said. "That's a tall order and it didn't happen. I saw it coming."

Liberty and Highland battled for the top spot all afternoon. The Cougars took the lead when Dwight Clay won the 300-meter hurdles. Liberty reclaimed the lead with Genenbacher's victory.

Clay swept both hurdles events, the first time he's ever won both in a single meet.

He took pride in the victories, especially against a competitive field.

"I definitely look at the competition before the event," Clay said. "But when I'm actually doing it, I really just run as fast as I can. But I never know if I have it won or not."

The Highland senior started competing in hurdles his freshman year because the team didn't have a regular for the event.

It took time to grow into a hurdler, but by his sophomore year, he was starting to earn medals.

"The whole technique was difficult, especially the strides," Clay said. "I had to practice relentlessly."

Liberty definitely didn't ease to a win as it did at the Central Invitational last week.

Genenbacher almost prefers that.

"It gives everyone an incentive to take it to another level," Genenbacher said. "You just know you have to perform at your best. You can't slack off. You got to do everything right."

After the 1,600, Liberty sealed the win by winning the 4x400 relay.

Liberty got individual wins from Michael Blewett in the 100 dash and Evan Schreacke in the 800 run. The 4x800 team of Genenbacher, Schreacke, Connor Wolf and Jonah Peter won.

Highland's team of Jesse Porter, David Schmidt, Andrew Lair and Dustin Wakefield took the 4x100, and Porter, Lair, Schimdt and Laine Sly won the 4x200. Sly also won the 400 dash. The Cougars took two field events with Devon Baker winning the triple jump and Garrett Gray winning the discus.

Unity earned wins from Mark Jansen in the 200 dash, Cory Miller in the 3,200 run and Alex Blickhan in the high jump. Central's Jared Starman took the shot put and Alger Saldana won the long jump.

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