CHARLESTON – Sycamore senior David Emmert glanced up at the scoreboard 200 meters into the preliminary of the 800 meters at the Class 2A state championships, and he knew it was time to take off.
Normally, Emmert likes to sit back in the pack during competitive races and wait for his opportunity to cruise to the lead, but after a 30-second first half-lap, he knew the race was way too slow. He jumped out to a five-meter lead in the first lap and held off Macomb’s Darius Thomas to win his heat and qualify for Saturday’s final with a time of 1:58.22.
“It was too slow,” Emmert said. “A lot of these guys are doubling in the 4x800, so I guess it could have been expected that they would go out a little slower and try to win it in the last hundred.”
If his coaches didn’t convince him to be a little more selfish than he originally wanted to be, Emmert may have been one of those athletes whose legs tired during the 4x800.
The Sycamore 4x800 team barely qualified for the meet, finishing in 8:15.24 at the sectional meet, the exact time needed to qualify for Friday’s meet. Knowing the relay didn’t have the best chance to finish in the top 12 to qualify for finals, his coaches told him to think long and hard about sitting the relay out.
“We let him make up his mind. He wanted to do what was good for the team,” coach Pete Piccony said. “We said, ‘But you’re a senior, think of yourself.’ He wants a shot. He wants a crack at it.”
Emmert knows Saturday’s race will be even, so running as slow as he did on Thursday, when he ran a 59-second first lap, won’t be acceptable. He said he hopes to run his first lap in 56 seconds on Saturday.
“I’m going to go out harder tomorrow,” he said. “I think at one point tomorrow, I’m going to try to go for the lead. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Piccony trusts that his top distance runner will come out with a cerebral approach in his first individual event at a state meet – Emmert is his class valedictorian and will give a speech at graduation on Sunday.
“He’s a smart racer, and I think that’s going to be the best thing going for him,” Piccony said. “Is he the most athletic kid out there? If he’s not, he makes up for that with his intelligence.”
Emmert’s main goal is to make up the three seconds between him and the top seed, Pontiac junior Zac Justus, to win a state championship. It’s certainly possible since Emmert ran 1:55.68 two weeks earlier at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet.
But he’s also looking further ahead when considering the importance of his final high school race.
“I was looking at the walk-on times for the school I’m going to, University of Colorado, and the walk-on time is around 1:54, sub-1:55,” Emmert said. “So that’s kind of what my goal has been this entire year, to earn a walk-on spot next year.”