Mount Zion features a potential state champion and Mahomet-Seymour features some of the best distance runners in the state. Who gets the edge?

When asking Mahomet-Seymour head coach Keith Pogue, he had a fairly simple answer. 

“Mount Zion, too much speed,” said Pogue. 

The Braves will enter the Indoor Apollo Conference Championships as the favorite after winning the outdoor championship last year. Mount Zion scored 127 points, which was 19 points more than runner-up Mahomet-Seymour. 

Mount Zion is led by a top sprinter in senior Christian Keyhea, who was the IHSA Class 2A state runner-up in the 100-meter dash last year. Keyhea also made state in the 200-meter dash but was a late scratch, but he figures to be a contender in that race as well. Keyhea also anchored the team’s Apollo champion in the 4×100 meter relay. 

The team also brings back Apollo’s top shot putter in senior Josh England, as well as the top 4×200-meter relay that brings back all four runners that ran a 1:31.89. 

I think Mt. Zion and Mahomet are the two toughest in boys track,” said Lincoln head coach Matt Silkowski. 

The Bulldogs will bring some talented runners on the distance side. Senior Jonah Singer returns as the top 800-meter runner, beating Mount Zion junior Sam Atkinson by 0.7 seconds last season. In the mile, Joseph Scheele was the runner-up and figured to be a contender now that Taylorville’s Chris Cherry had finally graduated. 

The Bulldogs will take a heavy hit in losing state champion CJ Shoaf, who holds the Apollo Conference record in the high jump. He was also the state’s runner-up in the 110-hurdles and placed third in the 300-meter hurdles. 

“Kyle Nofziger, Jonah Singer, and Joseph Scheele are all returning All-Staters,” said Pogue. “We should be a dominant force in distance this season.”

In those races, Lincoln will bring multiple challengers who helped the team place third last year. Brendan Heitzig brings back the top time in the 3200-meter run, while senior Garrett Slack brings back the best 400-meter time after running 51.01 last season, while the 4×800-meter relay team brings back all four runners after placing seventh at the State Finals. 

“Garrett Slack and Drake Rutledge return for Lincoln,” said Silkowski. “Both earned multiple state medals. Brenden Heitzig is off to a great start for us.  He medaled in the 4×800 last spring and qualified in the 3200 last year as well.”

Mattoon’s 4×800-meter relay team lost by 12 seconds last year and returns three of the four runners. The relay didn’t feature All-State cross country runner Brock Davee, who tried to place high in the 3200-meter and 1600-meter runs, where he placed third in both races. The Green Wave placed fourth as a team. 

“I have a veteran group coming back in the distance races with Brock Davee leading the way,” said Mattoon coach Jarad Kimbro. “ He has trained hard and is looking forward to a strong senior season.  I also have a group in the 4×800 that is hoping to make it to the state meet this year with Quincy Hamilton, Sam Ferrar, Trent Hettinger, and Brock or Jackson Whalin running.”

Mattoon lost just two seniors from last year. That included the Apollo Conference champion in discus in Dakota Spencer, as well as Kegan Kirts, who was the 4×800-relay. Kimbro likes what he has come back with some athletes making some noise in the jumps this season. 

“We are going to be fairly young in the sprints but I think with some of the older kids like Derrius White and Matthew Gordon leading that group they will improve every meet,” said Kimbro. “I also think that Matthew Gordon and Jackson Whalin will have a chance to qualify for state in the high jump if they progress like I think they will.”

Returning as the top jumper in long and triple is Charleston’s Wyatt Strader, who won both events at the Apollo last season. Charleston lost no seniors from last year’s team that placed fifth. 

“With our first true season since the pandemic, our goals are to compete well with a greater number of meets and compete for the conference title along with many All-Conference athletes. A few athletes are going to be on the cusp of potentially qualifying for the State meet this summer so that is exciting.”

The rest of the conference saw Taylorville place sixth and Effingham place seventh.