by MARCIA MARTINEZ
In the days after leading the Senators’ 4×800-meter relay team to the Class 2A state title and placing third in the 800 run in his final high school meet, Lee still had running on his mind.
He was particularly focused on matching or bettering the impressive 1-minute 52.7-second split he posted in the 4×800 relay state final.
“Every night I think about what I can redo or how I can replicate that or go faster and stronger than I did the first time,” Lee said.
Lee’s selection as The State Journal-Register Central State Eight Conference Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year is the final chapter of a dream senior year.
His third-place finish at the Class 2A state cross country meet in the fall helped Springfield to a third-place team trophy. He took home two medals from the state track meet in the spring and did so with gusty performances.
“When it got to the biggest stage, he shined,” SHS coach Trae Cotner said.
In the 4×800 state final, Springfield was in third place with 100 meters left. Lee ran to the outside on the final straight, passed two runners and pulled away from the field, earning the Senators the state title in 7:47.92.
“If you would have told me we’d have a 4×800 win a state title after losing three of our four legs last year, I would have thought you were crazy,” Cotner said. “It just shows the hard work that these guys put in to get to this level.
“The hardest worker I had is right there.”
Cotner pointed to Lee.
Lee’s 1:52.7 split in the state finals came as a surprise to him.
“To be honest, I did not know I was going to come across the line in 1:52,” Lee said. “I figured I would run 1:54 the fastest. I had no idea.
“My body physically didn’t feel like I ran hard enough to run 1:52. I thought to run that close to 1:50, I would be seeing white spots at the end of the race when I crossed the line.
“It was a good feeling to know that a 1:52 didn’t affect me as badly as I thought it would. It gives me a lot more confidence.”
Lee’s times in the open 800 were equally fast. He had one of the top 800 times in the state throughout the season. He ran a personal-record 1:55.96 in the 800 at the CS8 meet, and his state-meet time was 1:58.08.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever have a kid have a season like he did,” Cotner said. “He was under state qualifying time (1:59.44) every single meet except for one.
“I’ve never had a kid do that. It was awesome.”
Lee lowered his 800 time after the season ended at the Midwest Distance Gala. He clocked a 1:54.93 on June 12 at Benedictine University in Lisle.
“As far as track goes, I didn’t have a season that even compares to this,” he said. “Most of my races this year were top three finishes. I would say all of them except for two, which were probably top five.”
The next chapter of his athletic career will take him to Rend Lake College in Ina.
“It was a great year,” Lee said. “Not only was it good the way I was running, but I was able to have fun while I was doing it.
“That’s probably what made it the best and made it easier to do.”