OLNEY — With a four-wheeled political rally rolling down the main drag outside Olney Central College Saturday, Alex Partlow’s footsteps couldn’t possibly be heard in the horn-honking cacophony.
But his results spoke loud and clear.
The Carbondale junior capped his comeback from a hip injury that sidelined him all last year by winning the Class 2A Olney Sectional, clocking 15:32.3 to top Taylorville’s Chris Cherry by 12 seconds.
“I had motivation,” Partlow said. “I’m a really competitive person. Rehab was tough, but I was doing a lot of biking during track practice. I was just sitting there during practice on the bike without my phone. It was tough.”
One could say Partlow dialed 1-800-VICTORY in his last race of the year. He hung with the pack during a very fast start, saved some energy for the race’s second half and then exploded on the field over the last mile and a half.
Making it even more notable was that Partlow did it without his teammate and training comrade, Tucker Poshard. IHSA regulations forced Poshard to race in the second of four flights, preventing Partlow from tapping into their well-honed partnership.
Not that it hurt the duo on this day. Not only did Partlow win, Poshard finished fifth overall with a time of 15:52.9, helping the Terriers to a seventh place team showing.
They weren’t the only ones from Southern Illinois making an impact after a long trip to squirrel country. Marion freshman Dylon Nalley was impressive in finishing third at 15:47.3, helping the Wildcats earn third place in the team competition with 97 points. Mascoutah (72) and Chatham (84) finished 1-2.
But the main storyline was Partlow, who could be used as a poster kid for overcoming adversity. In addition to last year’s hip ailment, Partlow also deals with asthma, not exactly an optimum scenario for a distance runner.
“I have an inhaler I use every morning and an inhaler I use before I run,” he said. “But I love to run. This summer, even when we were in quarantine, I was trying to get a run. I’d have plans with friends and I’d cancel to run.”
In the girls’ race, Carbondale senior Madeline Prideaux capped an outstanding prep career by placing eighth in a time of 19:24.4, making her the only runner from the South Seven to finish in the top 15.
Prideaux survived a very aggressive start from her flight, managing to keep tabs with the main pack and maintaining a consistent pace to earn all-sectional honors again.
“It was way too fast,” she said of the race’s beginning. “I knew it could be fast, but I didn’t think we’d go 80 seconds in the first 400 meters. The goal was to finish in the top 10, and I’m proud that I was able to do that.”
Terriers coach Greg Storm took a few minutes after the race to praise Prideaux’s consistency over the last four years.
“She put herself in a good position and gutted it out,” he said. “She was able to isolate herself in the top eight. She’s been a very stable runner for us — conference champion the last four years, all-regional multiple years, all-sectional multiple years, qualified for the state tournament multiple years.
“She’s one of the most decorated runners in our program.”
While Prideaux is sad that she won’t be able to add one last state tournament to her resume, she was also able to take a big-picture look at her final prep season.
“It wasn’t a 100 percent chance that we would make it that far because of the pandemic,” she said. “So I’m happy with this.”
Rochester’s Colleen Zeibert earned the individual title in 18:14.9, nine seconds ahead of Lincoln’s Becca Heitzig. Chatham dominated the team competition, putting four runners in the top 12 and recording just 44 points — 90 better than runner-up Mahomet-Seymour.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!