2019 All-BCR Male Tracksters of the Year
SPRING VALLEY — Every Chicago Cubs’ fan with knowledge of the team’s history knows all about the famous Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combo.
So, too, will the combination of Steven Brust to Devin Soldati to Anthony Buchanan and Marshall Walk be remembered at Hall High School. They will be forever linked to one of the greatest days in the history of Red Devils track, winning not one, but two state relays championships.
They are the first two state champion relays from Hall, and the first and only other from the Illinois Valley since Princeton won the 4x800 in 1981.
And now, they are the 2019 BCR co-Tracksters of the Year.
Change of plans
The funny thing is, this foursome came together only one week before sectionals.
Hall senior Ethan Cattani, a key cog of the Red Devil relays, went down with a hamstring at the Three Rivers Conference meet at Princeton. Being so close to the postseason could have taken down many of relays, but fortunately for the Red Devils, they had more horses in the stable.
Soldati, a senior newcomer, who ran the 4x200 most of the year and part time in the 4x100, stepped in on the 4x100. Buchanan took over for Cattani in the 4x200, and the Red Devils didn’t miss a beat.
Buchanan was in a similar situation last year, recruited by his friends to join the track team late to fill in at sectionals for 2018 grad Brandon DeJong, who was unavailable to run because Hall graduation was being held at the same time. They finished fifth in the 4x100 and eighth in the 4x200.
“I know how hard Marshall and the other guys worked for it all (last) year, and I just helped because it was unfair the senior had to pick between graduation and sectionals,” Buchanan said.
Even with the late changes, Hall coach Rob Malerk believed the Red Devils still had what it took to get to state and compete well.
“When Ethan went down, I felt bad for him knowing that he was a senior and possibly not recover in time for sectionals or state. But for the relays, I knew that we would still be great and be able to compete with the best because I had a couple guys that I could replace Ethan with,” Malerk said.
“It would just take hard work and trust in each other and the coaches. They came to practice on Monday ready to get it done. We worked on relays every day for the week and a half, and it sure paid off and the guys certainly deserved it.”
Walk and Buchanan said the relays just had to get down to work.
“It was very unfortunate, but we came together after that and knew what we had to do. We put the work in and got our handoffs down and it ended up working out for us. We knew that couldn’t be a factor of us falling part,” Walk said.
“We kept a positive outlook and stayed 10 toes down and just worked with what we had left,” Buchanan said. “That’s why we put Devin in (the 4x100) and I stepped in the 4x2. In the short amount of time we had, we got everything together how we wanted it to go and got the outcome we wanted.”
Buchanan went out for track this year to improve his speed and quickness for football, which he will pursue a football career at Ellsworth, Iowa Junior College. Stepping up to run the 200 meters proved to be a little bit of a task.
“I wish I had been in better shape, I guess, to run the 200. I went out there and did my best for not running more than a 100 all season, and turned out to be the best it could,” he said.
Change was also around at the beginning of the season when Soldati made the move from the ball diamond to join the Red Devils track team. He went from winning a state championship in baseball last year to winning two state relays this year.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results as I got to share the experience with an incredible group of guys,” he said. “Anthony, Steven, and I grew up on the diamond together, and I competed against Marshall throughout grade school track. So it’s awesome to see a group I’ve been around for so long come together and achieve something like this.”
Doing the Charleston
The Red Devils 4x100 was seeded fourth coming into Charleston, ranked No. 1 for Saturday’s finals. They turned in the top time of 42.74, edging second-place Pana by 0.11.
There was more fun to come and history to be made in the 4x200. The Hall quartet was seeded ninth entering state, but took the top seed into Saturday’s finals and nosed out Pana (1:29.89) once again for first place with a time of 1:29.49.
“We came into the weekend knowing we might potentially have a chance to win 4x1, and had hopes for placing respectively in the 4x2 as well. We never would have thought to end up winning state in both,” Walk said.
“We all knew what we had to do if we wanted to come out on top, and we put everything in to achieve that goal. We had a great group of guys with great talent, and it really helped considering all of the guys wanted it just as bad as I did.”
“I knew we had the potential to do well at the state meet since the indoor season, but not this well. It is an awesome feeling that we did not bring home one state champion’s baton, but two,” Malerk said.
Brust said it was a surprising accomplishment, “considering we’ve been switching out relays back and forth the entire year.”
Both relays set school and county records in the process.
Buchanan was appreciative that the school moved graduation from the night of sectionals to Saturday this year to keep the boys from not having to choose between two life events.
“I’ll be honest with you, if we had graduation on sectionals, we (seniors) weren’t going,” he said. “It was one of best decisions they ever did, because now they’ve got two state championships.”
The state champions became the talk of the towns of the Hall district. They were thrown a reception at school and fast become local celebrities.
“The community and school have been treating the guys like superstars by having an assembly at school, making T-shirts from the Lockerroom and free meals from local restaurants. They are appreciating and enjoying this time of celebration,” Malerk said.
The celebrity status takes a little bit to get used to, Buchanan said.
“It’s a little surreal. People come up to me in public and ask, ‘Hey, are you on that Hall relay?’ “ he said. “It’s a great feeling when people congratulate you on your accomplishments. They see that you work hard year-round, maybe not just for track but other sports.”
The 2019 track season and state championships will surely give the four of them all something good to talk about in years to come.
“This is something you can never forget,” Walk said. “The feeling of winning state was something that cannot be matched. Being able to take two titles away that weekend was something that we will always remember.”
Hard to say goodbye
With the three seniors departing, Walk will be the lone holdover coming back from the state championship relays. He said it just won’t be the same without them.
“It’s going to be a totally different ballgame, losing some of my closest friends. We have a good time together,” he said.
Walk will be turning toward his open events, concentrating on the 100 (9th place) and 200 and look for a third event.
He will surely return to state his senior year and run for more first-place medals. But he will never forget the first two state championship medals this year.