ELWARD STRIKES GOLD!

Tom Batters
Peoria Notre Dame junior C.J. Elward won the state title in the 3200-meter race

C.J. Elward did not look back, but he could hear Lucas Cherry breathing down his neck.

“I was running a little scared that last three laps,” said Elward, the junior at Peoria Notre Dame who won the state title in the 3200-meter run Saturday at Eastern Illinois University. “I could hear him right behind me. I knew I had to drive it home. There was no way I was going to let my lead slip away.”

Elward found an extra gear and held off Cherry to win the title, a goal he said he thought about for the past three years.

“With about 150 to go, I didn’t hear him anymore, so I knew I had it, but I still didn’t let up,” he said. “It felt great. I worked so hard for this, and I really wanted it.”

Elward said he felt good going into the weekend, and he ran a “tactical” race so he would have enough gas left in the tank at the end.

“You never want to lead the first mile of the 3200,” he said. “I wanted to stay near the front, but I didn’t want to push too hard too early,” he said.

Elward’s gold medal was the first in Peoria Notre Dame track and field history.

“I had a lot of friends and family there to support me. It was a great moment that I’ll never forget,” he said.

In other state finals events:

• Dunlap junior Johnny Crain finished third in the 1600-meter run with a career-best time of 4:21.76. Elward was sixth in that race. Richwoods senior Josh Battles finished seventh.

• Jake Hoelzel of Richwoods finished 13th in the shot put.

• Ishmill Lindsay of Peoria Central finished eighth in the high jump.