MACOMB — At the beginning of the year, Metamora track and field coach Chuck Danner was worried about what kind of team the Redbirds would be this season after losing plenty of talent to graduation.

But it didn’t take long for Danner to realize this season’s group could be special.

A week after winning the Mid-Illini Conference title, the Redbirds captured the Class 2A Macomb Sectional championship Thursday.

Metamora won just two events — from Ethan Poston in the high jump (6-foot-5) and Jake Gillum in the 800 meters (1 minute, 58.64 seconds) — but used its depth to score 89 points.

In all, the Redbirds will send eight individual entries and two relays (4x800, 4x400) to next weekend’s state meet at Eastern Illinois University.

Dunlap won four individual events and the 4x400 finale to finish second with 74 points. Normal U-High was third with 69.

“What a great bunch of kids. They’ve worked so hard,” said Danner, who also commended his assistant coaches for their efforts. “But give credit to the other teams. Dunlap and U-High and those people made us better, because we had to get better to beat them. It’s a real thrill to be a part of it all.”

One of the highlights of the night was the 1600, where six different runners qualified for state.

U-High senior Jared Schuckman set a blistering first-lap pace and took a huge lead, but had to hold off a hard-charging Gillum at the end. Schuckman crossed in 4:13.06 — just .46 seconds ahead of Gillum, who lowered his own school record.

“He took that out and I respect him for a heck of a race,” Gillum said of Schuckman. “I expended a lot of energy to keep up to him at the end. He just out-kicked me. Props to him. Also a very good race for both of us. I’m excited to see what we do at state.”

Dunlap received victories from Jack Pompe in the pole vault (14-1), Austin Klokkenga in the shot put (season-best 52-0), Gabby Gavino-DaCosta in the 400 (:50.39) and Tracker Harris in the 300 hurdles (:39.28).

The Eagles capped the night with a school record and area-best 3:24.21 in winning the 4x400.

“We had some pretty strong finishes from some seniors that ran some great legs,” Dunlap coach Mark Klokkenga said of the 4x400. “I’m proud of our kids, because they kept plugging away, stayed focused and kept working.”

Peoria High junior Geno Hess won the 100 (:11.32), just ahead of Manual’s Jamere Robinson, and also was part of the Lions’ state qualifying 4x100 (second) and 4x200 (first, 1:29.96).

“We just came here knowing we had a lot on the line,” Hess said. “Coach (Mike Lawless) was telling us we had qualifying times but it didn’t matter, we had to run them here. I had a goal all year to win the 100, since last year I didn’t make it. This year I didn’t just want to make it, I wanted to win it all.”

Manual senior Stephon King won the 110 high hurdles in :14.97, in front of Harris (:15.20), before finishing second to Harris in the 300s.

“The 110s I was really down coming through the first four hurdles, then (Harris) was really competitive, so I think I just tapped the energy inside of me to catch him and fight for the end,” King said.

Other area sectional champions were Eureka in the 4x100 (:43.36), IVC’s James Palodichuk in the 200 (:22.70) and Notre Dame’s Vinnie Voudrie in the discus (149-2)

For a complete list of state qualifiers, see Scoreboard, Page B4.

Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs