2019 NewsTribune Boys Track and Field Athletes of the Year: Hall relays were first in everything

The Hall sprint relay teams of senior Devin Soldati (left), junior Marshall Walk (center), senior Anthony Buchanan (right) and Steven Brust (not pictured) were the best of the best this season. The foursome won Class 1A state championships in both the 400 relay and the 800 relay.

Hall has been revered as a football school since it won a pair state championships and had two decades of dominance from the late 1980s to early 2000s, while making the playoffs five of the last six years.

In recent years, the excitement has spread to the baseball field as the Red Devils won the 2018 Class 2A state championship and has made three straight sectional finals.

But if you ask the Hall boys 400- and 800-meter relay teams of seniors Steven Brust, Anthony Buchanan, Devin Soldati and junior Marshall Walk, track and field deserves to be in the same stratosphere at Hall.

“It was the first time a relay won a state championship in school history,” Buchanan said. “That’s something I’m really proud of since it’s the first time at the school. It’s surreal to set the records. I don’t think those are going to be touched for awhile. That feels good, too. They’re going to have to call me when they beat the records when I’m 50 or something.

“I hope this puts some respect on (Hall coach Robert Malerk) Mal’s name.”

The relay teams didn’t just win a state championship during the last weekend in May at the IHSA State Meet on the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston, they won two Class 1A state championships and blew away records.

In the 400 relay, the foursome clocked in at 42.74, which is now the Hall record, the Bureau County record and the NewsTribune area record beating the 2005 Princeton team’s time of 43.1.

The boys also broke the Hall school record in the 800 relay with a time of 1:29.49.

“It feels awesome. It’s awesome being able to win something big like that,” Brust said. “Being able to achieve what we did was amazing, especially since all of us got along through the whole process.

“I hope us winning shows Hall that baseball and football aren’t the only sports that matter.”

For their accomplishments, the Hall 400 and 800 relay teams are the 2019 NewsTribune Boys Track and Field Athletes of the Year.

The team that won the championships wouldn’t have been put together if Soldati didn’t make a tough decision before spring sports began. After three years of Hall baseball, he decided to trade in his glove for a baton.

“Making the switch was a big decision leading up to the track season,” Soldati said. “As soon as I made the decision, I felt really welcomed and the guys made it a good time. I made the right choice. I saw the potential these guys had and what I could bring to the table.

“I just hope what we did and what Marshall has done and will do next year will put Hall track more on the map than what it has been.”

Walk is the only member of the team who will be back next year.

After dominating the field with the relay team this year, his senior year will revolve around turning his ninth-place medal in the 100-meter run into a higher place on the podium.

“I didn’t really want to think about it until after state because I knew at state that was the last time I was going to be able to run with them and I knew that I was going to have to focus on my individual events next year,” Walk said. “I just wanted to enjoy the time I had left with them and have a good time.

“This has been a great group of guys. The best group of guys I could have asked for. We made it work. We did the best we could do. We did the best anyone could do. Once we finally got the four fastest guys together for both relays, we knew what we had to do and we knew we had to get our handoffs perfected. We practiced our handoffs everyday just to make sure we’d get them down.”

Malerk gives credit to the junior for putting Brust, Soldati, Buchanan and Walk together a week before the sectional after injuries and different attempts at finding the right team.

“Marshall is the one that gave me the idea. He was in my ear telling me what combination may be the fastest,” Malerk said. “Me being the coach and as stubborn as I am, I wanted to experiment, but I was listening to them, too. We put that combination together and it worked out like it did. We got the result that we wanted.

“It’s pretty exciting to win two more championships. Hopefully we can get a few more before I retire.”

The two state championships won by the foursome are Malerk’s second and third as the 18-year Hall track coach led Matt Hassler to a high jump state championship in 2008.

The team has nothing but respect for Malerk, but the runners like to give him a hard time also.

Between the state prelims and the finals, Malerk didn’t take the boys to the laundromat to wash their uniforms. Instead, he wanted to see what they would do.

The relay uniforms were cleaned and it gave the boys a story to joke about.

“(Malerk) wouldn’t even take us to the laundry mat,” Buchanan said. “We were No. 1 after the prelims and he wouldn’t take us to the laundry mat. He told us to put the jerseys in some water in the sink. We had to go to Marshall’s dads hotel to wash them.

“He told us to walk. I typed it in, it was a 30-minute walk.”

Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.

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