Rochelle seniors Matthew and Michael Drendel have competed alongside each other since they were fifth-graders at Eswood, and the two brothers have found different ways to make a big difference for the Hubs varsity track and field team this season.
While both athletes are capable of giving Rochelle an all-around effort, Michael has been making his name in the field events, recording several top finishes over the past few weeks in both the triple jump and the long jump. Michael also surprised himself and his team when he cleared 13-1 on his third attempt in the pole vault at the Hubs’ dual meet with the Sterling Golden Warriors on Tuesday.
He’ll be state-bound if he clears the same level at the team’s sectional meet in Winnebago, but the senior said he has his eyes set on greater heights.
“I was going too deep into the put with my lighter pole so I stepped up to a heavier pole,” Michael said. “It took me a couple of jumps to get used to it, but on that third jump felt so smooth going up, and once I got over the bar I was so happy… I’d like to tie or break the state record, which is 15 feet, and I’m pushing hard to get there.”
On the track, Matthew has primarily served as a middle-distance runner, with the 800-meter run and both the 1600-meter relay and the 3200-meter relay serving as his strongest events. A former state qualifier in both relay events, Matthew is looking to make even more noise this year, and the senior credits his coaches, including John Dobbs and Mark Zilis, for pushing him to become the runner he is today.
“I think I’m exceeding my expectations from where I was last year,” Matthew said. “I just want to do the best I can and it’s been a really exciting season… The other night when I was about to run leadoff the 1600-meter relay, coach told me to get out harder, so I got out harder and I made a PR by about two seconds. I was the fastest runner on the track that day.”
There are 13 seniors on this year’s squad including the two Drendels, and both brothers are part of a group tasked with leading a large platoon of freshman and sophomore athletes. With more underclassmen wearing purple and white than upperclassmen, the two boys are stepping up in practice to make sure the younger runners are staying in line.
“We’ve mainly been helping them push themselves to be the best they can be,” Michael said. “At the beginning of the season they would always slack off and joke around, but once we told them how serious track and field actually is, they wanted to push themselves and they turn around and push each other. Our sophomores and freshmen have really stepped up for us this year.”
“A lot of the seniors are trying to build up their confidence,” Matthew added. “After the state meet last year, the seniors on my 1600-meter relay team told me that it was my team now and that I had to show the younger runners how to do this. That scared me at first, but now I’m doing the best I can to step up as a leader for them this year.”
They may compete on the same team, but the Drendel brothers still like to challenge each other in practice. Some days Matthew will cross the finish line first, while other days it’s Michael who gets the last laugh. The two boys share a similar build, but it’s the friendly battles that help each of them become stronger.
“When I’m ahead, that just makes [Matthew] want to push even harder,” Michael said. “It’s a joint effort… It pushes us to be the best we can be, and I’ve seen how that’s helped us over the years.”
“It makes us want to run harder,” Matthew responded. “We want to beat each other, but we want the other person to do well too. So we try as hard as we can and we hope for the best for the other person.”
Perhaps most importantly, both Matthew and Michael have learned a lot about each other through track and field, and those experiences have strengthened their bond both inside and outside of athletics.
“In previous years I just wanted to focus on field events and increasing my ability in those, but Matthew’s pushed me to get better on the running side and he’s helped me grow from that standpoint to become a better runner and all-around track athlete,” Michael said.
“Michael’s really helped me boost my confidence and strive for the best,” Matthew said. “When I went down to state last year he told me that I better come back with a state medal, and I want him to come home with a state medal this year, too.”
Article courtesy of Rochelle News-Leader