Mark Rudelich allowed himself to celebrate his biggest track and field accomplishment to date while maintaining a respectful distance from reality.
The Batavia senior high jumper qualified for his first Class 3A state meet by staying grounded. There's no use in stopping now.
Rudelich enters Friday's preliminaries at Eastern Illinois with a plan to keep improving. Doing that, he has learned, requires clinging to your past.
"The key is to remain focused on your specific things that you do wrong," Rudelich said. "If you have a knee drive that's bad on one jump, you've got to focus on fixing that in your next jump. If you have a bad plant, you've got to make sure you readjust your mark to finish it out and do well in it, you know."
Everything aligned for Rudelich at last week's Bartlett Sectional at Elgin. He matched a school record by clearing a personal-best 6 feet, 7 inches to take third behind Marmion's Tyler Maryanski and Erik Miller of St. Charles North, who were ahead on criteria.
Rudelich lamented not seeing classmate Mark Majka qualify alongside him. His friend and frequent training partner was fourth at sectionals, finishing four inches short of the 6-5 qualifying standard.
In Maryanski and Miller, both fellow seniors, Rudelich has the next best thing: Friendly rivals.
"Through jumping and meets, we've gotten to all know each other a little bit better, you know," Rudelich said. "I like those guys. They're fun guys."
Miller finished fourth in 3A last season and isn't shy about his designs on advancing to the top of the podium this time.
"Give my legs a little rest this week," he said, "but I'm not going to change anything up. But I can't wait."
Maryanski, who cleared 6-11 at the Kane County meet earlier this month, keeps a similarly cool demeanor.
"I just jump. I just show up and jump," he said. "Whatever happens."
For Rudelich, the latter part of that equation wasn't adding up as much as he had liked before this season.
Naturally, he saluted his progression from his first days as a high jumper – clearing 4-6 as a Rotolo Middle School seventh-grader – and had pushed his PR to 6-0 by the end of a junior season hampered by an ankle injury.
In the offseason, Rudelich became an ardent follower of what he called "just simple stuff," which amounted to many summer hours of weight training and running at or around school.
In his final outdoor season, he finished fifth at both the Kane County meet (6-5) and Upstate Eight Conference meet (6-1), coming in slightly behind Majka both times. The Bulldogs enjoyed team success, too, finishing as runners up at the county meet and winning the UEC River title.
Once Rudelich arrived at Elgin, he harnessed his objective one more time.
"This year, I just thought to myself, 'I want to go to state,' " Rudelich said after helping Batavia finish second at the sectional. "So I spent the whole offseason doing training and spent a lot of time training and working out for it, and really, really working towards it."
Rudelich also competed in triple jump during the regular season before deciding with coach Dennis Piron and Co. to streamline his state series itinerary to one event.
Conferring with family members as a child helped pave Rudelich's path to track and field. His aunt pole-vaulted at the University of Chicago. Next season, Rudelich will join older brother Brian, now a jumper and javelin thrower, at Aurora University, where he plans to study criminal justice.
A younger brother, Batavia freshman Peter Rudelich, already has cleared 6 feet in his career. Mark Rudelich hopes his siblings keep climbing, and won't stray too far as he tries to do the same.