CHARLESTON — Last year, Dominique Lewis had help in earning two medals at the girls’ state track and field meet.
This year, the Centennial High School junior is doing it on her own.
Lewis secured berths in the finals of the 200- and 400-meter races Friday during preliminary-round action of the 42nd annual state meet at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.
Last spring, she went home with third- and fourth-place state medals for her participation on relays.
“I wanted to show that even though I’m an individual, I can get here (to the finals) by myself,” Lewis said.
She was assigned to the toughest heat of the 400. From the first two heats, a total of four athletes moved on to the finals. In the third and final heat, five runners qualified, including fourth-place Lewis who was timed in a season-best 58.14 seconds.
“The competition helped me push coming in the home stretch,” she said. “This is a race that demonstrates who has true mental toughness. You can have training, but if you’re not willing to push yourself, it can be very difficult.”
Lewis’ push went beyond the 400. Barely 50 minutes after competing in that demanding race, she returned to the track and registered the sixth-best preliminary time in the 200 meters (25.25).
“It was her decision,” Centennial coach Laura Koterba-Buss said. “She’s a tough kid.”
Lewis is the area’s fastest 200-meter runner this season.
“I’m very excited to do that quick turnaround,” she said. “That shows I’m stronger than I thought I was.”
The Chargers had hoped to have competitive relays at state, but in the Big 12 Conference meet, two senior relay mainstays who have committed to running in college (Bertha Frazier at Southern Illinois University) and LaToyah Mason (at St. Francis in Joliet) suffered season-ending hamstring injuries.
“Neither one of them had ever been injured prior to these injuries,” Koterba-Buss said.
Centennial did not get a relay to state.
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Lewis will see a familiar face when she prepares to enter the starting blocks in the 200 finals. Central sophomore Sharon Mainor qualified with the fifth-best time (season-best 25.14).
Mainor ran in the heat with the runner who had the fastest time from sectionals, Ebony McClendon, from Chicago Brooks. It was a good pairing.
“Trying to catch them really pushed me a lot,” Mainor said.
The prerace advice from her coach was nothing extravagant.
“Coach told me to just take off,” Mainor said. “I know I did my best.”
Her advancement eased the frustration she felt once the 100-meter qualifying was over. It took a 12.62 to reach the nine-runner finals. Mainor’s time of 12.64 placed her 10th.
What’s most impressive is she reached the state level based on what she has done in-season.
“I haven’t practiced during the summer and didn’t think I’d do this good,” she said. “Our coaches help us out a lot.”
Mainor is already looking forward to the immediate future.
“I know I can make state without much practice,” she said. “If I do summer track this year, I’ll do even better.”
Mainor teamed up with Jessica Wagner, Catlyn Baker and Averi Simpson on an 800 relay that posted the school’s best time (1 minute, 46.49 seconds) since 2000.
“I’m happy with what we did,” Baker said. “It’s the fastest we’ve run. I was here as a sophomore, and to come back as a senior feels better than making it the first time.”
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On paper, Monticello’s runners didn’t have a good day. Neither the 3,200 relay nor Hannah Houska in the 800 meters advanced to the finals, though each produced top-20 state finishes.
In their hearts, they are pleased with their achievements.
The distance relay crew of Maddie Tutich, Maggie Utgaard, Emily Foley and Houska placed 18th in 9:59.69. Houska was the anchor of the 3,200 relay all four years, the first two when the Sages were in Class 1A (where they will be next spring) and the past two in 2A.
“People say I’m talented and I might have some talent, but I’ve worked hard to get where I am,” Houska said. “It’s not just me. It’s the whole team. Regardless of how (Friday) went, we know we’ve worked hard.”
In the open 800, Houska ended 19th in 2:24.98.
“To compete as long as I have is a real blessing,” said Houska, who will attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she will major in child psychology. Her ultimate dream, she said, is “to own an orphanage.”
Teammate Foley — the other senior on the relay with two juniors — was elated to be on the track at all.
“About a month and a half ago, I got mono,” Foley said. “I thought my season was over, and I accepted it.”
She returned to action in time for Monticello’s regular season finale and had her next meet last week at sectionals.
“It has been all heart,” she said. “I didn’t feel that great.”
When she rejoined the relay, it wasn’t as the leadoff runner, but as the No. 3 runner.
“It was a different experience,” she said, “but I am so proud of these girls.”
Foley ran her last interscholastic race on the EIU track. She will enroll at Illinois as a material science engineering major.
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Mahomet-Seymour’s hopes for state medals in the 3,200 relay — a race in which the Bulldogs were seeded fourth — were dashed by a disqualification after M-S ran a time (9:47.19) that would have put them ninth in the finals.
The exchange between first runner Sarah Knight and second runner Lauren Whitehouse was dropped and wound up on the inside of the track. Knight retrieved it and gave it to Whitehouse, who had stopped. The DQ was based on the handoff being made outside of the allotted exchange zone.
“That’s the last thing I could have imagined,” Knight said. “I thought she had it, and it slipped out of her hands. It has never happened before.”
The Bulldogs had another misfortune in the meet-ending 1,600 relay, but it didn’t affect a possible berth in the finals. M-S was timed in 4:06.70 (which would have been 14th) but was disqualified when a runner fell during a handoff and was called for impeding the progress of another competitor.
Elise Hocking was one of the relay runners. At midweek, she was unsure if she’d even compete.
“I got out of the hospital Wednesday (after a kidney infection),” she said.
A qualifier in both hurdles, she ran the 100 event (placing 17th) but withdrew from the 300s.
“It was too painful,” she said.
Whitehouse didn’t advance in the 1,600, placing 18th in 5:25.02.
“I get disappointed,” she said, “but I still have two more years, and I have the 2-mile (Saturday). I’m happy to be here.”
The school finished strong, posting its best time this season in the 1,600 relay.
“We brought it out and gave everything we had,” Hocking said.
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Hannah King’s second appearance in the discus competition was much more rewarding than the first for the Urbana senior.
“Last year, I got second (at sectionals) to qualify but didn’t throw the automatic qualifying standard and didn’t feel I belonged at the event,” King said.
This year, she advanced, and, in doing so, exceeded the predetermined standard.
She finished 20th among the Class 2A competitors with a throw of 104 feet, 6 inches.
“It’s bittersweet,” King said. “Track has been my only four-year sport and I’ll miss it, but it has been a great season.
“Two years ago, I was an average thrower. Now I get to throw among the top throwers in the state.”
King doesn’t have to wonder how to fill her time now that track has ended. She had en evening rehearsal for the CUTC Student Summer Show and also participated as part of a quintet at a Friday night church concert.
“It’s what I do,” King said. “Keep myself busy.”
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Clinton’s 800-meter relay did its best, and that was good enough to extend the season one more day.
The Maroons were seeded 22nd in the two-lap relay but teamed up for a season-best time (1:45.46) that was three seconds better than they ran a week earlier at sectionals. By a margin of 0.08, Clinton captured the ninth and final spot in the state finals.
“We were ranked lower, but we knew what we could do,” Morgan Witzke said. “We were bumped to 2A (after two relays earned medals in 1A in 2013), and the competition is more tough. It’s not an easy job getting to the finals.”
Joining Witzke, a senior, on the advancing relay were Erin West, Kaitlin Hayden and Becca Anderson.
Three of the same runners — Anderson, Witzke and West — shared a special moment with Raeann Huffman in the meet-ending 1,600 relay. The foursome was just shy of a qualifying berth but shattered the school record by nearly three seconds, finishing in 4:06.14 for 12th place overall.
“We are glad to be at state,” Anderson said. “It’s awesome competition. They are all crazy fast.”
The Maroons had a second relay that broke a school record as well. The 400 unit of West, Hayden, Witzke and Anderson made it around the track in 50.03. The previous record was 50.05.
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The third time didn’t provide the charmed finals berth Central shot putter Ranija Turner was seeking, but she left with a smile on her face.
“I’m grateful that I did better than in the past,” Turner said. “It actually feels better this year.”
She placed 15th in the shot (36-101/4), her first time among the top 20 at state.
She said, “as of now,” she’s not planning to participate at Illinois State University, where she will be a biology/pre-med major.
“I’ll miss it, but it’s life and I’ll move on,” she said.