CHAMPAIGN — They did it on their own. There was no other choice; no other way.
For the meet-ending 1,600-meter relay in Friday's girls' track and field sectional at Centennial High School, St. Thomas More found itself in the slow heat. The Sabers' times for the season didn't warrant anything else.
Two of the four girls who took the track were the same runners who one year ago helped the school to third place at state in the same event.
That was in Class 1A.
Friday, St. Thomas More was making its 2A debut and was running in a race without serious competition.
The foursome of Gen Harrington, Randa Harshbarger, Elizabeth Bristow and anchor Kathryn Boyer stepped off a time so good they qualified for next week's state meet.
When the fast heat was over — and Centennial anchor Bertha Frazier had blitzed a 56.9 final 400 meters to rally the Chargers past meet-champion Mahomet-Seymour — it was St. Thomas More that finished in third place. Its time of 4:08.52 was more than 12 seconds quicker than they'd run all year — but more significantly — was 1.52 seconds under the qualifying standard.
It was the final highlight on a day with many top moments.
UI recruit Samone Thompson, from Champaign Central, qualified for state in the maximum four events. She won the long jump, the 100-meter hurdles and the 300 hurdles, but her personal highlight was the 800 relay "because I was able to get my team to state. They worked so hard and I'm glad I could help them."
Kristin Hammel, Averi Simpson and Catlyn Baker are Central's other relay runners.
Urbana's Nicole Choquette lowered her own school record (to 2:17.42) in winning the 800 meters and turned around a few minutes later and ran a state-qualifying time (1:00.46) while placing third in the 400.
"That's a tough double," said Urbana coach Amy Boscolo, whose squad placed second in the 16-school meet. "Someone asked me before the meet what was I thinking. I said, 'I'm thinking she will qualify in both events.' "
Urbana also had the only 1-2 finish in a running event. Dominique Johnson (12.47) led Illini recruit Lateshia Dove (12.56) to the finish in the 100.
"They push each other and that's better for both of them," Boscolo said.
Dove came back to win the closest race of the meet. The 200 champion was timed in 25.58 seconds, edging PORTA's Stacey Sinclair (26.59).
Mahomet-Seymour teammates Morgan Young and Mackenzie Joop — state placers last year in the discus — grabbed the top two spots at sectional. Young's winning toss was 124-2. Joop, who hadn't hit the qualifying standard at any time this season, eclipsed it with her first throw (114-3).
"Everything went right," she said. "That took the pressure off."
St. Thomas More wasn't the only small-school reassigned to 2A to make an impact. Clinton will send its all-underclassman 800 relay to state.
Coach Randy Anderson said, "when I found out (the reclassification), I didn't think in a million years we'd get to state."
With freshmen starting and finishing — Erin West and Becca Anderson — Clinton ran fourth (1:47.55), "breaking our school record for the second time in two weeks," Randy Anderson said.
The Maroons' middle two runners were Jade Thomas and Morgan Witzke.
Other individual area sectional champions were M-S' Jessica Melchi (400) and Central's Ranija Turner (shot put), who edged Young by a quarter of an inch on her final attempt.
The same Urbana runners secured wins in the 400 and 800 relays: Dove, Alyssa Wood, Anisha Coleman and Johnson.
Centennial won the 1,600 relay with Avona Greene, Olivia Knox, LaToyah Mason and Frazier sharing the baton.
St. Thomas More finished the running portion of the meet the same way it began. The Sabers' 3,200 relay of Harrington, Harshbarger, Regan Kelley and Bristow advanced with a third-place effort.
"We shocked a lot of people," Harrington said.
"Amazing," Bristow said. "No one thought we'd compete."
In the pole vault, Tennessee recruit Boyer advanced to state for the third year.