Down the stretch they go: Area girls' track and field teams enter critical time

Down the stretch they go: Area girls' track and field teams enter critical time

Wilson leaving her mark

DANVILLE — Fast runners can come from seemingly any location. When it comes to the high school ranks, however, some states fare better than others.

Texas, California and Florida dominate the nation's 100- and 200-meter dash times for the 2018 track campaign. But Illinois is represented, too, thanks to Danville junior Ameia Wilson.

Coming off a trio of state qualifications last season, Wilson not only has her own state's best clockings in the two short-distance races — 11.59 in the 100 and 24.19 in the 200 — but also times that rank 10th and 28th among all of the United States' 100 and 200 competitors, respectively.

"She's got a lot of great potential," Vikings coach BJ Luke said. "She's not very flamboyant. She just goes out and works hard and is special."

Fitting of her national-level recognition, Wilson has taken her sprinting show on the road. Her top-100 result came at the 91st Clyde Littlefield Track Relays on March 31 at the University of Texas.

Wilson, who also rates third among Illinoisans in the long jump, is one of Luke's de facto leaders as a result of her impressive performances.

"We're pretty fortunate," Luke said. "We've got a group of kids that works hard. We have a lot of team members that are very young, and they have leaders like (Wilson) and Shanice (Garbutt). It's good to have those types of kids to set examples."

Speaking of the senior Garbutt, she's also ranking among the state's best in her events. The future Illinois distance athlete sits fifth in the 1,600 (5:07.77) and ninth in the 3,200 (11:07.25) and is a returning state qualifier in both contests.

The Wilson-Garbutt duo, paired with the likes of jumper/vaulter Gabi Springer, vaulter/hurdler Hallee Thomas, hurdler Payton Jones and distance runner Katie Parker, has Luke thinking big as the Vikings try to better a fourth-place Class 3A sectional finish from 2017.

Sages looking for more

MONTICELLO — Aliyah Welter is easily the state's best prep female pole vaulter at this time.

Her leading clearance of 12 feet, 6 inches surpasses the closest competitor by more than half a foot.

So what is the current Monticello senior and future Louisville athlete's reaction to that?

"I think she's frustrated right now," said Cully Welter, the Sages' coach and Aliyah's father. "She's gotten 12-6 every time at six meets. She's really ready to break through."

It's clear expectations are high within the Monticello program — both for Welter and for her teammates in track events. Not only is Welter coming off a Class 2A state title in the vault, she is also joined by at least two other Sages who could put on a show next month at the state meet in Charleston.

Sophomore Mattie Lieb carries a pair of top-20 clockings in Illinois, ranking 20th in the 100-meter dash and 10th in the 200.

Meanwhile, sophomore Emelia Ness holds the third-best 100 hurdles mark and the 13th-best result in the 300 hurdles.

"We have a lot of quality, but we don't have a lot of quantity," said Cully Welter, who counts 19 girls on his roster. "I think it's a close group. They like to push each other. They have a lot of fun together, and that's what it's all about anyway."

What would really impress the coach is if his pupils can generate a fourth consecutive sectional championship next month. The Sages will face a difficult challenge in Urbana, which placed sixth during last season's Class 2A state meet to Monticello's 10th.

"I think the girls I'm expecting to do well are doing well," Cully Welter said. "Some are taking the next step up. We're just trying to continue to maintain and build even more."

SJ-O relays keep rolling

ST. JOSEPH — Heading into Tuesday's action, St. Joseph-Ogden could boast a trio of relays ranked top-three among the state's Class 1A institutions.

This isn't necessarily a surprise, given the Spartans sent all four of their relays to the 2017 state meet. What could be a little more jarring to the casual observer, however, is how easily SJ-O coach Kelly Steffen can mix and match athletes in these events.

"It's just the depth thing," Steffen said. "We've been very fortunate not to have just the standard set of four girls. That's the cool thing — we're able to sustain and maintain these times with a total of eight girls in and out of relays."

Last year, the Spartans placed runner-up at state in the 400- and 800-meter relays. For the present campaign, they have 1A's best 800 relay time (1:49.74), second-leading 1,600 relay clocking (4:15.13) and third-best 3,200 relay result (10:32.98).

And this is all getting done without senior Frankie Izard, a consistent track presence the previous three seasons who opted to play softball in 2018.

"We're happy she's doing that," Steffen said. "But it's really cool to be able to see some of the girls step up that needed to fill that gap."

Steffen knows, however, it'll be tough for SJ-O to surpass last year's third-place showing at state without some individual plaudits.

Leading that charge is freshman Atleigh Hamilton, a former IESA long jump champion who on Tuesday set a triple jump meet record in Catlin by leaping 33 feet, 8 inches.

"Transitioning into high school when you are at the top of middle school, sometimes it takes a little bit of adjusting," Steffen said. "But she's just jumped right in and dove in head-first."

That's exactly the attitude the Spartans need if they're to climb the 1A mountain next month at Eastern Illinois University. Steffen feels her athletes are more than up to the task, too.