Winds of promise: Small numbers can't keep Sages from speeding to victory

Winds of promise: Small numbers can't keep Sages from speeding to victory

TOLONO — There's not much that can be done to shake up track races such as the 100-meter dash and 100 hurdles.

They're short and succinct, with little room for adjustment.

But there is one thing that can throw a wrench into sprinters' plans.

"Before the (100), me and my team were standing down (at the start line), and we were like, 'Where's everybody at?'" Monticello junior Mattie Lieb said. "And then we realized, oh, it's flipped."

A stiff wind howling down the final straightaway at Friday's Unity Invitational meant the event's briefest races got a different look, reversed so the breeze would be at athletes' backs.

Even that couldn't stop Lieb and junior teammate Emelia Ness.

The pair combined for four individual titles and took legs in two victorious relays, guiding the Sages to the team triumph over runner-up St. Joseph-Ogden and third-place Clinton.

"Another year where we have limited numbers, but our quality is very high," Monticello coach Cully Welter said. "A lot of talented girls, and they compete very well, so very pleased with their performance."

Lieb posted times of 12.63 seconds in the 100 dash and 26.31 in the 200 dash to outlast each field, while Ness cruised to clockings of 15.05 in the 100 hurdles and 46.24 in the 300 hurdles for her own successes.

Add in Lieb and Ness grouping with Landis Brandon and Sydney Buchanan on first-place 400 and 800 relay units, and the Lieb-Ness duo ultimately helped generate 60 of the Sages' 98 points.

"It's nice to see we're all pushing each other. We're all up there," Ness said. "It's fun to compete with everybody and see we're winning, and we're the smallest school in (Class) 2A."

Monticello climbed to sixth place at 2A outdoor state last year, and efforts like Friday's make it seem as if the Sages are poised for even bigger things in the next go-round.

Sophomore Lexie Fisher accounted for 12 points with third-place results in the long jump and triple jump, while distance pals Alyssa McPike and Rachel Koon went 3-4 in the 1,600 run for another 10 points.

Ness and Lieb, however, are at the forefront.

The former landed third in the 100 hurdles and fourth in the 300s at Charleston last season, the latter placed eighth in the 200 dash and both were on a seventh-place 400 relay.

Even so, Lieb offers credit for what Monticello is doing now to those who preceded her.

"As a team, we're all pretty comfortable with each other," Lieb said. "It's just showing (our teammates) what we can do. Learning from Aliyah (Welter) and Emma (Helferich) definitely helped us to be better leaders."

Only two other local programs joined the Sages in boasting multiple event victories Friday.

Rantoul's Mye'Joi Williams snagged the shot put crown with a toss of 40 feet, 3 inches, and Lovenya Perry zoomed to the 400 dash win in 1:00.37.

Clinton's Payne Turney dominated the middle distances, topping the podium in the 800 and 1,600 with times of 2:24.52 and 5:17.56, respectively.

No foes could touch Monticello in the team chase, though. Not even reigning Class 1A state champion SJ-O.

With competitors like Ness and Lieb in the fold, Welter finds it hard to be surprised when his crew shows well versus tough enemies.

"They're veterans. They're juniors, but, I mean, state medals and top runners in the state," Welter said. "So they know what to expect, and they've taken over the leadership mantle and we really haven't missed a beat."