Day 3 state meet notes: 'It was a real team effort'

Day 3 state meet notes: 'It was a real team effort'

CHARLESTON — Everything Cully Welter touched turned to gold during the 2018-19 school year.

He first guided the Monticello football team to its first-ever state championship, as the Sages won the Class 3A title last November.

Flash-forward to May and Welter again saw his pupils hoist an inaugural IHSA state trophy, this once coming Saturday at Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Stadium as Monticello girls' track and field snagged third as a unit in Class 2A.

"It feels great. It was a grind," Welter said. "We brought nine girls. They all contributed. ... It was just a real team effort."

Senior Alyssa McPike's seventh-place display in the 1,600-meter run, Welter said, gave the Sages an idea they'd garner some hardware.

But juniors Emelia Ness and Mattie Lieb played the biggest roles in Monticello's success, with each suiting up for four finals races.

Ness turned in runner-up efforts in the 100 and 300 hurdles, helped Monticello's 800 relay to second and served on a fourth-place 400 relay.

"It's a big accomplishment," Ness said. "(The 300s was) my eighth race this week, so it's just nice to get a load off and place that high."

Lieb joined Ness on both relays and contributed a fourth-place outcome in the 200 dash and an eighth-place showing in the 100 dash.

"We have our horses, Emelia and Mattie," Welter said. "We've proven ourselves over the last five years by winning sectionals. Now we've got ourselves a state trophy."

Rounding out the Sages' point-producing performances were Landis Brandon (fifth in pole vault), Rachel Koon (ninth in 3,200) and a ninth-place 3,200 relay.

A large number of kids who played a part in Monticello's finish will return next season, as McPike was the only senior involved.

"We're all very close together," Ness said. "We've been friends since kindergarten and have a very great bond together."

This particular outcome had a little extra flavor for Welter, as freshman daughter Kyara took a leg in the aforementioned 3,200 relay foursome.

Those two and Welter's older daughter Aliyah, now pole vaulting at Louisville, joined together to pose for a photo with the trophy.

"It's pretty neat," Cully Welter said. "I run with (Kyara) quite a bit. I can't keep up as well as I used to."

With DuQuoin possessing eight entries in Saturday's Class 1A state finals, St. Joseph-Ogden — even with seven entries of its own — was facing an uphill battle to repeat as the team champion.

The Spartans couldn't quite climb that mountain, but a share of third place with St. Teresa was a strong consolation prize.

"It's a huge accomplishment," SJ-O coach Kelly Steffen said, "considering in Week 8 ... someone seeded us not even in the top 10. So we posted that on the bulletin board, and we planted a seed."

What sprouted was Atleigh Hamilton's second consecutive 1A long jump victory, as she hit the sand after a leap of 18 feet, 7 3 / 4 inches to better last year's winning mark by more than 5 inches.

"Honestly, I didn't think I could do it again," Hamilton said. "But I guess I proved myself wrong."

Hamilton also helped the Spartans' 800-meter relay to the top spot, along with Danie Kelso, Hailey Birt and Maclayne Taylor.

Taylor was an important factor for SJ-O all day, collecting eighth place in the 100 dash and anchoring the 800 and runner-up 1,600 relays.

"It took some guts to do what she did," Steffen said. "She knew that she could leave it all out on the track, and that's what she does."

The Spartans' 3,200 relay added a seventh-place display for a few more valuable points as SJ-O collected a team trophy for the fourth year in a row.

This felt especially good for Hamilton, who was dealing with an injury during the preseason.

"At the beginning of the year and throughout the track season, I wasn't sure how things would play out at state," the reigning News-Gazette All-Area Athlete of the Year said. "But things just usually click here, and they did."Kenli Nettles achieved everything she set out to do.

Well, almost everything.

The Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond junior left an impressive stamp on Class 1A competition Saturday, winning the high jump, 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles while finishing fifth in the 200 dash.

What could possibly be missing?

"My biggest goal (Saturday) was to bring home a team title," Nettles said.

She wasn't terribly far away. At one point as the finals progressed, Nettles was announced as being in a third-place tie with St. Joseph-Ogden at 30 points apiece.

Nettles' five points in the 200 were outdone both by the Spartans' eight in the following 1,600 relay and eight from St. Teresa's DaeLin Switzer in the 200, so the Knights go down in the books as 1A's fifth-place outfit.

Pretty good for a one-athlete show.

Nettles kicked off her banner day by outlasting Rock Island Alleman's Kiah O'Neal in the high jump. Neither could get over the bar at 5 feet, 8 inches, but Nettles cleared 5-7 on her first try to snag the victory.

"I was like, 'I've done this before. You can do it again,'" said Nettles, who ranked runner-up in the event last year. "(Saturday) was definitely a roller coaster with the high jump, but I'm so glad it's over with and I can say I'm the 1A state champion."

There was more where that came from.

Nettles held off Switzer in both the 100 and 300 hurdles, with Nettles clocking 14.29 seconds in the former and 43.68 in the latter.

The shorter venture went smoothly for Nettles, who defeated reigning titlist Switzer by 11-hundredths of a second.

"I had such a great race," Nettles said. "I'm so glad that I executed as well as I did."

The 300s came with a bit of a scare, as Switzer surged over the last couple hurdles while Nettles booted her last barrier to the blue track below.

"I saw her out of the corner of my eye, and I could hear her beside me," Nettles said. "I was like, 'OK, you have to kick it in now if you want to win.'"

Nettles will be the odds-on favorite to repeat the three-peat in 2020, but she has plenty to do before next May, including trips to New Mexico and California for the Great Southwest Classic and USA Track & Field Junior Olympics, respectively.

As for the present, Nettles would settle for a cold treat.

"I'll probably go home, and I'll probably eat some popsicles or something," she said. "Cool me down."Payne Turney didn't complete her Class 2A 800-meter run preliminary Friday, according to the public-address announcer.

The Clinton junior's name was turned into "Paige" as she zoomed down the final straightaway in the half-mile qualifier.

Turney made sure the powers that be got her name right Saturday, winning the event in 2 minutes, 17.54 seconds.

"When I was running I heard them calling Paige, and I was like, 'Oh, I don't see a Paige out here. That's weird,'" Turney said. "Then I was like, 'They'll get it.'"

Turney ran the final in her standard format, bursting out of the gate and daring opponents to track her down.

None could.

"I felt like I was well-assured in myself," Turney said. "(I decided) I'm just going to go out and do what I know."COLIN LIKAS