Five girls' track & field teams to watch, courtesy Fred Kroner
What the Tigers lack in quantity (16 squad members), they make up for in talent.
Senior Nicole Choquette will be one of the headliners.
She enters the season with school records in the 400- and 800-meter races as well as with the 1,600-meter relay. She will focus on the 400 and 800 along with the long jump, an event she won in a Thursday meet with a 16-foot, 3-inch leap, which was 8 inches farther than anyone from Urbana jumped a year ago.
Coach Amy Boscolo’s squad has a bevy of talented sprinters who will not only excel in the 100- and 200-meter dashes but also give the Tigers formidable 400- and 800-meter relays.
The sprint relays were also a strength in 2012 and will remain in that category with Anisha Coleman, Amber Marion, Kiara Moses and Gabrielle Pollard.
A freshman, Pollard is someone Boscolo predicts will turn into a marquee performer.
“Gabby really impressed us during the indoor season,” Boscolo said. “She is going to be fun to watch over the next few years. She has raw talent and a killer instinct.”
Coleman and Pollard will double up in the 100 and 200 dashes.
Among the Tigers looking to score in the field events are Amori Alford and Hannah King in the shot put and discus along with Marion in the high jump and long jump.
“This is a very dedicated and hard-working group of young women,” Boscolo said. “We will compete, that’s for sure, but we will deceive teams if they look at team scores because we have such low numbers. I think we will surprise people with our talent and individual events. Overall, we will improve every meet due to our hard work and dedication to ourselves, our team and our school.”
Boscolo believes the 1,600-meter relay will emerge as another strong event.
“We miss our experienced athletes,” Boscolo said, “but we forgot how fun it was to start with raw talent. Having this young innocence is a blessing. Watching girls improve and increase their track IQ is really exciting.”
The challenges for the Sages have doubled since last year. Monticello is no longer a Class 1A school. Its enrollment (569 students) has moved it into Class 2A, where it is the fourth smallest. The cutoff was 555 students. Indoors, the Sages fared well. Emily Foley ran a personal-best time in the 1,600 meters (5:17) and was on the 3,200 relay that was timed in 9:50.31 and won the 2A indoor state title. She was joined on the foursome by Hannah Houska, Maddie Tutich and Audrey Duncan. Last year, Foley, Houska and Tutich were on the 3,200 relay that placed 11th in the Class 1A state meet with a season-best 9:59.78. Houska is projected as one of the area’s premier 800 runners. Two individual state qualifiers also return for Monticello, including fifth-place 100-meter hurdler Olivia Ness as well as high jump qualifier Anna Auten. “Our distance team is typically strong and the freshmen coming in are good sprinters, so that helps balance out our team,” Monticello coach Jennifer Wajda said. Headlining the youthful sprint crew are Erin Doremus, Janessa Pankey (who also hurdles), Lizzie Rupkey and Sarah Sawlaw (who also high jumps). “Our biggest challenge is moving up to 2A,” Wajda said. “It’s going to be hard, but we are working hard to prepare.” Monticello is one of two schools that moved up to 2A this year. Prairie Central joined them in the move. Two traditional 1A schools that were 2A last spring (Clinton and St. Thomas More) have returned to the small-school tournament.
Fifteen lettermen are among the 27 athletes on veteran coach Cindy Fitzgerald’s roster. University of Illinois recruit Kandie Bloch-Jones is the defending outdoor high jump state champion and captured both the high jump and triple jump at last month’s indoor state finals. Bloch-Jones is a three-time high jump state medalist and Fitzgerald said, “she is certainly some athlete and I am grateful that I have gotten to coach her.” She is one of A-O’s five seniors who are seeking their fourth letter in track. The others are hurdlers Tanna Batie and Emily Boland, sprinter Janelle Stecklein and middle-distance runner Kristie Cox. “Kandie is obviously our big point-getter,” Fitzgerald said. “She will high jump, triple jump, run the 300 hurdles and maybe a relay.” Senior twins Jaelen and Sydney Myers are out for the first time and are distance runners. Three juniors who have lettered twice in track and field are throwers Sierra Higginson and Marley Thomas as well as versatile Kaitlyn Gibson, whom Fitzgerald said, “can do just about anything and seems likely to help out in multiple events.” Five of the Bombers’ nine freshmen are sprinters. “We seem to have a bigger group of sprinters and hurdlers and that is nice since we have been down in the sprint races lately,” Fitzgerald said. “As a team, we can fill all events but we are so young (15 squad members are freshmen or sophomores), we are still a group in development.”
The Vikings continued their indoor dominance, winning the Big 12 title for the ninth time in the past 12 years, and hope to continue that success outdoors. Danville has a collection of outstanding sprinters, including senior Alexus Jimson-Miller, a Miami (Ohio) recruit who placed 12th in the 400 meters at last year’s Class 3A state meet. “Her long sprint strength makes her so versatile,” Danville coach B.J. Luke said. “We will take a look at the long hurdles also.” Luke has enough quality sprinters that, “with our depth, we can run individual sprints and still be fresh in the relays.” Besides Jimson-Miller, others expected to be major contributors are Emone Davis, Aariona Graham, Michaela Jones, Jorriel Stewart and Ambrosia Williams, who is also a pole vaulter. Middle-distance runner Caylin Smith and Lynette Buggs in the shot put and discus are other key returnees. Among the team’s newcomers is Mercedes Elliott, a distance runner who was the Area Runner of the Year in cross-country. Lexi Hoskins and Desiree Isaac are other sprint candidates. Imani Hall is a 400 runner who high jumps. “Our young kids are quality and have made an impact in our indoor season,” Luke said, “and look to get better as the year goes on. Jumps should be solid and we will be improved in the shot and discus. We have more distance depth.” Ashley Forthenberry and Brittney Isaac will make an impact in the weight events. Swimmer Kristin Verkler will contribute in distance races.
The Bunnies are another area program without a large roster (10 members, no freshmen), but an abundance of talent. Senior Carli Clifton was a two-event state placer in 2012 when Fisher tied for 10th in the Class 1A outdoor meet. She placed among the top 12 in both the long jump and triple jump at the recent 1A indoor state meet. Clifton also runs on both sprint relay teams, where she joins seniors Olivia Heffernan and Gina Masko, plus junior Miranda Marry (fifth in the 400 meters indoors last month). Fisher’s 800-meter relay — with the same current runners — advanced to state outdoors last spring. The other three relay runners have events where they could advance to state individually: Heffernan (300 hurdles), Marry (300 hurdles) and Masko (high jump). “Our strengths are our sprinters and jumpers,” coach Brian Vincent said. “The team has improved its overall strength and power by taking the weight room by storm. They understand that strength and power help performance.” Heffernan was a 100 hurdler state-qualifier in 2012. Vincent said Marry and Shelby Clanton, a sprinter and short-distance hurdler, have “both worked very hard in practice and are willing to push themselves.” They are the rule, not the exception this year. “This group of 10 ladies is hard-working and dedicated to improving,” Vincent said. The distance and middle-distance leaders are expected to be Sami Browning, Karson Pacunas, Shelby Paris and Jennifer Ward. Morgan Johnson will compete in the throwing events.