CHAMPAIGN — There’s probably not a three-time state-qualifier besides Urbana’s Nicole Choquette who has never competed in The News-Gazette Honor Roll Track and field meet.
It wasn’t an oversight. As an underclassman, Choquette had to decline.
She had a school conflict. In previous years, the Honor Roll Meet was held the same night as Urbana’s Spring Band Concert.
Choquette wasn’t in position to skip the band performance.
“It’s for a grade,” she said.
Even if it wasn’t, as the first chair French horn, she felt obligated to be in her seat.
“It would be like I was letting the band down,” she said.
As they say, the show must go on. And Choquette will play. On Wednesday this week.
“I have to hug my band director (Darren Hicks),” she said. “He realized I was so sad last year (to miss the track meet). I asked him to look into it (an alternate date for the concert).”
Because a change was made, Choquette had her first opportunity on Monday to compete at what will be her future home track. The University of Illinois recruit was the winner in the long jump (16 feet, 11/4 inches) and also brought the Tigers into second place in the 800-meter relay with a strong anchor leg.
“I love band,” she said, “but I love track more.”
Much like the long jump this year, Choquette took up the French horn to have her own identity. One sister played the oboe. Another played the flute.
“I wanted something different,” she said, recalling her start as a fifth-grader. “It was challenging. The first time it sounded like a screaming elephant.”
She is also somewhat of a novice in her field event in track.
“It’s my senior year, and I wanted to have some fun,” she said. “This is my first year long jumping (in high school). The last time I did it was in eighth grade. I’m the only distance girl and I wanted to do something new.”
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Laura Koterba-Buss rearranged the order of her runners in the 800-meter relay.
She put senior Avona Greene in the anchor position and shifted senior Jewel Goodly to No. 2 on the foursome.
“I wanted to see if we could get another second (improvement),” Koterba-Buss said. “Avona has one of the best leans (at the finish) around. She instinctively knows what to do.”
The Chargers had five minutes to practice the change after arriving at the UI track.
Then they went out and collectively smashed the meet record in the girls’ division (1:44.00). Sophomore Dominique Lewis ran the leadoff leg and Goodly handed off to LaToyah Mason.
“It’s a blessing our time is still coming down,” Green said.
Centennial will run that order at state, when the 2A preliminaries start Friday in Charleston.
Koterba-Buss said in order to make the change her runners had to agree to try it on Monday.
“I won’t try it the first time at state,” she said.
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One of the most successful of the girls’ races was in the 300 hurdles.
Danville senior Alexus Jimson-Miller — who is ranked fifth in Class 3A entering state — shattered the meet record by nearly 2 seconds, stepping off an all-time area-best time of 43.56.
“That’s my best. So far,” Jimson-Miller said. “I was a little behind the pace so I picked it up on the backstretch.”
Led by the fast pace set by Jimson-Miller — who also won the 100 hurdles — the top three runners all broke their school records. Runner-up Jenny Kimbro from Salt Fork came in at 45.47 and third-place Tori Master, from St. Joseph-Ogden, finished in 45.72.
“Very unexpected,” Master said. “I was assuming it would be in the 47s because I haven’t been under that all year. It was so aggravating, but this made it all worthwhile.”
The times by Kimbro and Master were quicker than any Class 1A girl ran at sectionals, though Kimbro was the state leader with her 46.11 clocking.
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Jimson-Miller was one of three double winners in individual events.
Argenta-Oreana’s Kandie Bloch-Jones shattered the high jump meet record (5-8) and also won the triple jump (34-5). Mahomet-Seymour’s Morgan Young prevailed in both the shot put (39-43/4) and the discus (season-best 129-6).
“I wanted to go higher, but this is pretty much practice for state,” said Bloch-Jones, who took a senior trip to the Wisconsin Dells on Saturday and Sunday. “I want to keep my state title, and that puts a lot of pressure on me.”
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The open 3,200 provided one of the most interesting finishes Monday. Monticello’s Maggie Utgaard edged teammate Maddie Tutich 11:53.84 to 11:54.88 for first place. The next three runners were from LeRoy: Jess Clarke, Annie Crumbaugh and Heather Halverson.
“We wanted to be side-by-side,” Utgaard said. “It helps us to run together. We stay mentally tough.”
Tutich said “it brings out the best in each of us. I speed up when she slows up and she speeds up when I slow up.”
The Sages have moved up to Class 2A this year and 800 winner Hannah Houska doesn’t mind.
“It has been a challenge,” she said, “but it’s not a bad challenge. It has made us better.”
Houska’s winning time (2:21.69) was her season best. She believes she can drop more time.
“We’re anticipating good things with the good competition at Charleston,” Houska said.