Sabers need team effort
CHARLESTON — Gen Harrington had some fun at the expense of her St. Thomas More track teammates earlier this week.
A dual-sport spring athlete, the St. Thomas More senior texted some of her track teammates Wednesday after the Sabers’ soccer team advanced to the Sweet 16 in Class 1A.
She told them she’d suffered a knee injury and might not run at the Class 1A state meet, which started Thursday. As soon as she had their attention, she told them it was a joke.
Harrington had another message for her track teammates Friday night, again following a soccer match. This time, she told them she’d hurt her ankle and wouldn’t be available to run the leadoff leg in Saturday’s 3,200-meter 1A state championship relay race.
Teammate Julia Welle wasn’t going to be caught in the ruse again.
“Yeah, right,” the freshman responded.
Harrington only wished she was still joking. She was trackside at O’Brien Stadium on crutches, nursing a severe sprain, with possible ligament damage.
Teammate Elizabeth Bristow said she thought the school’s chances of a medal in the distance relay for a fourth consecutive year had vanished when she confirmed that Harrington was indeed hurt.
“I was heartbroken and had no hope for us,” Bristow said.
Welle was thrust into the 800 leadoff leg, which she’d run before but never with so much at stake. While thousands of spectators were yelling, Welle heard a voice.
“I heard Gen,” Welle said. “No one else but Gen.”
She handed the baton to Randa Harshbarger and — despite the makeshift lineup that featured Bristow on the third leg and Regan Kelley on the anchor — STM ran a season-best time (9:48.10) and placed second to Decatur St. Teresa.
The performance was possible, Bristow said, because “Julia cut a lot of seconds off (previous splits).”
Ironically, Bristow recalled a message delivered by STM coach Scott DeWitt during the practices leading up to state.
“He kept saying all week that the alternates needed to be ready to go,” she said.
Welle heard those words, too, but didn’t push herself in the workouts. “I was kind of taking it easy, honestly,” she said.
Welle’s nerves got the best of her before she left home Saturday. She traveled to Charleston without her participant’s number and had to be issued another one by the IHSA. She hadn’t calmed down much by the time the starter’s pistol sounded.
“On the line, I was beyond terrified,” she said.
The state finish was the best by St. Thomas More in any event at the girls’ state meet. Running without Harrington added to the team’s drive.
“Adrenaline times 10,000,” Kelley said.
Harrington joined her teammates on the field after the race, hugging each one individually and then posing for pictures as she fought back tears. “It was so hard to see them, but I knew I had to be there for them,” Harrington said.
The best part, Kelley said, is they can see the potential for the future.
“We’ll probably be here next year with the same team (of runners),” she said, noting that all four girls are underclassmen.
Urbana’s Nicole Choquette missed much of the cross-country season with Achilles tendinitis and said, “I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the track season.”
She finished with a flourish, placing seventh at state in the 400 meters, extending the Tigers’ school-record streak of state placers to five years in a row.
“I’m so happy to end with a medal,” Choquette said.
Taylor Edwards had a part in two Arcola milestones Saturday. The Purple Riders had never had a girl place at state two years in a row until Edwards finished fourth in the 800 meters, and the school had never had a relay earn state medals.
The 3,200 foursome of Rylee Fishel, Erin Lindenmeyer, Klaire Karmazinas and Edwards ran seventh, chopping 12 seconds off their season-best time.
“Coach (Retz) said Day 1 at practice this is where we’d be,” Edwards said.
Fishel also finished eighth in the 800, giving Arcola two placers in the same state event for the first time.
Urbana Uni High’s Emma Hoyer was an All-Area special mention selection as a senior in volleyball and basketball. She capped off her career by earning the ninth-place Class 1A medal in the discus.
“This is actually perfect,” Hoyer said. “It’s my first state medal and the thing I’m most happiest about for this year.”
The first time Fisher had relays place at state, the Bunnies earned medals in the 400 and 800 races. That was 1999, and it was the same four girls on both units.
Fisher had relays place at state for the second time Saturday. The same foursome of Carli Clifton, Gina Masko, Olivia Heffernan and Miranda Marry were members of the 400 and 800 placers. The Bunnies took seventh in the 800 relay and ninth in the 400. “I’m glad to leave like that,” said Masko, a senior.
Clifton (school record in triple jump) and Marry (300 hurdles and 200 dash) also captured individual medals.
Marry was leading the hurdles race until her knee hit the next-to-last hurdle and momentarily threw her off stride. Still, she matched her career-best time (45.11), set in Thursday’s prelims.
“Right now, I’m upset, but later I’ll feel better about it,” Marry said. “I saw I could have had first.”
Salt Fork freshman Jenny Kimbro faced a delay en route to a second-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles. A false start brought eight of the nine competitors back to the line.
“I was hoping it wasn’t me,” Kimbro said. “I tried to block out what happened, but the nerves tripled. I’m thankful I made it this far. To get a medal is crazy.”
She earned a second medal, for fifth in the 300 hurdles with a career-best 45.33.
Unity’s Bailey Reifsteck placed fifth in the pole vault. Again.
As a seventh-grader — the year the former gymnast took up vaulting — she was fifth in the IESA state finals. Now a junior, she added a fifth-place medal after clearing 10-6 in the Class 1A competition.
“I didn’t think I’d come this far,” Reifsteck said. “I’ve had a tough season. I had a mental block and had a tough time getting over 9-9.”
Her performance Saturday was a season’s best for a pole vault specialist who trains with the Bloomington-Normal-based Flying Dragons Vault Club.
“I’m hoping to get 11 feet next year,” Reifsteck said.
Mahomet-Seymour’s Morgan Young, who will continue her track and field career at Carthage College, was a double medalist, finishing seventh in the Class 2A discus and seventh in the shot put.
It was a bittersweet farewell.
“I worked so hard for this, and it happened,” Young said. “I’m excited, but a little sad. It’s the last time I’ll put on a Bulldog uniform.”
Champaign Central’s Kristin Hammel, who will pole vault next school year at Illinois State University, earned a state medal for the second year in a row. She tied for eighth in the Class 2A pole vault after clearing 10-6.
“It was a good experience to come here, and every year it has been different,” Hammel said.
She was recruited for the event as a freshman.
“I had done gymnastics for six or seven years, and the coach asked if I wanted to try it,” she said.
A few minutes after helping Sullivan/Okaw Valley to a Class 1A runner-up finish in the 800 relay, Amanda McClain returned to the track for the 400 meters.
The sophomore took second in that race as well.
“I kind of ran out of gas at the end,” McClain said.
She felt prepared to compete in the back-to-back races.
“I’ve been running it that way all year,” she said.
McClain and Emily Neuhauser also ran on the 800 relay a year ago when the Redskins won the state crown. Needing to replace two runners this year, Neuhauser said, “I wasn’t sure how we’d do.”
Former distance runner Mollie Bowman joined the unit as did senior Erica Tomczewski, who was emotional after the race.
“I didn’t cry at Senior Night, but I’m crying now,” Tomczewski said. “It’s my last race ever with any of them.”
Overall, News-Gazette area athletes earned medals in 44 individual or relay events for top nine finishes. Four other individuals placed 10th, missing a medal by one position.
The 10th-place finishers were Bowman (school record in the triple jump), Ridgeview’s Carrissa Tinsley (Class 1A discus), Mahomet-Seymour’s Lauren Whitehouse (Class 2A 3,200 meters) and Monticello’s Hannah Houska (Class 2A 800 meters).