PAXTON — The state-qualifying system in track and field is a one-time venture.
There’s one day — one sectional meet — in which athletes can secure their berths at state.
For seven area girls’ teams, that day arrived Thursday as they chased their dreams in the rain-soaked Class 1A Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sectional.
Teammates Mikayla Baillie and Erin Tabor, from Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, took comfort in knowing they had eclipsed the automatic qualifying mark during the regular season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence going in,” 100-meter hurdler Tabor said.
She had other reasons to believe.
“I’ve gone to state two years in a row,” she said.
That means nothing, however, in the one-chance sectional competition.
“There’s heavier competition to go against,” Tabor said. “It has taken more work this year.”
Her efforts have shown with improved times.
“I’ve gotten stronger physically,” she said, “and my mental strength is better and has helped immensely.”
Tabor had the quickest time during the qualifying runs and was one of three hurdlers who secured qualifying berths for the state meet at Charleston.
She also helped the meet-champion Falcons by anchoring the winning 400-meter relay. Chrissy Angelos led off and was followed by Lauren Nagle and Julia Bleich.
Baillie wasted little time in answering the question of whether her season would continue another week.
On her second attempt in the shot-put preliminaries, Baillie bettered the 1A automatic mark with a season-best heave of 36 feet, 113/4 inches.
“Coach (Erica Kostoff) had a dream I’d throw 38,” Baillie said, “but as long as I get to state, that’s what matters.”
Her third throw in the prelims was measured at 36-6. For Baillie, it was another personal achievement.
“To finally throw 36 back-to-back puts me in a better mood than I thought I’d be,” she said.
It was the first time during the outdoor season she accomplished that feat in the same meet.
Baillie has become a fixture at state in the shot put and discus and is a former elementary school state champion in the shot put.
“I like the shot better,” Baillie said. “I feel I can get more of my own power in it. The discus is more finesse.”
Controlled anger is a good thing as she enters the shot-put ring.
“If you get mad before you throw, it can help as long as you don’t lose your form,” Baillie said. “In the discus, it doesn’t help you to get mad.”
Kostoff would prefer that her athletes maintain an even keel.
“Coach told me to stay calm,” said Baillie, who had little reason to be upset about her sectional performances.
Baillie advanced to state in both of her throws.
Fisher’s Miranda Marry had bettered state-qualifying standards in four running events but had to delete one from her to-do list for the postseason because of the proximity of three of the races near the end of the meet.
She participated in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the 300 hurdles, She didn’t run the 400, an event in which she was the Class 1A indoor state champion.
“It was tough to decide, but I wanted to focus on the 300 hurdles (the event that follows the 400), since I was so close to winning state in it last year (placing third),” Marry said.
She had the top qualifying time in the 100 meters and was top-seeded in the 300 hurdles. Teammate Olivia Heffernan is another hurdler who is among the area leaders.
“We don’t race each other much in practice,” Marry said, “but we help each other with form and the mental aspect. It ends up working out that we watch and critique each other.”
Marry was the meet’s only three-event individual winner.
Ridgeview’s Carissa Tinsley captured sectional titles in the shot put and the discus.
Another two-event individual state qualifier was PBL’s Sydney Porter in the long jump and the triple jump. Nagle advanced to state in the 100 and 200 dashes. LeRoy’s Jess Clarke was the 3,200 sectional champion and continued her quest for a state medal in the 1,600 with a second-place finish. She was also part of the Panthers’ advancing 3,200 relay foursome.
GCMS had qualifiers in seven events and beat Clifton Central 99-92 for team honors. The title was the fourth in five years for the Falcons. Fisher finished third, followed by LeRoy in the 16-school meet.
Three track stars
MIRANDA MARRY, Fisher: A two-event indoor state champion as a senior, she won three individual events at Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Class 1A sectional. She won the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the 300 hurdles.
800-METER RELAY, Champaign Central: Jessica Wagner, Catlyn Baker, Sharon Mainor and Averi Simpson are state-bound after posting their best time this season and winning the event in Mattoon’s 2A sectional.
MERCEDES ELLIOTT, Danville: The sophomore was a two-event winner in the Class 3A sectional at Homewood, sweeping the distance events. She won the 1,600 and 3,200 races. She is a two-time sectional champion in the 3,200 meters.