McClain gives maximum effort at state
CHARLESTON — Amanda McClain was a step ahead of the competition Thursday, and that puts her one step closer to her ultimate dream.
A two-time state runner-up in the 400 meters, the Sullivan/Okaw Valley athlete registered the top qualifying time in her specialty by more than 21/4 seconds Thursday in the Class 1A preliminaries of the 42nd annual girls’ track and field state meet at Eastern Illinois University.
What brought the biggest smile to her face is that the Redskins’ 800-meter relay posted the swiftest first-day time by 0.45 second and will be top-seeded for Saturday’s finals at O’Brien Stadium.
“Going as a team is way more important than any one single event,” McClain said.
She was timed in a program-record 56.63 — the second-best time by any area runner — in the 400. Her previous best was 56.90.
“I tried to get out hard, push and hope for the best,” McClain said. “The time is what I was going for.”
Sullivan/Okaw Valley entered state with the fourth-best sectional time in the 800 relay but trimmed 31/2 seconds off that mark (to 1 minute, 44.56 seconds).
McClain anchored a unit that had Emily Neuhauser, Ashlynd Risley and Mollie Bowman sharing the baton before she received it.
McClain will be in the maximum four events Saturday. She advanced second in the long jump and fourth in the 200 meters, one position behind Neuhauser.
In all, the Redskins have seven finalists as they seek their first state trophy in girls’ track and field.
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Unity’s 3,200-meter relay had ground to make up Thursday and successfully did so. The Rockets were fifth in their 10-team heat race at the first exchange but wound up winning the heat and registering the day’s third-best overall qualifying time.
“Another school record,” said junior Hannah Stone, who anchored the foursome to victory in 9:49.54.
While waiting for her turn to run, she wasn’t feeling despair.
“We have girls who will never give up,” Stone said. “I wasn’t worried.”
When Stone took the handoff for her two-lap leg, freshman teammate Nicole Bagwell had moved the unit into first place.
“She has fight in her like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Stone said. “We couldn’t disappoint. It was important for us to perform so there is a Saturday (to compete again).”
Laura Seiler and Taylor Renfroe are the other relay runners.
There’s no time yet to celebrate the record-setting achievement.
“We have to get our heads back in it for Saturday and see how it goes,” Renfroe said.
Stone remained a contender in the 800 meters (qualifying eighth), and Bagwell and Bailey Reifsteck are among the 12 finalists in the pole vault. They cleared 10 feet.
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St. Thomas More’s 3,200-meter relay runners did their thing in the meet’s first event but left the track not knowing what their future held.
In running races, only the heat winners are guaranteed of participating in the finals. All other berths are based on the next-best times until all lanes are filled.
The Sabers placed fourth in the third heat, finishing in 10:02.23.
To even be in the conversation for one of the 12 spots in the finals was enough for a group that was seeded 19th based on sectional performances.
“Even if we don’t make it, we’ve had a great year,” said Caroline Dodds, one of three seniors on the relay.
The race was especially meaningful for Dodds.
“I made it (to state) as a freshman in the pole vault and always saw people running on the blue track,” she said. “I thought it looked like fun.”
She was able to confirm that opinion after competing with her teammates.
“This is the most fun race of my life,” she said.
It was followed by a nerve-racking wait.
“This is harder than the actual race,” Dodds said.
After what seemed like an eternity — but was probably less than an hour — the Sabers were able to celebrate. They enter the finals ranked ninth.
Senior Regan Kelley led off and was followed by Dodds, junior Liz Bristow and senior Randa Harshbarger.
Kelley and Harshbarger are on the verge of becoming the first St. Thomas More girls to earn state track medals in four consecutive years.
Kelley has seen the race from all phases.
“I’ve run all of the legs,” she said.
Kelley was the No. 2 runner as a freshman, the No. 3 runner as a sophomore and the anchor as a junior.
“This is my first year starting,” she said. “I like starting out. It’s like an (open) 800 except with a baton in your hand.”
Three of the four Sabers can relax and enjoy the remainder of the meet Saturday. Harshbarger will be on the move within minutes of the race’s end.
She is part of the STM girls’ soccer team that is playing for a sectional championship at 1 p.m. Saturday in Maroa. The relay race in Charleston is scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
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Fisher’s Miranda Marry became the first athlete from her school to reach the finals in the same two individual running events two years in a row. The 2013 state medalist is back in the 300 hurdles (ranked third) as well as the 200-meter dash (ranked fifth).
After reaching state with the fourth-best time in the 100-meter sprint, Marry was anticipating a three-event day Saturday. She finished 10th in that event. Only the top nine moved on.
“That made it more real,” she said. “Nothing is promised, no matter the ranking. I wanted to make up for not making it in the 100.”
She was timed at 45.33 in the 300 hurdles but said, “Some of my steps were off. I think I can go faster. I can make my steps and form better.”
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Area athletes will compete in 16 of 18 events to be contested in Class 1A on Saturday, missing only in the high jump and the meet-ending 1,600 relay.
No event will have more individual area representation than the 800 meters.
Urbana Uni High freshman Annemarie Michael qualified fifth (2:20.95), Stone was eighth (2:21.51), Tuscola’s Emma Henderson was ninth (2:21.95) and St. Joseph-Ogden’s Alyssa Pridemore stands 11th (2:22.73).
“I wasn’t expecting to be able to go as fast as I did,” Michael said. “Knowing I can run that fast is comforting.”
Michael also advanced in the 1,600 meters but took her greatest satisfaction in the personal-best time she ran in the 800.
“I felt good the first 600 meters,” she said.
The quality of the state field promoted good times, said Pridemore, who has the area’s top time in the event this season.
“The field this year is really competitive,” Pridemore said.
Pridemore is trying to become the fourth SJ-O athlete with state medals four consecutive years. Her first three were with relays. Others from the school who accomplished the 4-for-4 feat were Chelsea Blaase, Jennifer Brown and Jill Kary.
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Bismarck-Henning’s Mary Bass was down to her last chance.
For the fourth straight year, the B-H valedictorian had qualified for state in the two sprint races. With the state preliminaries down to the next-to-last event, the 200 meters, she had not yet earned a berth in the finals.
She was up to the challenge.
Bass ran a season-best 25.86 and reached the finals as the ninth qualifier.
“My fastest time ever,” she said. “That’s what you’re here to do. Your best and try to beat everyone else’s best. It felt really good.
“I’m happy to be able to do it my senior year.”
After four years of competing, Bass’ competitive running career will conclude Saturday. In the fall, she will enroll at the University of Illinois, where she will focus on her academic work as a biology major.
“Surreal,” she said. “I thought it would never end. It does not feel real.”
B-H was one of 17 area schools that had entries at state. Of those schools, 13 will have at least one athlete in the finals.
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The Vermilion Valley Conference champion Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac program had a day of heartache as well as happiness.
The Comets competed in four events Thursday. They reached the finals in one (100-meter hurdler Hailey Bennett) but were near misses in the other three.
Makayla Gayler was 10th in the 100-meter hurdles. Her time was a season-best 15.96. The last qualifying spot went to an athlete who ran 15.94.
The O/A-P 400- and 800-meter relays placed 12th and 13th, respectively. Nine schools made the finals.
Gayler took her setback in stride.
“I got my PR, and that was my goal,” she said. “I’m very happy.”
Bennett was elated.
“I never thought I’d make it,” the senior said. “I’m glad my track season is not over, and I’m glad I get to run one more race.
“I’ve definitely improved since my freshman year. I’ve improved a lot since last year.”
Kelby Deck, the 400 relay anchor, takes pride in how competitive O/A-P was in an event with 29 qualifiers.
“We come from a small school and do well in our county, but to be here and do it is awesome,” Deck said. “We didn’t do so well indoors, but we came outdoors and got a lot faster.”
Each of the Comets’ relays ran their best times of the season. The 800 foursome was timed in 1:49.37.
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Erin Tabor was OK with the outcome.
She was part of a 400-meter relay unit from Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley that placed 14th. They registered their best time of the year, 51.41.
“If we do our best, that’s pretty much good satisfaction,” anchor runner Tabor said. “That’s why we’re here, to do our best.”
Tabor was joined on the relay by Chrissy Angelos, Lauren Nagle and Julia Bleich.
The Falcons got one athlete into the finals. Mikayla Baillie stands 12th in the shot put (37 feet, 33/4 inches).
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Karly Goodman is back for a last hoorah. The senior from Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond earned a state medal in the shot put as a sophomore but did not return to the awards stand last year. She enters the finals seeded eighth after a 38-2 throw. She is attempting to become the fifth athlete in the program’s history with state medals in two different years.
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Friday’s Class 2A meet will start with running events at 9 a.m., though some field events (long jump and high jump) will begin at 8 o’clock. The running portion of the Class 3A meet is scheduled for about 12:55 p.m.