State track notebook: Sabers relay pulls surprise
CHARLESTON — Some girls were accompanied to the state track and field meet with expectations.
Salt Fork’s Jenny Kimbro had the best qualifying time from sectionals in the 300-meter hurdles and followed up with a Class 1A state title in the event Saturday.
Quite unlike St. Thomas More’s 3,200-meter relay fivesome.
That’s right, it’s a foursome on race day, but the competition for positions on the relay is so intense that not everyone who ran in Thursday’s qualifying round took the track Saturday.
The Sabers came to state earlier in the week ranked 19th in the event.
“We hadn’t run faster than 10:01,” junior Liz Bristow said.
All of which added up to one thing.
“It’s nice being the underdog,” senior Randa Harshbarger said.
STM’s relay had the ninth-best time
entering the finals at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium but pulled off
one of the day’s stunners. With Bristow leading off and being followed by Julia Welle, Harshbarger and anchor Regan Kelley, the Sabers stepped off a season-best 9:39.05 time and earned second-place medals.
“It helps if you believe,” Welle said.
Harshbarger took the baton in eighth place and handed off in the second position.
“I can’t process the thought that we were second and almost won,” Bristow said. “So many people doubted us, but here we are. We surprised everyone.”
She means everyone.
“We surprised ourselves,” Bristow said. “Words can’t describe it.”
The 3,200 relay has become the Sabers’ signature event. This was the fifth consecutive year the school has collected state medals in the event and the second year in a row for a runner-up finish. In all other events, the Sabers have a combined five state medals.
“This is the pinnacle of my career, and I’m glad the pinnacle was second,” Kelley said. “This is the best race to end on.”
Kelley and Harshbarger are the school’s first four-time state track medalists. They were on the 3,200 relay unit each year. For Harshbarger, Saturday’s trip to the podium came 21/2 months after playing for the school’s state championship basketball team.
“It’s the same excitement,” she said. “The same everything.”
Teammate Caroline Dodds helped the Sabers reach the finals by running in Thursday’s prelims.
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Area athletes collected second-place finishes in four other events besides the STM relay.
Other state runners-up in 1A were Urbana Uni High freshman Annemarie Michael in the 800 meters (school-record 2:17.94), Fisher’s Miranda Marry in the 300 hurdles (school-record 43.34) and Sullivan/Okaw Valley’s Emily Neuhauser (200 meters) along with Prairie Central sophomore Kassadee Ifft (in the Class 2A pole vault).
Michael and Marry were each two-event medalists. Michael doubled up with a fourth-place performance in the 1,600 meters (5:11.00), and Marry added a third-place effort in the 200 meters (25.63).
“After the 800, I had no idea how I’d come back,” Michael said. “I felt like I had nothing left.”
She went out with the leaders in the 1,600 and was fourth after each lap, completing what she called “a weird week.”
She was in Charleston on Thursday for the preliminaries, back at school Friday for final exams and then running in two races Saturday.
“It’s good to end the season on a high note,” she said. “Having a good race at state keeps me excited.”
Marry improved her finishes in the 300 hurdles and 200 from a year ago. Her second-place finish in the hurdles matched the best finish ever by a Fisher girl. Erica Gaesser was the 400 runner-up in 1998.
“That’s the best race I’ve ever ran,” Marry said. “I’m sad I didn’t win, but there’s nothing I could have done differently. If anyone deserves to win, it’s Jenny (Kimbro). I wish our schedules would have overlapped so we could have run against each other and pushed each other more.”
Marry’s third-place time in the 200 (25.63) was almost a second faster than she ran in taking seventh in 2013 (26.55).
“I’m satisfied,” she said. ”It’s a good way to end state.”
Ifft cleared a school-record 12 feet, 9 inches, breaking the all-time area best set in 2005 (12-4) by Mahomet-Seymour’s Mary Pat Choules.
She cleared 12-9 on her final attempt, after twice missing at a height that was 6 inches beyond her previous best.
“I do pretty well under pressure,” said Ifft, who placed third as a freshman. “It’s an incredible gift I’ve been given, and you have to use it to your potential. I couldn’t be happier.”
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Karly Goodman had a chance for a three-peat she didn’t want. She did something about it.
She was eighth in the shot put as a sophomore and placed eighth again as a junior.
The Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond senior entered the final round of the shot put in eighth place.
On her second attempt, Goodman uncorked a toss that was more than 10 inches past her Thursday best. She wound up fifth (39-03/4).
“Driving here, my nerves were bothering me, but my coach said, ‘Just have fun,’ ” said Goodman, who will continue in the sport next school year at Illinois Wesleyan.
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Unity’s Bailey Reifsteck became the third Rocket to medal in the same event at state three times, joining Janet Black (discus, 1976 and 1978-79) and Lydia Mitchell (300 hurdles, 2009-11). Reifsteck placed ninth in the pole vault.
Freshman teammate Nicole Bagwell was third in the same event, clearing an all-time best 11-3.
Bagwell ran the third leg of Unity’s third-place 3,200 relay. She was joined by Laura Seiler, Taylor Renfroe and anchor Hannah Stone (who placed fifth in the 800 meters). For the second time in three days, Unity broke its school record (9:41.56).
“That record will be there for a while,” Stone predicted.
Unity has had just one higher finish in girls’ track (a second by Black in the discus in 1979) than the third-place relay.
Seiler and Stone were on the state-placing 3,200 relay last year as well.
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Danville matched its school-record time (48.15) in the 400 relay, securing a fourth-place medal in Class 3A. The Vikings’ same runners, Ambrosia Williams, Desiree Isaac, Aariona Graham and Emone’ Davis, added a ninth-place finish in the 800 relay.
“Everything was spot-on, and the handoffs were good,” Williams said.
Danville’s time and place were duplicates of its 2013 state performance.
“We ran the fastest that we could,” Graham said.
“We wouldn’t have made it this far without hard work,” Davis added.
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Monticello freshman Kendyl McFarland was one of the few state placers (ninth in the Class 2A pole vault) who also earned a top-60 finish last fall in the state golf meet.
“It’s difficult to say my favorite,” she said. “I do both year-round.”
She took up pole vaulting as a seventh-grader.
“The coach asked for volunteers, and no one volunteered, so I did to have something to do,” McFarland said.
She didn’t expect to be earning a state medal so soon.
“Coming into this year, my PR was only 9 feet, and (state) seemed so far away,” said McFarland, who cleared a season-best 10-3 in the finals. “This is an awesome feeling.”
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Centennial junior Dominique Lewis took home matching seventh-place medals in the 200 and 400 dashes. She was timed in a season-best 57.82 in the 400.
She will use her placements as motivation for the future.
“To get the places I got shows I can improve,” Lewis said, “and by this time next year can get a higher place. I need more strength training and more speed.”
In the 200, Champaign Central’s Sharon Mainor was fifth after duplicating the time (25.50) that she ran in the prelims.
The sophomore is the Maroons’ first 200 placer and also the school’s youngest individual all-stater. The only other sophomores (and freshmen) who earned state medals did so on relays. She is the school’s ninth individual state placer.
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Track and field is a sport about numbers. Here are some figures that stand out from Saturday.
A total of 21 area schools had athletes competing on the season’s final day. Sixteen area schools had medalists.
Area schools had 44 opportunities to earn medals, and 31 of those came to fruition.
Besides the top-10 team finishes secured by Sullivan/Okaw Valley and Salt Fork, Unity ended in a two-way tie for 12th in Class 1A and Fisher closed in a three-way tie for 19th, followed by Urbana Uni High in a three-way tie for 22nd.
The area 2A leaders were Prairie Central (tied for 36th), Centennial (tied for 45th) and Champaign Central (tied for 49th). In 3A, Danville placed in a five-way tie for 39th.
The area’s other placers were Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac’s Hailey Bennett (seventh in the 1A 100 hurdles), Bismarck-Henning’s Mary Bass (eighth in the 1A 200), Mahomet-Seymour’s Emily Kauffman (eighth in the 2A discus) and Clinton’s 800 relay (ninth).