Zilis' girls' track and field state finals storylines

Zilis' girls' track and field state finals storylines

Preps coordinator Anthony Zilis is prepped and ready for three straight days of coverage from Charleston at the girls’ state track and field meet. He offers up some local teams and athletes to watch for before the action picks up at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University:

Spartans setting their sights high

ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph-Ogden is a state-contending team without a sure-fire state champion in Class 1A. For SJ-O coach Kelly Steffen, that means a lot more work, but also more reward.

"I've really enjoyed it in the sense that, I never thought I would be coaching so many pieces," Steffen said. "It's a great problem to have. I would always, I would say, rather have a ton of pieces (than one or two state champions) because it's just so much more fun to see the girls push each other and build off of each other, even though sometimes it takes more work to decide who goes where."

On paper, it seems as if the 400-meter relay is the event SJ-O can rely on at this week's state meet. The Spartans won the event last year, when they took home a second-place trophy as a team, and come into the meet with the fastest sectional time by 68-hundredths of a second.

But relying on a relay, in which one small slip-up can ruin a race, is no sure thing.

"That race is obviously all about handoffs, and they had two solid days (last year)," Steffen said. "With that being a team effort, that kind of just set the tone of how the morale was at camp and the rest of the day.

"When you put four groups of four girls to pass a baton around in four different relays, that's something that you've got to hold your breath about. Luckily they've done it before, so hopefully they can just go off of kind of the feel there."

The Spartans qualified all four relays, but also have athletes vying for individual state titles this weekend.

Senior Parker Francisco holds the top time in 1A this season in the 100 hurdles. Senior Hanna Atwood ranks fourth in the pole vault. With most of her lineup back from last year's team, melded with a few younger athletes, Steffen is confident with the way her team will handle the pressure of coming in as a favorite.

"We have a good mix of girls who have experience at the state meet, but we also have a few girls who have never run on the track as well, but they're in a good mix of veterans," Steffen said. "Worrying about nerves is something I haven't even thought about because they'll be with their other teammates, which is a great transition that will set us up even for years to come."


Nettles keeps raising the bar

Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond's Kenli Nettles and Urbana's Diamonasia Taylor could have each decided to move the bar up just an inch from 5 feet, 7 inches at Monday's News-Gazette Honor Roll Meet.

But the pair of freshmen were bolder than that. Instead, they chose to attempt to leap over 5-9, a height that would put each in contention for a state title this weekend, with Nettles in Class 1A and Taylor in 2A.

"It's a few days before state, so I just wanted to try to get as (high) as I can," Nettles said. "Two inches higher doesn't seem like a lot, but when you get up there to jump, it is."

Neither of them cleared that height Monday, giving Nettles the win on misses. As it stands, Taylor is the top-ranked high jumper in 2A and Nettles is tied for second in 1A. And in her first state meet, Nettles has high hopes.

"I'm expecting to at least get in the top three if not get in the top two or first," she said. "I'm expecting to jump at least 5-foot-7 or 5-8."


Welter leading pack of Sages

MONTICELLO — It was an intimidating leap, but a necessary one for Monticello junior Aliyah Welter. After all, if she wanted to clear her goal of 13 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault, she'd have to use a 13-6 pole.

She's only used that pole twice, and it's been successful each time. First, she cleared a personal-best 13 feet at the Unity Invite about a month ago. And at Monday's Honor Roll Meet, she cleared 13-1.

"It took me a while to get on that pole," she said. "It feels a lot different. It feels like it gives me a lot more pop, a lot more height."

Welter enters the state meet as the top-ranked pole vaulter in Class 2A, and she'll have teammates joining her.

The sectional-champion Sages bring another pole vaulter, freshman Landis Brandon, along with freshman sprinter Mattie Lieb, and junior long jumper Emma Helferich.

Aside from Welter, who qualified in both hurdles events as well, the Sages' top chance for a medal might come from fellow hurdler Emelia Ness, a freshman seeded No. 7 in the 300 hurdles and No. 15 in the 100 hurdles.

"I love having her with me," Welter said. "We push each other to get better. She stays low and she pushes through each hurdle. She has good endurance, especially in the 300."


Duo makes it count for Storm

CATLIN — Rachyl Anderson and Katie Witte generally push each other as teammates. But heading into a Class 1A sectional meet last year, the two Salt Fork throwers wee pitted against each other.

With senior Abby Nicholson expected to take home one of the top spot at state in each event last May, Anderson and Witte were forced to compete against one another for spots at the state meet.

"It was awful," Salt Fork coach Gail Biggerstaff said. "I will say it was not fun. But what do you do?"

Witte wound up throwing the discus, in which she finished fifth, and Anderson threw the shot put, wherein she missed the finals.

This year, both Anderson and Witte will head to the state meet in both events, and they're expected to take home medals. Anderson owns the third-best discus throw in Illinois this season, a toss of 149 feet, 4 inches at a five-team meet in Paris. Witte, who signed on Wednesday to throw at Illinois, ranks 11th in the state in the discus.

"They push each other," Biggerstaff said. "Rachyl has really blossomed this year. In the offseason she's done a lot of lifting, she's eating healthy, and she's just doing everything she can to make her the best competitor she can be. So far, it's working."


Making their case
These area athletes head into the state meet ranked in the top five of their respective events based on their sectional performances:


Ameia Wilson    Danville    100    2nd
Ameia Wilson    Danville    200    2nd

Diamonasia Taylor    Urbana    High jump    1st
Jordan Harmon    Unity    3,200    2nd
Aliyah Welter    Monticello    Pole vault    2nd
Lanaeja Carter    Urbana    Discus    3rd
Taylor Millsap    Unity    Pole vault    5th
Jyana Anderson    Urbana    800 relay    5th
Ayanna Kelley-Weatherspoon
Talia Dought-Burton
Diamonasia Taylor

Class 1A
Frankie Izard    SJ-O    400 relay    1st
Abbey Mizer
Maclayne Taylor
Zea Maroon
Emma Henderson    Tuscola    400    2nd
Katie Kidwell    Watseka    Long jump    2nd
Alayna Stalter    Fisher    100 hurdles    2nd
Lucy Lux-Rulon    STM    High jump    3rd
Hanna Atwood    SJ-O    Pole vault    4th
Parker Francisco    SJ-O    100 hurdles    4th
Maddie Meyer    A-O    Triple jump    4th
Annemarie Michael    Uni High    3,200    4th
Kenli Nettles    ALAH    High jump    4th
Rachyl Anderson    Salt Fork    Discus    5th
Janika Peitzmeier    LeRoy    100 hurdles    5th
Abbey Mizer    SJ-O    800 relay    5th
Hanna Atwood
Sydney Gallo
Aleesia Reeves


Heading to Charleston
A list of all area competitors who have qualified for the state meet, which starts Thursday at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston on the campus of Eastern Illinois University:

Class 3A
Danville: Shanice Garbutt, Jr. (1,600, 3,200); Gabi Springer, Fr. (pole vault); Keneisha Williams, Sr. (400); Ameia Wilson, So. (long jump, 100, 200); 800 relay

Class 2A
Clinton: Payne Turney, Fr. (800); Claudia Workman, So. (shot put)

Mahomet-Seymour: Cassie Perry, Sr. (discus); Mara Pletcher, Fr. (pole vault); 3,200 relay

Monticello: Landis Brandon, Fr. (pole vault); Emma Helferich, Jr. (long jump); Mattie Lieb, Fr. (100); Emelia Ness, Fr. (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles); Aliyah Welter, Jr. (pole vault, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles); 1,600 relay

Prairie Central: Olivia Weber, Jr. (high jump)

Rantoul: Akalah Spinks, Sr. (100)

Unity: Nicole Bagwell, Sr. (pole vault); Jordan Harmon, So. (1,600, 3,200); Taylor Millsap, Jr. (pole vault); 3,200 relay

Urbana: Jyana Anderson, So. (200); Lanaeja Carter, So. (discus); Libby Cultra, Jr. (3,200); Shaniya Howard, Jr. (high jump); Ayanna Kelley-Weatherspoon, Jr. (100); Olivia Rosenstein, Fr. (800, 1,600); Diamonasia Taylor, Fr. (high jump); 400 relay; 800 relay

Class 1A
Maddie Meyer, Sr. (long jump, triple jump, 100)
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond: Kenli Nettles, Fr. (high jump, 100 hurdles); Hannah Wallen, Jr. (long jump, 400); Tyra Wingler, So. (discus)

Bismarck-Henning: Sierra Bryant, Fr. (400); Sabrina Martinez, Jr. (discus); Emily Meidel, Fr. (300 hurdles); 800 relay

Blue Ridge: Elizabeth Bowns, Jr. (shot put)

Fisher: Alayna Stalter, Jr. (triple jump, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles)

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley: Delanie Dykes, So. (400, 800); Claire Retherford, So. (discus); 400 relay; 1,600 relay; 3,200 relay

LeRoy: Janika Peitzmeier, So. (high jump, 100 hurdles); 800 relay

Milford/Cissna Park: Gabby Wessels, Jr. (100); 400 relay

Paxton-Buckley-Loda: Emily Graves, So. (pole vault)

Ridgeview: Jules Grunloh, Fr. (400); Layken McGuire, Fr. (1,600); Mya Tinsley, So. (long jump, 100); 800 relay; 1,600 relay

St. Joseph-Ogden: Hanna Atwood, Sr. (pole vault); Cassidy Bagby, So. (3,200); Parker Francisco, Sr. (triple jump, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles); Frankie Izard, Jr. (100, 200); Sam Mabry, Jr. (800); Zea Maroon, Jr. (300 hurdles); Maclayne Taylor, So. (200); 400 relay; 800 relay; 1,600 relay; 3,200 relay

St. Thomas More: Fran Hendrickson, Fr. (1,600); Marguerite Hendrickson, Jr. (400, 800); Nakaya Hughes, So. (high jump); Lucy Lux-Rulon, Jr. (long jump, high jump); 1,600 relay; 3,200 relay

Salt Fork: Rachyl Anderson, Jr. (shot put, discus); Katie Witte, Sr. (discus)

Schlarman: Capria Brown, Fr. (100 hurdles); Sarah Craig, So. (pole vault)

Tuscola: Kaiya Clodfelder, Jr. (triple jump); Emma Henderson, Sr. (800); Cassie Westjohn, Sr. (pole vault); 1,600 relay; 3,200 relay

Uni High: Anika Kimme, So. (3,200); Annemarie Michael, Sr. (1,600, 3,200); Arielle Summitt, Jr. (800, 1,600)

Watseka: Asia Benson, Jr. (shot put); Emily Bunting, Jr. (discus); Katie Kidwell, Sr. (long jump, triple jump)


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