TOLONO — Brianna Dixon needed a lift from a seated position on the Unity High School track Thursday afternoon.
The Rantoul junior had just competed in the 300-meter hurdles, her third event in the Class 2A Unity Sectional.
It marked her third victory of the day, as well.
“It’s crazy,” Dixon said. “I’ve been working really hard, especially with all the pressure about state and winning last year. I’ve just been trying to work and do it for myself. Just have fun.”
It’s easy to have fun when you’re dominating all opponents, no matter the contest at hand. Dixon will have the chance to defend her 100 hurdles state championship from last season, and she’ll also get to compete in both the 300 hurdles and high jump at Eastern Illinois University beginning with next Friday’s preliminaries in Charleston.
“Last year, it was a really rough year for me. Things didn’t finally click until sectionals,” Dixon said. “This year, it’s been kind of the same way. But I’ve been running better.
“This was my first hot (weather) meet of the season, and I did really well. I’m just proud of myself.”
Dixon leaped just five times in the high jump competition but eased to first place at 5 feet, 3 inches. It’s not far off the 5-41/2 clearance that gave her third place in last season’s 2A state final.
She was one of 23 athletes in Thursday’s sectional high jump and didn’t start performing until the bar was raised to 4-10. Only three other jumpers surpassed that mark.
“It’s tiring (waiting), especially in this sun,” Dixon said. “I don’t like waiting that long, but I wouldn’t want to put myself to come in early, especially (since) I’ve been having really bad shin problems.”
The 100 hurdles perhaps was Dixon’s most impressive display on Thursday.
She crossed the finish line in 14.30 seconds, more than two seconds clear of the runner-up. It established a Unity facility record — previously held by former Salt Fork and Iowa standout Jenny Kimbro — and bettered Dixon’s 2021 state-winning time of 14.78.
“It means a lot to me,” Dixon said. “I haven’t PR’d from last year at all this season, and I dropped two-tenths, I think. It finally clicked this year.”
Comparatively, Dixon’s 300 hurdles output of 45.80 was less overwhelming. Eagles teammate TaNiya Poke, who finished third, told Dixon afterward that she could tell Dixon was slowing just a bit around the track’s final curve.
Dixon still won the event by nearly four seconds.
“I was going to slow down,” Dixon said, “but then I was like, ‘No, got to put myself in a decent spot for state.’”
Rantoul added another state berth from junior Tashay Jackson Roper, who claimed second place in the long jump at 16-3. The Eagles took fifth place as a team with 44 points.
Sectional host Unity paced the area with seven state advancements and ranked second on the team scoreboard with 74 1/2 points. Mt. Zion was the team champion with 113 points.
Junior Kayla Nelson placed second in the 100 with a time of 12.74 and exceeded the state-qualifying standard in the 200, rating fourth at 25.98.
Freshman Ashlyn Denney was runner-up in the 400 (1:01.59), sophomore Erica Woodard finished in the same position in the 3,200 (11:51.29) and sophomore Bri Ritchie was a second-place performer in the 100 hurdles (16.46).
Two Rockets relays also advanced to Charleston. The foursome of Denney, Ritchie, senior Arianna Pruitt-LeFairve and junior Lauren Miller won the 1,600 relay in 4:08.56, and freshman Camryn Reedy, Pruitt-LeFairve, freshman Josephine Cler and Denney took second in the 3,200 relay at 9:55.14.
That 1,600 relay performance was both a new school record and a new Unity facility record.
Champaign Central put together a strong overall performance, placing third with 72 points and qualifying for state in six events. (72) to go with six state berths. It marked an abrupt turnaround from last Friday, when Maroons coach Guthrie Hood was displeased with his girls’ effort in the Big 12 Conference Meet.
“Yes, much happier,” Hood said. “We had a meeting Saturday morning and reiterated the fact we can’t control weather, we can’t control outside circumstances and we really need to focus on the things we can control. ... They have just been on fire.”
Four different Central athletes advanced to state in four separate field events.
Junior Nevaeh Essien won the discus with a personal-best throw of 101-6.
“I came in knowing I was seeded fifth and thinking that wasn’t going to take me anywhere, but now I know I can push myself further,” Essien said. “It really doesn’t matter where people put you at. It just matters, on the day, where your head is at.”
Junior Braelyn Alexander won the long jump with a personal-best leap of 16-7 3/4.
“It actually means a lot to me, because earlier this year my grades caught up to me ... and I finally got my grades up to actually come in,” Alexander said. “Coming here and actually going to state after a couple of jumps is actually amazing to me.”
Junior Kyla Canales placed second in the pole vault (10-11 1/2) for the Maroons and freshman Julia Bilsbury added a runner-up triple jump effort (33-1) to qualify for state as well.
Central moved on in the 400 relay and 800 relay with two second-place times. Senior Nour Hijab, sophomore Ellie Walker, senior Narmeen Chahal and freshman Kelecia Mangue clocked 50.31 in the 400 relay, and Hijab, Chahal, Mangue and Canales finished at 1:47.71 in the 800 relay.
Urbana placed fourth with 48 points, and the Tigers qualified for state in four events. Senior Tiarra Townsend-Cooper took second in the 200 at 25.78, and freshman Syniyah Quenga hit the state-advancement standard with a third-place time of 25.97.
“It’s very exciting because one’s a senior, one’s a freshman, kind of got the outgoing with the incoming,” Tigers coach Leslie Edmondson said. “We’ve got Tiarra going out in a big bang and Syniyah coming in in a big bang.”
Urbana won both the 400 relay (50.16) and 800 relay (1:45.54) with the same unit in seniors Shamera Moore and Isabella Wallis plus Quenga and Townsend-Cooper.
Monticello was the sixth-place squad with 43 points. All four of the Sages’ state berths emanated from the mid- and long-distance realms.
Junior Mabry Bruhn moved on in the 800 with a runner-up time of 2:22.85 and in the 1,600 with a second-place finish of 5:18.21. Junior Rose Talbert took first place in the 400 with a time of 1:01.11.
“If you look at my times last year, they’re a lot better than I’m doing this year,” Talbert said. “Pretty happy. Pretty pumped up. I’ve got once last chance at this. It’s now or never, and you’ve got to go.”
Monticello’s 3,200 relay unit of Bruhn and seniors Clara Rudolph, Kyara Welter and Rachel Koon advanced to state on time, booking a third place 9:59.99.
Mahomet-Seymour ranked seventh as a team with 33 points but didn’t qualify any athletes for state.
Clinton rounded out local team scoring with a 10th-place total of 19 points and saw junior Alayna Earle and sophomore Bella Downs move on to Charleston. Earle placed second in shot put with a throw of 33-10 3/4, and Downs was runner-up in discus at 97-10.