CHARLESTON — Steve Trompter didn’t view last week’s Class 1A St. Joseph-Ogden Sectional as the end of the world.
Just because his Salt Fork girls’ track and field team lost out on the team plaque to the host Spartans didn’t mean the Storm couldn’t vie for hardware during Thursday’s IHSA 1A state meet at Eastern Illinois’ O’Brien Stadium.
“Our team only had seven girls at sectionals,” Trompter said. “We just kind of knew that we didn’t have any relays, so we were set up for state more than sectionals. Our girls, we knew we had a shot.”
And Salt Fork followed through on that potential by earning the third-place trophy with 47.6 points, narrowly bettered by Belleville Althoff’s 50 and Winnebago’s 49.
This marks the second top-three state finish in program history, with the 2016 Storm topping Class 1A behind the three-girl power of Jenny Kimbro, Abby Nicholson and Katie Witte.
“We came here with a goal of getting a trophy,” said Trompter, in his first season leading the Salt Fork girls. “The two teams that beat us out, heck of teams. … It just came down to a few points, but we’re real happy with the result.”
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This season’s Storm didn’t have too many more state participants than that 2016 outfit, either.
Senior Gracie Jessup snagged the squad’s lone state championship on the day, finishing first in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.81 seconds.
“I’ve been dreaming of that moment since I was a freshman, and I’m so proud that all the work I’ve put in has paid off,” said Jessup, a future Illinois State athlete, who took third in this event in 2019 and seventh in 2018. “It was really tight, and I could just feel (opponents) on me. So, I just had to give it everything I had in those last couple hurdles.”
The main competition came from Altamont freshman Grace Nelson, who finished runner-up in 14.86.
“She’s really amazing,” Jessup said. “This is actually the first time I’ve raced against her, so I’m really happy.”
Jessup’s 100 hurdles heat was the fourth of four, and it briefly was delayed after a false start during the third heat. But that third heat’s end result — Storm sophomore Shelby McGee winning in 15.79 to place seventh overall — ultimately benefited Jessup.
“That was such a confidence booster,” Jessup said. “I was so happy for her and I told myself, ‘You’re going to do the same thing.’”
Jessup also ranked fourth in the 300 hurdles (47.01) and fifth in the long jump (17 feet, 61/4 inches) to give Salt Fork additional points. Outside of Jessup and McGee, the Storm received even more points from juniors Brynlee Keeran and Olivia Birge.
Keeran again pulled the field event four-step by competing in the pole vault, long jump, high jump and triple jump — same as she did in the sectional.
“It was really difficult going from pole vault warmups and then over to long jump and then high jump and then pole vault again,” Keeran said. “But then I got a rest before triple, so that was nice.”
And that turned out to be her best event, as Keeran placed second in triple jump at 36-2.
Keeran also took third in pole vault (11-41/2) and tied for eighth in high jump (5-0).
“Very, very proud,” Keeran said. “I’m very happy with it. I did not expect to do this, and I’m so excited that my coach even let me do it because he wasn’t (going to) at first.”
Trompter originally planned to have Keeran scratch the high jump for a slightly less strenuous workload. But the decision to have her compete worked.
“I was like, ‘Hey, can I at least try to jump 5, just to see how it goes?’” Keeran said. “And sure enough I cleared it, first try.”
Birge added a fifth-place effort in discus (123-1) and a seventh-place showing in shot put (37-61/2), while freshman Macie Russell chipped in a win in her 800-run heat.
“A few other teams had a shot,” Trompter said, “but we found a way to get it done.”
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St. Joseph-Ogden senior Atleigh Hamilton didn’t leave O’Brien Stadium on Thursday with any first-place medals.
It’s actually a rarity for the incoming Illinois State athlete. She won the 2018 and 2019 1A long-jump contests and was part of a relay victory each year, as well.
But Hamilton still left a strong impression upon those in attendance. And she ultimately was just glad to return to Charleston after the COVID-19 pandemic led to last year’s meet being canceled.
“It felt awesome to be back,” Hamilton said. “On my way here, I was super excited because I love this track. I always run pretty well here.”
That didn’t change Thursday.
After claiming second in the long jump at 17-101/4, Hamilton placed runner-up in the 400 (58.0), third in the 200 (25.80) and sixth in the 100 (12.56).
She achieved the 100 and 200 results running out of those races’ second-to-last heats, winning each and defying her prior seeds.
“I miss doing the relays,” Hamilton said. “But I ended up liking doing the individual events more than I thought I would.”
Hamilton’s bright pink socks, riding nearly knee-high, also were a regular part of her three appearances at the IHSA state meet. Might she trade them in for red socks once she starts competing with the Redbirds?
“I might have to start a different tradition there,” Hamilton said. “But I don’t think they’re done yet.”
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Emma Graham didn’t throw a season or career best in Thursday’s shot put event.
The St. Thomas More junior hurled the shot 34-01/4 to place 17th.
That didn’t stop a pair of college coaches, with Aurora and Millikin, from approaching Graham after she completed her first-ever IHSA state throws.
“That’s very exciting,” Graham said. “Shows my hard work and dedication (is paying off). I’ve been doing shot put since I was in fifth grade.”
Graham was the Sabers’ lone state participant this spring. It’s a familiar feeling, in a sense.
“I’ve been the only girl thrower since I was in like fifth grade, so it’s been just me throwing at my schools,” Graham said. “But (my family has) always been supportive through my clubs, and even when I go to practice, they’ll shag for me.”
Graham still was pleased with her last effort of the season despite not hitting a PR. She recognizes she has another season to leave her mark on STM track and field history.
“The school record was 37-9 something, so that was another one of my goals,” Graham said. “But I’m definitely going to get that next year.”
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Alexis Wike entered Thursday’s high-jump action with the sixth-best seed height at 5-2.
The Blue Ridge sophomore didn’t quite have her A game at the state meet, though, as she finished at 5-0 to tie for 13th based on jumps.
“A little disappointed, because I know I can clear that,” Wike said. “Came in feeling good. … Not a good performance.”
Wike doesn’t mind chalking it up to a common roadblock for those new to the IHSA state stage.
“It’s a little scary, yeah,” Wike said. “I feel really nervous having all these people watch me, and I try to ignore it.”
Wike and Knights freshman Phoebe Reynolds (long-jump qualifier) each gave Blue Ridge a legitimate shot at earning a girls’ track and field state medal.
That’s an important step for the Knights’ program. Only Bradi Twist running the 200 in the 1995 and 1998 state meets ever has returned to Farmer City with such hardware as a Blue Ridge athlete.
“I’m proud to go to Blue Ridge and that I can represent my school here,” Wike said. “It’s a good experience. Get it out of the way my first time and know what to expect next year and improve from there.”