CHARLESTON — Lia Patterson is built differently than many other high school track and field athletes.
The majority of those who would have accepted a workload like the one Patterson shouldered Saturday also would have spent the rest of the day lying down to recuperate.
That’s not Patterson’s style.
The Tuscola sophomore was providing piggy-back rides for the young son of Warriors girls’ track and field coach Drew Sterkel less than an hour after completing her fourth and final race in the IHSA Class 1A state meet.
Doing so on the artificial turf within O’Brien Stadium on the Eastern Illinois University campus.
A mere few steps away from the big blue track on which she’d captured two individual state championships earlier that day.
“I love his kids. I babysit them all the time,” Patterson said of Sterkel’s son and daughter. “I have enough energy for them whenever.”
Patterson might have received an energy boost upon learning that she had led Tuscola to its second consecutive 1A team trophy.
The sprinting and hurdling sensation generated 35 points by winning both the 300-meter hurdles and the 200-meter dash, along with placing second in the 100-meter hurdles and third in the 100-meter dash.
Pairing Patterson’s efforts with freshman Kate Foltz’s second-place display in the 3,200 gave the Warriors 43 points, leaving them just ahead of Father McGivney (39) for the No. 3 team spot behind state-runner up Seneca (48) and state champion Winnebago (50).
“After my coaches told me we had gotten third in state because I had won the 200, at first I’m like, ‘I’m not believing you,’” Patterson said. “I’m going to wait until I hear the announcers say, ‘Tuscola, come to the infield.’
“As soon as I heard that, I was just flabbergasted. I had no idea that we could even expect to get (number) three at state this year.”
The Warriors won last year’s 1A team state title, buoyed by the pairing of Patterson and then-senior Alyssa Williams.
Williams now runs at Murray State, but she was in attendance on Saturday and got to watch Patterson put together a day-long performance that included surpassing Williams’ school record in the 200 by one-hundredth of a second.
“Three PRs for her. That’s a great, great night for her,” Sterkel said of Patterson. “I always kind of thought it was a possibility (that we’d earn another team trophy), but you never want to jinx yourself.
“Alyssa left such a great impression on all these kids, especially Lia. Led by our captain, Mia Hausmann, we just worked our tails off all year.”
Tuscola brought eight entries into Thursday’s 1A state preliminaries. Patterson and Foltz were joined by junior thrower Natalie Hasting (shot put and discus) as well as the Warriors’ 1,600 relay of sophomore Kenna Clodfelder, Hausmann, a senior, freshman Chloe Bowden and junior Addisyn Pettry.
By the time Saturday’s finals rolled around, Patterson and Foltz were all that remained. Foltz was guaranteed a championship-day event because the 3,200 doesn’t have a preliminary stage, but she also advanced through the 1,600 prelims and eventually placed 10th in the final of that race.
“Any time you can be a freshman and be an all-stater, you’re doing something right,” Sterkel said of Foltz, who clocked 10 minutes, 53.32 seconds in the 3,200 to finish behind only Marshall freshman Molly Farrell (10:50.90). “This is something that’ll leave her a little bit hungry for next year.”
Patterson, however, was the Warriors’ clear show stealer at state.
She began Saturday by authoring a 14.79-second run in the 100 hurdles, a new personal best.
Despite crossing as the event runner-up after Tremont senior Cambria Geyer, Patterson was quick to embrace and celebrate with her friendly rival.
Patterson then had to turn around and hit the starting blocks for her 100 dash. She got out clean, but Stark County senior Lindley Johnston in the nearest lane on Patterson’s left was tagged with a false start that brought everyone back.
Patterson’s eventual third-place outcome of 12.42 landed behind Meridian senior Kaylin Moreland (12.22) and Springfield Lutheran freshman Ainsley Johnson (12.38).
“I felt bad for (Johnston), but for me it was an amazing start. So I was like, ‘Oh, darn,’” Patterson said. “That would’ve had me top two with Kaylin Moreland, and then I got third. ... At first I was really upset, but then I’m like, ‘OK, you get one second to be upset and then you’ve got two races to go.’”
Patterson showed in the 300 hurdles just how far behind her she’d put that brief disappointment.
Geyer took off like a rocket in the nearest lane to Patterson’s right, but Patterson quickly gained on her adversary while going around the curve behind O’Brien Stadium’s large video board.
The pair went over the third-to-last row of hurdles nearly simultaneously. Then, disaster struck for Geyer as she clipped her hurdle and fell to the track.
The race became Patterson’s to win. And she did so in 43.67, constituting another personal record.
“I could feel a change in the way (Geyer) jumped,” Patterson said. “We’re really good friends, so a part of me was like, ‘I need to stop and help her up.’ But then another part of me was like, ‘We were basically neck and neck the whole race. I can win this.’
“I was very happy with how I ran, because it was a huge PR.”
Patterson kept her celebration muted after winning the 300 hurdles, out of respect for Geyer.
Upon placing first in the 200 and seeing her victorious time, there was no such stifling of emotions. Elation and shock spread across Patterson’s face when she saw the personal-best time of 24.96. She briefly dropped to her knees on the track, then hugged — and half-tackled — assistant coach Tracy Hornaday on the infield.
Hornaday gained a few scratches on her toes from Patterson’s shoe spikes as battle scars from the experience.
“I don’t even have words,” Patterson said. “I didn’t even think I broke (Williams’) record. I was in tears. ... I was so overjoyed with happiness.”
Those feelings spread to all in the Warriors’ camp upon realizing another IHSA state trophy was coming back to Douglas County, joining the third-place hardware Tuscola boys’ basketball earned back in March.
Sterkel gave Patterson her flowers for her role in making that a reality.
“I told her, ‘If you can score 30 points in the state track meet people will start recognizing you a little bit more.’ She came out and scored 35,” Sterkel said. “You couldn’t ask for a better day from her. ... She’s done everything plus more that I’ve asked of her for the last year, and I couldn’t be happier for her.”