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Your team is looking for its sixth sectional title under your leadership, dating back to 2016, on Friday night in Catlin. How are you feeling about your Spartans right now?

“Very excited to, one, finally have good weather this week. I’m pretty sure we only had one regular-season meet that was above 60 degrees. That’s just going to be crazy for everyone across the state. Times are going to drop, but also competing in that heat will be different. As far as our team, we definitely still have some strong relays. Our goal is to try to make as many of those down to state as we can. And then we also have some (athletes in) individual events that should put themselves in a position to have really good opportunities, sectionals all the way through hopefully state prelims and finals.”

Even though the state meet lasted just one day last season instead of the usual two, how much did having that on the schedule help the girls who returned from your 2021 roster?

“That may’ve been a good thing to transition back. We had a lot of freshmen (and) sophomores on the team last year, and they still have not seen a full state series be played out like it normally would be. We’ve had to take some steps back and explain some things on the team dynamic, in terms of when you bring a lot of relays there are alternates and different strategies in terms of who qualifies for what. We’re talking (about) there’s three steps to this whole state thing, and we’re all a team. We’re all part of it.”

Your team placed second in the grueling Illini Prairie Conference Meet and won its own Spartan Classic, both last week. How much does that help the girls leading into the sectional?

“There’s definitely something to be said about team titles, no matter how big or small the meet is. Thinking back to the conference meet, the girls did a great job of coming up with points that maybe weren’t expected or they weren’t seeded for, so I’m hoping that mentality can carry through this week.”

Who are some of your athletes who can make positive noise in the postseason?

“Hope Rajlich has had an amazing senior season. She’s a key player in all of our sprints, so we’re hoping the 200-meter dash is looking like her best event. She’s capable, and she has the internal drive and motivation to make it pretty far in that event. Junior year, she was part of all three of our sprint relays. But then this year, she’s gotten stronger and she’s been able to contribute on the individual side. So that’s been so much fun to just watch her times drop. ... We have Savanna Franzen and Ava Knap, two distance runners that had a phenomenal end of their cross-country season. It’s a freshman-senior duo, which is very cool to watch them train together. They just have so much passion to see each other succeed. They were almost in tears at Top Times (indoor meet), and I was almost confused at first. ‘Are we upset, or what’s going on?’ It was the pure emotion of ‘We just ran so well,’ and it was the individual mile. ... We have two pole vaulters — a senior and a sophomore, Grace Schmitz and Payton Carter — that are capable of being in the mix of the top crew at state. Then we also have Abby Behrens in the high jump, who has been consistent at a good 5-foot mark. So hoping to take her down to state, which she did go last year. We’ve been having conversations about starting heights and how state is a different ballgame than your central Illinois invites. She’s been doing really well this year for her senior season. Thrower-wise, Ashley Eldridge has been consistent this year scoring in the top six. You just never know with throws. It’s kind of crazy if you pop a big one. Sky’s the limit there. ... Sticking on the senior trend, the 300 hurdles is going to be up for grabs at the sectional. Ashlyn Lannert has been running pretty well in the 300 hurdles, so she’s right there. Helene Jones and Kailyn Ingram are two key contributors on our 4-by-8 and our 4-by-4, and those two relays seem to be gearing toward the best state rankings right now for our team.”

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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