CHAMPAIGN — No one will mistake Uni High for a big school. Its IHSA enrollment is listed at fewer than 250 students.
Dean Kamps’ Illinek track and field athletes don’t worry about that once meets begin.
Such as Friday’s at Centennial’s Harold Jester Track, which featured entries from the host Chargers, Bloomington, Charleston, Champaign Central, Danville, Normal West, Peoria Manual, Peoria Notre Dame and Urbana.
“We haven’t had a chance to compete too much this year, so we’re just making the most of our opportunities,” Kamps said. “When you come out to a track like this — with FAT timing, with a lot of schools here, a lot of competition — it’s working out for us.”
Uni High boasted three competitors with two individual wins apiece on the track. Unsurprisingly, all three come from the Illineks’ successful cross-country program.
Kate Ahmari, a two-time News-Gazette All-Area cross-country first-teamer, pulled off an unusual double dip. She first won the girls’ 3,200-meter run in 11 minutes, 34.22 seconds, then transitioned to the girls’ 400 dash and topped that field in 1:04.36.
“I definitely enjoyed running something new that I don’t normally run,” said Ahmari, who noted this was her first open 400 race since middle school. “It’s definitely a big difference from the 3,200 to the 400. The pacing is very different. It’s kind of difficult to handle the paces.”
Henry Laufenberg succeeded in the more traditional distance double — a phrase he uttered while hugging a teammate after winning the boys’ 1,600 run in 4:52.19. Laufenberg also crossed the finish line first in the boys’ 3,200 run, stopping the clock at 10:16.38.
“I had recognized that at sectionals the 3,200 is probably not going to be a super strong event. We’ve got a ton of great distance runners, but they’re all more 800-milers,” Laufenberg said. “I figured if I could do the 3,200-mile, I could maybe get a couple events in which I’m going to state.”
Kamps was uncertain about tasking Ahmari and Laufenberg with the doubles he did, but the two passed their tests with flying colors.
“(Ahmari is) such a talented athlete ... and we wanted to get her experience,” Kamps said. “I don’t think she’s ever run an open 4 before, and she loved it. ... (Laufenberg’s was) a really tough double, and it’s early in the year, so we were kind of hesitant to do that. But he’s put in so much work.”
Cadi Hu rounded out the aforementioned Uni High trio by winning both girls’ hurdles races — the 100s in 17.59, the 300s in 51.68. Few female athletes turned out for either event, but Hu ran a pair of clean races and found value within them.
“Your mind has to be in it because your mind is basically the thing that’s pushing you,” she said. “It’s more of, to me, a race against the clock rather than a race against everyone else.”
Hu later led off a triumphant girls’ 1,600 relay (4:27.96), and the Illineks girls also claimed victories in the 400, 800 and 3,200 relays (53.63, 1:56.02 and 11:18.41).
The girls’ 800 relay in particular came down to a close finish between Uni High and Urbana — especially impressive considering Kamps had to make a late injury substitution to his foursome.
“Madeleine Keenan ... stepped up and helped us win, so that was great,” Kamps said. “Ella Greer ran out of her mind for that anchor. And all the girls ran amazing, but really that anchor was fun to watch.”
Other local winners on the track were Danville’s Eric Turner Jr. in the boys’ 110 hurdles and Judah Christian’s Aleigha Garrison in the girls’ 1,600 run.
Turner was making his return from a COVID-19 quarantine.
“I can tell I’m out of shape because my legs are just dead, but I did a lot better than I thought I was going to,” Turner said. “I’m just happy to be back out here.”
Turner awkwardly leaped over his final barrier in the 110s but still held off Normal West’s Davonte Crawford for the win in 16.65. Crawford returned the favor in the 300s as Turner wound up taking second in 42.47.
“It’s always fun battling against him,” Turner said. “After I won we started ... talking smack back and forth, talking about the 300 that was coming up. It was fun.”
Also on the boys’ side, Centennial placed second in all four relays to go with a long jump win from Daniel Lacy (22 feet, 9 1/4 inches), a runner-up high jump from Mello Law (5-11 1/2) and a third-place triple jump from Corey Barnes (38-4 1/4). Danville received a second-place effort from Brent Rickgauer in the discus (121-2), third-place finishes from Micah McGuire in the 400 dash (56.59) and Semaj Taylor in the shot put (42-6 3/4) and a fourth-place display from Keyshon Gray in the 800 run (2:14.50). Uni High’s Ivan Favila took second in pole vault (12-6).
Additionally on the girls’ side, Centennial’s Brooklynn Sweikar notched the No. 2 spot in both the 200 dash (29.76) and 400 dash (1:05.55), while Central’s Maaike Niekerk placed runner-up in the 800 run (2:48.90).
In the field, St. Thomas More’s Erin Henkel won the high jump (4-6), and the Sabers’ Emma Graham placed first in the shot put (35-10 1/2). Other local winners were Central’s Kira Canales in the pole vault (8-6), Uni High’s Charlotte Ebel in the triple jump (31-3 1/4) and Centennial’s Annabel Thorstenson in the discus (105-3).