Michaela Hackbarth of Downers Grove South rejoices in her 800m title (Maya Neal photo)
It was just a crisp 74 degrees at 5:30pm just prior to the start of the 3A Girls team championship awards in beautiful Charleston inside O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. On that same moment the back the brows and backs of the Frankfort (Lincoln-Way East) coaches were dripping and drenched with sweat.
First year Head Coach Brian Evans and assistant coach/sprint coach Angelo Brown knew they were in a dog fight late in the meet. In fact, they were behind on the scoring ledger just prior to the 200m. Star sprinter junior Asia Brown finished last in the 200m, but at the same time the results from the pole vault and high jump came in. Senior Julia Junkroski came through big with a win in the pole vault topping 13-2 for a personal best. She would take the #1 spot in the state and a new school record. Sophomore Ololade Ayoola stepped up in the high jump and produced a 5-6 effort that netted eight points. It was the necessary points to distance themselves from Barrington (35 points), Gurnee Warren (35), and Aurora Metea Valley (29) scoring 51 points. The Griffins had secured their third title in a row. They joined the immortal programs E. St. Louis Lincoln, Chicago Morgan Park, and Evanston as the only ones to win three consecutive state championships in a row.
Field events Highlights-
- Triple Jump: LaJarvia Brown (Jr., Alton) won her second state title in a row, but this it was with more fan fare after just missing the all-time state meet record by a scant three inches. Brown improved on her Friday preliminary round best of 39-8 to jump up to 41-2w. Although her mark was wind-aided it did not stop the 41-6.25 performer (8th best in US under all conditions) from dreaming big. "I plan jumping 43-feet next year," said Brown who was acutely aware of the significance of her statement.
- Emma Haugen (Sr., LaGrange Lyons Twp.) completed a sensational IHSA career in the high jump with third championship besting the competition with a personal best 5-9. Haugen asked the bar be pushed up to 5-11- the same physical height that she stands. The University of Wisconsin-Madison bound Haugen almost made the height and she knew it. "I achieved my personal best 5-9 so that's nice," said Haugen who overcame some setbacks along the journey. She did not win the title during her sophomore year due a bad ankle.
- For a jumper Briana Driver (Sr., Chicago Mother McAuley) enjoyed a festive day. She started things in the field with her specialty the long jump but had to usher off to the 100m where she placed eighth in 12.27. She also anchored her mates to a fourth place finish in the 4x2 relay (1:41.30). But back to the pit is where Driver excelled easily winning in 19-7 (carry over from the prelim). "I wanted to get the record," she said knowing very well how elusive the great Alexandria "Alex the Great" Anderson's record of 20-9 is. The Morgan Park legend's record has stood a full 10 years and it will stand at least one more.
Beautiful weather, nice crowd, and great athletes brought out the best on Saturday (Abe Jones photo)
Track action highlights-
- The 4x800 is the perfect event to kick off the state championship. The newfound "speedsters" of middle-distance running Naperville North ran the fastest qualifying time of 9:15.95. The school record performance was real good but the Huskies had more in mind. They were thinking of a state championship. Distance coach Dan Iverson had the task of moving some parts around ahead of Saturday's final. "Judy Pendergast (Jr.) and Sarah Schmitt (Fr.) ran on the relay, but they will be in the 3200m on Saturday," he said Friday evening. Pendergast and Schmitt were replaced respectively by relatively fresh legs Elly DeTurris (Sr.) and Claire Hamilton (So.)... the race started with dog fight among six or seven schools until the anchor legs. Hamilton opened up a solid gap on the bell lap and held on to win against a fleet running junior Kelly O'Brien of Palatine in 9:11.63- IL#1/US#6 [2:18.7/2:17.9/2:20.8/2:13.8] against Palatine (2nd 9:12.43- [2:21.2, 2:18.8, 2:21.9, 2:10.1]; Fremd 9:13.42; Downers Grove North 9:14.68 [Emma Moravec 2:11.xx]; St. Charles East 9:14.72
- 4x100: Crap shoot event just like the 100m. All it takes is a bad handoff or delayed start in the blocks and poof! Top seeded Bloomington drew lane 5 with the fastest time (47.40) but was flanked by multiple state champion Lincoln-Way East in 4 and emerging elite Oak Park-River Forest in 3. The entire field was stacked and it meant no one could have a slip up. The started got the race off without a hitch. It was too hard to call from the first exchange as to who gained an advantage. As the race circled the track it appeared as though O'Fallon was going to steal the hotly contested affair. Asia Brown put on her superwoman cap in an attempt to save her Lincoln-Way mates on the anchor leg. But Bolingbrook had other ideas though. SInce the Raiders were flawless through three handoffs, it was only right they handed their trusty Jessica Watkins (Sr.) the task of reeling in Brown. Watkins pushed the turbo button and immediately shorten the lead; it was just a few seconds later that she was in a virtual tie with Brown as they both hit the finish together. Brown, filled with emotion, turned to the scoreboard facing north bouncing around looking for an answer. It finally read: "Bolingbrook 47.58, Lincoln-Way East 47.59." The Raiders quartet of Watkins, Charlyncia Stennis (Jr.), Alexis Brooks (Sr.), and Asha Wallace (Sr.) erupted in unison. Their excitement was directly attributed to defeating the premier squad in all of Illinois. "We were tired of getting beat by Lincoln-Way East," said second leg Stennis. It indeed was perseverance by a strong Bolingbrook crew whose dreams were finally realized.
- Brittny Ellis (Sr., Gurnee Warren) is the long-time superstar, the professional among her peers, and the model of consistency. She had been here before and was comfortable that when the meet seemed to be in a delay in issuing awards to the athletes, it did not phase her. "I feel great, I feel like I'm in a hotel," Ellis said as she was hanging out near the athlete's tent in the infield. Rather than go and rest up between her races she spoke at length to reporters and her fellow athletes. When it was time to race Ellis was all business. She swept the swept the sprints 100 (11.85), 200 (24.38) and 400 (54.19) in yeomen like order. Even after winning all three races Ellis didn't make a big deal out of it. "I've been running this sport at a high level since I was eight years old; I have run against some of these girls for a long time."
- Jayla Stewart (Sr., Homewood-Flossmoor) enjoyed a wonderful weekend even if her team did not. The University of Illinois bound sprinter/hurdler was entirely responsible for her team's 26 points via a dominating 100HH win in 14.01. It was approximately 15 mins later she pushed Brittny Ellis for about 60m in the Century before settling for second in 11.97. In Stewart's final high school race she ran a fleeting 24.79 to place second.
- The 4x200 prelims were fun to watch on Friday and that excitement carried over to Saturday. Oak Park-River Forest on the stretch of a stallion squad led by junior Norma Abdur-Rafia did not disappoint their faithful. The state leaders were never threatened and won easily in 1:39.39. O'Fallon (1;40.23) and Lincoln-Way East (1:40.96) were the only other teams under 1:41.
- Michaela Hackbarth (Jr., Downers Grove South) wanted to be the 800m champion so bad that she scratched from the 400m prelims. It was a race that she could have easily qualified for and scored some solid points. But at the same time, the 400 can be an unforgiving event on the body felt later. Besides Hackbarth got her quarter-mile taste in the 4x4 when she qualified her team for the finals. On Saturday, the task was executing her game plan and running her race no matter who was in the race. Defending champion Lauren Van Vlierbergen (Sr., Jacobs) appeared to be for the taking for some reason. Was it because some of us expected her to be running elite times by now superior to her competitors? Since she or no one had produced a monster time during the season, the confidence of several girls seemed to build. They plotted and believed they could beat LVV. No one outside of LVV's camp knew what she was planning on doing. In the final, like a champion LVV opened up fast and led the way with the first half-lap in 30.0 and then 63.7 at the end of the first 400. The University of Michigan bound LVV continued to push the pace on the backstretch but she could not escape the clutches of Hackbarth and Emma Moravec (So., Downers Grove North). All three were pushing forward with less than 200 to go. Hackbarth captured the lead and ran strong entering the homestretch. Moravec got even with LVV and Lane Tech's Imani Davis (Jr.) was closing out as well. Hackbarth hit the line in the clear with tremendous excitement in a personal best and state leading 2:11.24. Moravec edged LVV 2:12.22-2:12.34 and Davis emerged to finish fourth in a big personal record 2:13.65. Danielle Griesbaum (Sr., Lake Villa Lakes) closed a tremendous top five in 2:14.51. Although no one broke 2:10 for the second consecutive year, this event's future and health looks well as three of the top five finishers return next year. Moreover, the closely field was stretch from 1-12 by a mere 7.2 seconds with only three seniors. 2016 could be the strongest in history for this historically strong event.
- The 300H was probably more entertaining than it was strong in terms of depth and quality. Little known Miya Dorsey (Sr., Belleville East) did not get much fanfare coming into the final and she rated 60th in the nation. But the state meet is not about rankings, it is about producing the best possible outcome. For quite awhile it appeared as though Grace Cronin (Sr., Oak Park Fenwick) was going to allow Dorsey to run and hide with her first state title. Cronin ran a fairly decent race prior to the final set of hurdles entering the final straight. It was then that she began to reel in Dorsey and pushed her turbo button. Both hurdlers were in a dog fight with inches remaining but Dorsey's will propel to the win in 42.94. Cronin crossed the finish line and crashed hard to the track in second with several gifts: big time personal best of 42.95 and some engraved Mondo X track turf on her body. All in all this is what the state championship is made of.
- The 1600m was an interesting race to say the least. Kelly O'Brien decided to go against the form charts and take the race out in a maverick like fashion. She either thought she would not have anything left after that great 4x8 leg earlier or she knew the field was going to sit back and chill with Lauren Van Vlierbergen. Nope. O'Brien opened up with a scorching but yet puzzling 65.6 first lap and way ahead of the field. Although she slowed tremendously, she was still comfortably ahead at the 800 mark in 2:16.8- eight seconds ahead of a giant chase pack. As the race entered the third circuit, it was very clear that O'Brien made a big mistake and in a matter of time she was going to be swallowed up. Still, from a naked eye the 1200m time of 3:37 looked enticing. But O'Brien was averaging 80s per 400m by that point. On the homestraight Gabby Juarez (Sr., Streamwood) and then Torree Scull (Sr., St. Charles East) zipped past O'Brien to go 1-2 in 4:53.68 and 4:55.56. O'Brien hung on to third in 4:57.84. In all seven runners broke 5:00. Last place was a very respectable 5:10.79 by Claire Hamilton.
- The final event of the day was the closely matched 4x4 relay. All nine qualifiers got in running under 3:57 in their prelim. Oak Park-River Forest tried their best to win a second relay but it was for not as Norma Abdur-Rafia rigged up on the homestretch and was snatched by the winner Barrington (3:52.26) and runner-up Lincoln-Way East (3:53.06). The Huskies would finish third in 3:53.32.