Ray's Theory: The 2021 IHSA State Meet Storyline

The storylines after the IHSA Girls' Track & Field State Finals which occurred last weekend will more than likely bear the same fate as the boys. They are so close to emerging free from the effects of the pandemic-modified season. In case you missed the first weekend's test run, here is the following rationale:

Much will be the same that we are familiar with: 54 event champions will be crowned (42 individuals and 12 relays), with nine teams making the podium and three walking away with state titles. Thousands will converge upon the blue track at Eastern Illinois University, with athletes and coaches in the dorms and historical performances waiting to happen. 

Yet, this meet is different enough that it reminds us of the changes that were needed to get to this point. We are speaking of June heat rather than May weather for the weekend, and 1A, 2A and 3A athletes will not get to watch each other compete on the same Saturday of finals. No prelims mean every entrant is a finalist. We do not have much precedent for how the team battle in such a format will turn out. 

Our athletes are not limited, however, and the competition will be its normal self. For those who will be joining the athletes in Charleston, or following from a distance, here are a few of the storylines worth following through the course of the three-day competition.

How will multiple-section finals affect the all-state podium?

Usually, the 3200m is the only event that seeds athletes in multiple sections based on sectional performance. Sometimes, one or two athletes sneak into the top-9 for an all-state spot and a score out of the first section.

This year, all 18 events are under this format to prevent the need for an additional nighttime stay. Don't wait to pay attention until the final section of each event, because you should expect at least one all-stater in every event, across all three classifications, to come from an earlier flight or section.

For events with eight entries in the final section (any track event with 24 athletes or less), it is a mathematical certainty that an all-stater will have already competed by that section start. Finalists have typically not had to have a time or mark in mind, but now each race will know what standards to shoot for based on previous athletes. Perhaps this is a chance for athletes in earlier sections to put pressure on those in the later sections. As mentioned in the introduction, there is no precedent for this format. Expect some underdog stories that emerge which may have not done so under the preliminary structure- it only takes one breakout race.

Team title storylines

Finally, the first state champions will be crowned in 2021. The narratives in all three divisions are distinct but equally fascinating. 

In 1A, the Power Rankings leader is Elgin (Harvest Christian Academy) sitting in the driver's seat on the strength of distance events and several relays. They will be followed in succession by St. Joe-Ogden, Maroa-Forsyth, Northridge Prep, and possibly Salt Fork. Hopefully, the mix in talent will make for an exciting finish down the stretch.

In 2A, Eureka has been the favorite for much of the season and will be more than the alleged two-man wrecking crew led by Aden Sears and Micah Senior. The Hornets have two strong relays plus hurdles and field event action to fall back on. 

In 3A, the impending slugfest between Naperville Neuqua Valley, Minooka, Batavia, and Homewood-Flossmoor could get very interesting around dusk when the team trophies will be issued. Look for these teams to thrust their strong suits which may contain distance running, relays, field events, SPEED, and savvy coaching in order to get the final edge. 

The potential showstopper on Saturday evening

The 3A 4x400 relay is slated to take place early evening (pending any weird storm delaying situation) and as always, the crowd that remains will revel in the spoils. Three of the top five teams will have a relay, including Neuqua Valley and Batavia in the "championship section."

We have mentioned only a small handful of things to watch at state, and everything worth keeping an eye on would fill this entire site. Thank goodness we are back in Charleston, and living in the track season, rather than missing it.