2024 IHSA 1A Girls State Preview: One For The Record Books

One of the key figures to watch regardless of classification is Mya Strahm in the pole vault

WATCH LIVE: IHSA Girls State Championship

Date: Thursday, May 16 (prelims)

Time Schedule: HERE

Heavy Event Load for Rybak Culminates with 1600 Showdown with Keller-

Isabella Keller (Fr., Effingham (St. Anthony)) was the undisputed cross country runner in 2023. The All-American was undefeated against Illinois competition, including some of the best that 2A and 3A offered in Terre Haute in September and November.

However, Keller's track campaign has had one hurdle (figuratively), and her name is Elena Rybak (Jr., Glen Carbon (Fr. McGivney)). Rybak has been the only Illinois athlete to solve Keller twice over the 1600-meter indoor distance. The first was a blazing-fast duel at EIU, where both runners ran PRs of 4:51. The second was Rybak denying Keller a distance double at Illinois Top Times in March. 

Rybak and Keller have very different event routes to the 1600 final on Saturday. Keller's 1600 heat is her first race of the weekend, while Rybak will likely have run both the 4x800 and the 800 already, with the 4x400 waiting in the wings. Keller will run as the heavy 3200 favorite early Saturday afternoon, but she will likely still have fresher legs than Rybak. Will it be enough to take one from the star junior finally?

It's the field chasing Glen Carbon Fr. McGivney for the team title-

It is hardly a solo effort from Rybak, who hails from the Metro East's Fr. McGivney. The Griffins have been the #1 ranked team in 1A nearly wire-to-wire this season. A huge reason for this has been the rangy Lilly Gilbertson (Jr.), the top seed in the 400, a threat in the 200, and a crucial member of the Griffin 4x800 and 4x400 units seeking victories. Cross country all-stater Kaitlyn Hatley (Sr.) joins Gilbertson in these relays and the open 400, and finally, Mia Range (Jr.) has some scoring potential in the high jump.

Although nothing is given, the field has its work cut out if defeating Fr. McGivney is in the cards. Tuscola is one of the best candidates to do so, with Lia Patterson (Jr.) as a major title contender in the hurdles and sprints and Kate Foltz (So.) bringing scoring potential in the 3200/1600. Tuscola can grab a smattering of points in the field events (significant jumps with Rylie Vanausdoll (Jr.)), but some big performances will be needed to hold the first-place trophy. 

A surging team to watch for is Nashville. Emma Behrmann (So.) posted a 5.68m Long Jump, the best in 1A this year, to compliment teammate Makayla Gajewski (Fr.), the state-leading shot putter (more on her later). Behrmann is a threat in the hurdles as well. These two look to some of their teammates to bolster their score into a trophy position. 

We also consider Belleville (Althoff Catholic), El-Paso Gridley, Virden (North Mac), and Effingham St. Anthony as the teams with the best trophy shot. Bismarck-Henning, Monmouth United, and Newark round out the top ten teams entering the weekend. 

The third year is the charm for the state's newest pole vault queen

Mya Strahm (Jr., Elmwood) became the first 14-foot vaulter in Illinois state history by soaring over a 4.27m bar at her conference invite. Although the clearance is on video, this state best was one of the quietest in recent memory. Suppose Straham can replicate this clearance on Saturday with the state crowd. In that case, however, it will be a fitting end to her competitive high school career, as she will head to the University of Tennessee early after her next fall semester ends. Strahm is the headliner for what may be a senior-heavy award stand in the 1A Pole Vault, co-led by Shabbona Indian Creek senior Reagan Gibson, a 12-foot vaulter respectively. 

Introduction to a Host of New Shot Put Stars-

The 1A state meet will answer this eternal question: Who are all these Shot Putters? In 1A alone, seven girls surpassed the 38' mark, with two passing 39'. Each of the 39' throwers will be new to the all-state stand. State leader Makayla Gejewski's double win at sectionals was highlighted by her first-ever throw over 38', 39-2.25, to take the state lead over Sydney Stanfield (Sr., Rockford-Christian). Although Stanfield is an experienced thrower, her steady four-year improvement has made her a state favorite in her first-ever state appearance. 

Brushing 39' at sectionals was Chelsey Stotler (Jr., Toulon (Stark County)), another first-time state qualifier. Stotler had consistently performed in the 35-36' range until breaking through at conference, crossing 38' for the first time and then missing 39' by a half inch at the Wethersfield Sectional. Emma Whightsil (So., Warrensburg-Latham) is the last athlete over 38' from sectionals. Maya Rounds (Jr., Sesser-Valier) and St. Teresa teammates Addison Johnson (So.) and Zion Young (Fr.) make a total of seven in the 38' club in 1A, with only Johnson (3rd) and Rounds (6th) of this group returning from the podium last year. Sydni Badertscher (Sr., Forreston) is the final returning all-staters and has thrown 36-11.5 this year. 

The Lia Patterson and Alaina Lester Shows

Lia Patterson (Jr., Tuscola) had a busy day at state last year, finishing 2nd in the 100h and 3rd in the 100 before taking wins in the 300h and the 200. She carries the same event load this year and remains the prohibitive favorite in the 300h, but now has to fend off Makhiya Stephen (Sr., Maroa-Forsyth) in the short hurdles and also has some work to do in the 200 to improve her 25.71 season best to the sub-25 that it will likely take to defend her title. 

The 100 is a wide-open affair. Patterson is just .01 off the 1A #1 Wind-Legal time run by Alaina Lester (Sr., Belleville (Althoff Catholic)). Lester is a notable figure in this meet, as she missed all of the 2023 outdoor season but has entered four events in which she is similarly competitive to Patterson. Lester's load is the 100, Triple Jump (where she has the top sectional seed), 400 (where she is the only sub-57 runner in 1A this year), and 200, where she is 1A #2 behind Top Times champion Emma Randecker (Jr., Savanna West Carroll). Between Patterson and Lester, who can take the most individual titles? It may come down to a showdown between the two in the 200. 

State Record Alerts?

Red: Pole Vault

Strahm doesn't need PR to break Morgan Zacharias' 3.97m 1A State Meet Record or Tori Thomas' 4.07m all-class record. 14 Feet is 4.27m, and we will likely see Strahm make attempts at this spot or higher eventually. 

Yellow: 3200, 800, 200

Suzie Tuffey's 10:13 3200 is a tough mark but within reach for Isabella Keller, whose best 3200 is her 10:16.02 from sectionals. This will depend a bit on her mood during that race, with the 1600 later in the day on her mind. Rybak's 2:07 from earlier this year is clear of Stephanie Brown's 2:09.1 from 2009 but likewise will be a tough mark to hit amid a busy day. Finally, Patterson was less than a tenth of the 1A 24.90 record shared by Shelly Smith and Jennifer Hoffman in 2023. Pleasant conditions could get the field to that mark.