TOLONO — Maybe there was a little more pressure on Emelia Ness, who could blame her?
Ness stepped up to the track in the 4x100-meter dash as the opening leg. One jump followed another. In part, she was likely trying to get warm on a cold, windy day that had spots of rain on Thursday at the Class 2A Tolono (Unity) Sectional. Perhaps the jumps were to get the nerves out and come to peace with her own expectations following a stellar sophomore year.
Either way, she delivered. First in the 4x100, then the 100-meter hurdles, then in the 4x200-meter relay and finally in the 300-meter hurdles. Each a win. Each inked a spot in the Class 2A state meet in Charleston next week.
“I expected it out of myself this year, coming in as a junior I think I set the bar high," Ness said. "I was like: I need to exceed that."
Ness won the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.82 seconds, more than a second ahead of Kiyah Kuhlman of Effingham. In the 300 hurdles, Ness cruised to a two-second win over Kynzee Boastick of Urbana with a time of 45.94. The 4x100 had a time of 49.45 and the 4x2 fiished in 1:45.05.
It was part of a dynamic day for the Sages, who won their fifth consecutive sectional championship.
For Ness, it's the second straight year that she'll participate in four events in Charleston. She knows just what to expect from the experience, and she's still a junior.
“I feel more prepared because I’ve done this before, I know what to expect and I can tell myself I’m good enough to when I’m out there with the other girls and just compete and do my best," she said.
The Sages qualified nine girls in 10 events at next week's state meet.
Taller Held sets outdoor PR
Last year, Rhiannon Held split the pole vaulting spotlight with her sister, Josie Held on the Mount Zion girls track team. This year, Rhiannon stood alone.
She set an outdoor personal record with a vault of 12 feet, 5 inches to qualify for the state meet for the second straight season. Vaulting runs in the Held family, so it's hardly a shock that Rhiannon spent the summer working out, getting faster and stronger. But she also grew roughly three inches taller which has increased her personal bests by more than a foot.
“It’s so weird because more of the pressure is on me than it was," she said. "It was kind of split between Josie and I, now it’s just on me. It’s kind of weird because it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I am the only one.’ It’s kind of real."
The sectional meet was all but a formality for Held, who is among the best pole vaulters in the state. Barring something unforeseen she was a lock to advance to state before she even took her first jump. A few nerves went around her head, but she stayed calm.
“I’m trying to stay calmer and worrying about having fun," she said. "That’s all it is."
The Braves have a pipeline to Charleston. Sophomore Morgan Pilate qualified in the triple jump, where she won with a facility record of 36-11.5. She'll also be in the long jump after placing fifth with a jump of 17-03.5.
The 4x800-meter relay team of Kaelyn Mackling, Ashleigh Anderson, Lucy Griffith and Taylor Fox set a facility record with 9:49.48 to win and qualify for state, Rhiannon Marshall qualified for state in the high jump, Maddi Hardin is going in the shot put, Taylor Fox qualified in the 800, Sara Addai qualified in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter dash. The 4x400-meter relay team also qualified for state.
Garrett qualifies for state again
She broke the plan of the finish line and collapsed. It's not entirely common for Charleston sophomore Megan Garrett, but a strong wind in her face of the final 100 meters of the 800-meter takes its toll.
It didn't matter. Garrett qualified for the state meet for the second straight year with a time of 2:20.21, more than five seconds ahead of Fox, who finished in second.
Garrett gets to run in her own back yard. In fact, she lives so close to O'Brien Stadium that she can hear the announcer from her house.
“I was just happy," Garrett said. 'I loved state last year. I’m happy to go back and see what I can do when I’m there because the adrenaline of being in your hometown is so much fun. I want to run a fast time at state this year so I’m excited."
There were nerves that surrounded her. She desperately wanted to run at state again after doing so as a freshman last year. It shouldn't have been much of a concern. She's been running under state qualifying time for most of the season.
“I think I was more nerovous this year because I wanted to make it again," she said.
Smith in final lap
This is it for Mattoon's Summerlyn Smith's track career. Next year she'll turn her attention to playing volleyball at Parkland College.
That doesn't mean she's anywhere done with track. She qualified for state in four events: The long jump (third at 17-07.25), triple jump (second, 35-08), 400-meter dash (third, 1:00.22) and the 4x400-meter relay, which finished first.
“It means the world," Smith said. "I’m happy that I can come back last year and make it in four events. I’m really excited about that."