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BLOOMINGTON — Payne Turney knew exactly what to expect when she arrived at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday.

One year ago, she left with a fourth- and fifth-place finish at the Illinois Top Times meet as a sophomore. She knew what was in front of her when she came back as a junior.

She dominated at every turn in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs, taking first with a time of 2 minutes, 15.59 seconds and 5:07.07, respectively. Both were school records.

Turney was also on the Maroons' 4x400-meter relay team that finished seventh.

“Going in my expectations were: I’m going to win, I’m going to PR and I’m going to have fun," Turney said. "That’s what happened."

She balances humility and confidence on a tight wire. Turney knew nothing was given, despite entering the meet with the top seed in both races. Whatever butterflies swirled around early in the race were gone by the time she had broken apart from the field in the 800.

“At first I was just trying to relax. I’d see what happens — just relax. Then I was like, ‘OK, I can do this. This is my race," she said.

Ness grabs gold

After last season, Monticello's Emelia Ness started looking ahead at this season's competition. She wanted to know who would be her toughest competition.

A notable omission was Imani Carothers from Chicago Brooks, who had dominated in each of her Class 2A events during her four-year high school career that was the precursor to joining the track tram at the University of Georgia.

The door was cracked open for Ness, a junior, and she broke down the door. Ness cruised to a championship in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 9.03 seconds.

“After last year’s season, I was looking at it and I said, ‘I’ve really got a chance. If I keep doing what I’m doing, hopefully everything works out.’ It did," she said.

There was some added pressure on Ness, who entered the meet with the top seed. As soon as she crossed the finish line, a sense of relief rushed over her. She had successfully lived up to her seed.

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“I have a big target on my back," Ness said. "To fulfill that target is a lot of pressure on myself. To have that be complete is great."

Bennett preparing for outdoor season

By his own account, Mount Zion senior Skylar Bennett didn't have his best week of practice leading up to Saturday's Top Times meet.

It was a grueling week and fatigue was beginning to set in. Still, he turned in his best jump in the long jump on his first attempt with a distance of 20 feet, 8.25 inches, good to land him in fifth place for the meet.

It was a long way from not qualifying for the meet last season.

“I hope this gives me a little taste of what’s to come," he said. "I had a bad week of practice. Coming in here and getting fifth place, I’m not too mad about that."

In the course of the last year, Bennett has started putting things together. He finished 11th in the long jump at last year's state meet. Now that the hurdle of his first state appearance is out of the way, he's settling in.

“I felt a lot of pressure last year because I didn’t know what was going on," he said. "This year, it’s a lot more calm and collected. I know just to smile and have fun. It’s my last year, I might as well enjoy it."

Beyond her expectations

Mount Zion sophomore Morgan Pilate would have been happy to jump 35 feet in the triple jump. She has only lived in Mount Zion for three months after moving from Florida and was new to indoor meets.

There was no way she saw a school record of 36-3.25 coming. The jump, which happened on her fourth attempt, was enough to land her in third place behind Springfield Southeast's Serena Bolden and Evergreen Park's Tiera Robinson-Jones. Bolden is in a league of her own, signed to run at LSU next season.

Pilate finished ahead of MacArthur's Sabrie Strong-McCloud, who finished fourth.

“I was very surprised — a rush of happiness and relief," Pilate said. "Like, I couldn’t believe that just happened."

All eight Mount Zion girls that attended the meet took home a medal.

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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