BLOOMINGTON — There was hardly any time for Kenli Nettles to be overcome by nerves.
She switched from one pair of shoes to another and was escorted from the high jump area across the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University to the starting blocks for the 60-meter dash and 60-meter high hurdles.
Generously, Nettles, an Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond junior, had about five minutes between events before it was time to lock back in on her next target.
It didn't matter.
She backed up her gaudy seed numbers with three gold medals and a fourth-place finish at the Class 1A Illinois Top Times meet on Friday.
Nettles won the high jump for the second consecutive year with a jump of 5-feet-6-inches, finishing just ahead of St. Teresa's DaeLin Switzer. Nettles followed that win with a win in the 60-meter hurdles at a time of 8.94 seconds, won the 400-meter dash with a 58.74 and finished fourth in the 60-meter dash with a 8.01.
In all honesty, Nettles just expected to win the 60 hurdles and 400 because of her seed times. The high jump just made the day "10 times better."
“Thinking back on last year and comparing it to this year, I am so proud of myself," Nettles said. "I’ve decreased my times and increased my strength and my mental strength."
It's been a wild two years for Nettles who would have happily ran Division II or Division III at the college level. Her success during last year's outdoor season has carried over to the indoor season. She's thinking bigger. Division I. Southeastern Conference or running in the Big Ten are ideal.
After finishing the 400 on Friday, her final event of the day, Nettles leaned against a back wall at the Shirk Center, face red, legs aching and stomach yearning for food. She hadn't even had time to put her back-to-back high jump championships in perspective.
“It’s kind of clicking with me, but I definitely have to give it time to be like, ‘Oh, I won back to back high jumps,'" Nettles said.
Mitchell makes an impact
Shelbyville junior Ailey Mitchell didn't run in the 3,200-meter run last season. She was battling anemia and had chronic aches and pains in her knees. She was only able to run the 1,600.
Mitchell, though, loves distance running. She had an overwhelming desire to return to the 3,200. After all, she finished 10th in this season's Class 1A cross country state meet. Her body was feeling better.
Her goal was simply to make an impact at the Top Times meet, and she did. Mitchell led the 3,200 wire-to-wire and cruised to a win on Friday with a time of 11:29.01 — roughly 13 seconds ahead of second place.
"I love to run," an elated Mitchell said. "There’s no way. I could ever give it up. I wanted to come back really strong and show everybody that I’m back and that I can do it."
To boot, she added a third-place finish in the 1,600 with a time of 5:27.46. Coming in to the day, Mitchell knew she could go toe-to-toe with her 3,200 competition. But to win?
“I figured I had a chance at it, but I didn’t really believe it. I’m really ecstatic," she said.
The Tedford show goes on
If anyone has seen Jorden Tedford get nervous, they've seen quite the rarity. The Warrensburg-Latham senior never gets rattled, no matter that he's the defending high-jump champion. It's just another day at the office.
And, Tedford knows how to control the crowd.
Much like he did at the outdoor state meet in Charleston last year, Tedford kept his cool and started is own clap, belted out a shout to let the audience know that he was about to jump and celebrated with a backflip, waves and a giant grin when he won the high jump on Friday.
He needed three tries to clear 6-foot-6, but just one attempt to leap over the bar at 6-foot-8 after he had already secured a victory.
It was a calculated risk after electing to skip his jumps at 6-5. He doesn't like jumping on odd numbers. Call it superstitious.
But is there anything that actually bothers him?
“Not really," he said. "I don’t really care what people think about me. I do what I think is cool."
Tedford also finished fourth in triple jump with a distance of 42-10.
With the outdoor season around the corner, Tedford is shooting for back-to-back gold medals. People have warned him of the challenges, but he remains unfazed.
“Everybody is telling me it’s hard to win state twice," he said. "I’m here to show it’s not really hard."
Stanley thinks back to last year
Makail Stanley can't shake the feeling of the state tournament last season. He finished second in the 200-meter dash. Stanley finds himself wondering if he could have done something slightly different to win.
It continues to haunt him nearly a year later. He used it during Argenta-Oreana's football season, during his wrestling season and brings it to the track season.
Whatever it was worked on Friday, winning the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.02 seconds.
“I look back at that season and I got second. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m happy about it, but I could be much happier,’" Stanley said. "That could come down to one play I took off. That time I lost by could come down to one small thing that I slacked off on. I’ve really been focusing on pushing myself to my limits every practice and make sure I can be the best I can be at everything."
Busy day for Jacardia
The day was just getting started for St. Teresa senior Jacardia Wright. Wright took second in the long jump with a distance of 22-01.75, eight in the 60-meter dash and was on the 11th-place 4x200-meter relay team.
After leaving Shirk, Wright went back to Decatur, met with his dad and step mom and hopped in the car to head to Western Michigan for an official football visit. It's the second official visit for Wright, who also took one to Southern Illinois University.
He's keeping everything in perspective. Football is still his priority, but he's giving everything into the track season while managing recruiting.
“I want to do the best I can," he said. "I’ve always been a downer in track and just winning long jump all the time. This year is my senior year. Why can’t I go all out?"
Frye defends her crown
After her fifth jump, Casey-Westfield senior Faith Frye knew her time was dwindling. She was sitting in third place and was the defending champion in the event, winning last season at the Shirk Center.
“The nerves were definitely building up because I knew that one was my only chance," she said.
Frye delivered with a leap of 18 feet and was met by a shriek by her cheering section in the crowd directly above her. The distance was enough for her to win her second consecutive Top Times meet long jump championship.
“It feels amazing to be able to defend my title and not let everyone beat me again," she said.
Frye also finished seventh in the 60-meter dash and fifth in the 200-meter dash.