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MOUNT ZION — The rumors were swirling around.

"She won state in all of her events in Florida," went one story.

"She can long jump 18 feet," went another.

Sophomore Morgan Pilate heard them all after moving to Mount Zion in December from Sanford, Fla. The truth is, she is one of the best long and triple jumpers in Class 2A. But, no, the other myths she heard about her time before coming to Mount Zion didn't hold water.

She didn't win state in all of her events in Florida; none of them actually. She wishes she could have 18-foot long jumps, and has the goal of reaching that landmark.

“I heard a lot of big, big things I wish I could do," Pilate said with a laugh.

There are plenty of truths about Pilate, who emailed Mount Zion girls track coach Kelly Fox at the beginning of the year to figure out when, exactly, track season started and how she could be a part of it. Fox, naturally, had already heard that Pilate had a track background.

Pilate, who moved to Mount Zion after her mother got a job at Decatur Memorial Hospital, has smashed personal records this season. At the Illinois Top Times meet in Bloomington in March, she simply wanted to jump 35 feet in the triple jump — she went for 36-3.25.

As of May 1, she is at 37 feet, 6 inches. That distance ranks fourth in Class 2A. She may not have a long jump of 18 feet as her legend preceded, but she's at 17 feet, 3.5 inches. That's good for 14th in Class 2A. Pilate holds the school record for both, even after a short time with the program.

She didn't expect this kind of growth in such a condensed period of time, but here Pilate is as she prepares for her first state meet in Illinois. 

“As a coach you just hope to see improvement and from Day 1 when she jumped up to that 35, I thought that was a huge jump," Fox said. "If I could have just kept her there at that point, I would be happy."

It's more than constant work in the jumping pit that sits between the track and the fieldhouse. Pilate does banana hurdles, bounding drills and others of the sort that have been passed down from Hall of Fame coach Bill Harbeck, who still works with Mount Zion track athletes.

Harbeck is a triple jump whisperer and sees the physical potential in Pilate, who he says has the strength to continue to improve.

“For a triple jumper type of girl, she’s kind of like the complete package," Harbeck said. "She has speed, strength, power, attitude and desire."

Part of Pilate's ascension is her natural talent, but the other part of it is simply settling in and feeling comfortable. She's only been in Mount Zion for five months, and came into the school as a complete and total stranger. She came from Florida, where she said track doesn't have the same community as it does in Illinois.

Fox hosts dinners at her home or the team goes to plays at the school. It seems simple, but finding that level of continuity matters, especially for a new student finding her way.

“When I started getting into track and when I started getting into sports that’s when I could really get comfortable and meet new people," Pilate said. " You’re forced to be around these people all the time. You’re forced into a community."

Of course, Fox would be remiss if she didn't deflect some of the credit on Pilate herself. Pilate is outgoing and has brought a bit of Florida vernacular to Mount Zion. It didn't take Fox long after meeting Pilate to notice her personality.

“She had a smile on her face and was very," Fox paused, "she's not shy. She doesn't have a shy bone in her body. She’s very outgoing and easy to get along with."

Now, about those myths that surrounded Pilate for her first few months in Mount Zion. At first, they were daunting, a big expectation to try to live up to. They're also motivation and a goal to reach.

“That was most definitely a big obstacle. I was like, ‘I haven’t gotten there yet,’ and I feel like people were expecting it," Pilate said. "If you can put your mind to it, you’ll do it."

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

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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