CHARLESTON -- Monticello's Landis Brandon didn't mind the rain.
The freshman pole vaulter didn't have any issues heading indoors. Actually, she welcomed it. There sat an environment similar to one where she practices, rather than the open air stadium with room for 10,000 fans.
The comfortability showed - in her first year at state, she tied her season best at 11 feet and qualified for today's finals.
"It felt really good because it was only my second time clearing it," Brandon said. "I went up on a bigger stick, so it helped."
She joined the duo of Monticello's Aliyah Welter and Mount Zion's Josie Held, who cruised through the pole vault qualifying with ease. Held took second last year; Welter fourth.
Brandon's been vaulting for a couple of years now. While the athleticism and flexibility has been there, it was a matter of picking up the nuances of the event.
"I was a gymnast, so I had some skills to be able to vault," she said. "Someone came up to me and said I should try it. And I wasn't so sure about it when I first started, but now that I've gotten better, I've liked that."
Brandon said having a teammate who's a state medalist doesn't hurt as well.
"She helps me get better," Brandon said. "I pick up skills she has, and she gives me plenty of encouragement."
Welter's aiming for the state record of 13-4 for today's meet.
A couple 13 foot jumps, including clearing a recent 13-1 bar at the News-Gazette Honor Roll Meet on Monday, have given Welter major college options. She currently has visits scheduled with Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Clearing that 13-6 mark would open even more doors.
First time's a charm
Brandon wasn't the only Monticello freshman who burst into the state finals as Emelia Ness raced to today's finals in the 300 hurdles.
With Cahokia sophomore LaQwasia Stepney to her left, Ness fired the afterburners to keep up. The Sages youngster turned in a personal record -- 46.36 -- to qualify as the only freshman for the finals.
"I'm filled with joy," Ness said. "(Stepney's) a very good athlete. I just knew because she passed me at the beginning, I had to stick with her as good as I can."
Not only that, but her junior teammate Welter qualified as well.
"It's awesome," Welter said. "It's really nice to have her with and train together, you can push each other."
With the wind blowing hard and giving hurdlers a boost at the start of the race, Ness said the trickiest part was turning back into it.
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"I knew I had to use the wind to get out, and I knew once I turned the corner, the wind's going to get me. Once it hit me, it hit me hard a little bit," Ness said. "So I was like, OK, I'm used to this, let's go.
"It's fun, but it's also my goal to be here. I wanted as a freshman to race with the seniors that are killing it. It'd be nice to run with them and be up on the podium, maybe."
Add another finals spot reserved for the Sages -- Ness and Welter teamed up with Mattie Lieb and Abbey Leischner to qualify for the 4x400 relay.
Claudia Workman came inches from her goal in sectionals, a shot put throw just short of 40 feet.
The Clinton sophomore gave herself another chance to close out on that goal today.
Workman weathered the change of moving indoors because of the rainy morning and threw 38-1 to advance to the state finals.
"I'm excited, because this is my second-best meet of the season," she said. "And for this to be my second-best meet at state, especially 38, is great."
Workman's been working this mark since sixth grade, and there has never been an issue about burning out. Even when shot put gets frustrating, that issue takes care of itself.
"Love throwing shot so much," she said. "You can take your anger out on the ball and throw it farther."
Advancing along with Workman is Charleston's Makenna Wilson, who threw 39-3. The senior also made it through in discus, throwing 124-9.
The state environment is enough of a pressure cooker, considering the stakes and O'Brien Stadium. A rolling start only magnifies that.
Payne Turney has been in state environments before. She thrived in placing seventh in cross country this year, the best place as a 1A freshman.
Even with the punch of adrenaline that state brought, Turney handled it and qualified for the 800 finals on Friday with a time of 2:20.97.
"Cross country is a lot more relaxed and chill, but this is, it's good," she said. "It gives you something you can work toward. In track, there's a little more pressure. It makes you race."
Racing for a medal
Four high jumpers cleared the qualifying mark of 5-1, including Eisenhower's Alyssa Baltimore, Mattoon's Mariah Ball and the Charleston pair of Paige Minor and Sarah Flight.
Monticello's Emma Helferich jumped 17 feet even to move on in the long jump.