ST. JOSEPH — Salt Fork girls’ track and field has past experience using limited numbers to produce huge results.
The Storm won the 2016 Class 1A state championship with just three athletes scoring points in Charleston.
This year’s squad is just nine strong.
Nine very strong, it turns out.
Coach Steve Trompter’s crew came up just short of capturing a Class 1A sectional championship Wednesday, as host St. Joseph-Ogden used a victory in the 1,600-meter relay — the meet’s last event — to pull away 139-134 in the final team standings.
“All our girls, they really showed up (Wednesday) and did their part,” Salt Fork senior Gracie Jessup said. “If we had a couple more girls we definitely would’ve got it.”
Numerous Salt Fork competitors — Jessup among them — impressed and qualified for next Thursday’s 1A state meet at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.
The most interesting case is that of junior Brynlee Keeran.
It’s not unusual for athletes to operate in four sectional events. It’s far less common for those four events all to be in the field.
Keeran did exactly that.
And she qualified for state in all of them, winning the pole vault (11 feet) and triple jump (34 feet, 3/4 inches) while placing second in the high jump (5-0) and third in the long jump (16-51/4).
“It means a lot to me,” said Keeran, who advanced to the 2019 1A state triple jump field as a freshman. “I was so nervous about two events specifically: my long and high. But I managed to PR in high jump.”
Keeran spent nearly two hours dashing between dueling events. The long and triple jumps were contested behind one end zone at Dick Duval Field while the high jump and pole vault happened behind the other.
“They told me to walk, but then I’ve got people telling me, ‘You’ve got to hurry up and get here,’” Keeran said. “I’ve been told by so many people that it’s not possible, since I’m running back and forth. But it was so fun, and it keeps me busy. That helps my mental set.”
Joining Keeran in the four state qualifications club is Jessup.
She won the long jump in 17-41/4, becoming the rare individual to defeat SJ-O senior and two-time 1A state champion Atleigh Hamilton in that event. Jessup also took first in the 100-meter hurdles (12.97 seconds) and 300 hurdles (47.68) before claiming runner-up in the 200 (26.67) behind Hamilton.
“I just feel so good about it because as a sophomore I only made (state) in two,” Jessup said. Those events were the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, with Jessup taking third in the 100 hurdles in 2019.
“Going from two to four, it just shows all the work I’ve put in,” Jessup added.
The twist on Jessup and Hamilton’s rivalry is that they’ll be college roommates at Illinois State later this year.
“She’s so good and definitely pushes me,” Jessup said. “It’s just always fun to compete against her.”
Salt Fork junior Olivia Birge added a double victory in the throws, topping the shot put field in 36-63/4 and the discus crowd in 124-6. Birge finished ninth in state in the discus in 2019 as a freshman.
“I’ve always struggled in shot put, and whenever COVID hit I took the weight room seriously and I definitely am seeing the results now,” Birge said. “To win both events, it’s just hard work finally paying off.”
The meet-champion Spartans were led by the efforts of Hamilton to go along with a sweep of the four relays. Hamilton placed second in the long jump (17-23/4) and won the 100 (12.97), 200 (26.50) and 400 (58.83).
That last mark had Hamilton hugging SJ-O coach Kelly Steffen.
“The school record was 59.2, and so when I was coming around and I saw the clock I was like, ‘Oh, I have to get it,’” Hamilton said. “I’m pretty happy with what I did.”
The Spartans still trailed the Storm by four points entering the 1,600 relay, despite Hamilton helping SJ-O win the 400 relay (52.13), 800 relay (1:51.47) and 3,200 relay (10:27.70).
The quartet of junior Ashlyn Lannert, junior Kailyn Ingram, freshman Helene Jones and junior Hope Rajlich allowed SJ-O to celebrate with a 4:15.17 that narrowly outlasted Uni High.
Steffen said that clocking was 4 seconds faster than the best time SJ-O recorded in the event when Hamilton was involved.
“Just coming down to that final race and that team score just kind of lurking out there, that’s a great motivating factor,” Steffen said. “And I think they have more in the tank.”
Other event winners were Storm freshman Macie Russell in the 800 (2:30.16), Uni High sophomore Kate Ahmari in both the 1,600 (5:25.92) and 3,200 (11:36.59) and SJ-O junior Abby Behrens in the high jump (5-0; won tiebreak on jumps).
One historical note on the day was Champaign Academy junior Shayla Brown qualifying for state in the 800, taking second in 2:31.63.
Not only did Brown stave off Iroquois West sophomore Samantha Hartke by one-hundredth of a second for the final automatic advancement slot, but she also became the Owls’ first-ever state participant. The school began its program in an IHSA capacity this season.
“It’s nice to, of course, be the first from such a new program,” Brown said. “It feels good. It was a fun race.”
Local state qualifiers from this sectional
100 dash — Atleigh Hamilton, St. Joseph-Ogden; Bre Crose, Hoopeston Area.
200 dash — Atleigh Hamilton, St. Joseph-Ogden; Gracie Jessup, Salt Fork.
400 dash — Atleigh Hamilton, St. Joseph-Ogden; Zoey Muller-Hinnant, Uni High.
800 run — Macie Russell, Salt Fork; Shayla Brown, Champaign Academy.
1,600 run — Kate Ahmari, Uni High; Ava Knap, St. Joseph-Ogden.
3,200 run — Kate Ahmari, Uni High; Aleigha Garrison, Judah Christian.
100 hurdles — Gracie Jessup, Salt Fork; Jaitlyn White, Westville; Shelby McGee, Salt Fork.
300 hurdles — Gracie Jessup, Salt Fork; Cadi Hu, Uni High.
400 relay — St. Joseph-Ogden (Payton Carter, Raegan Crippen, Grace Schmitz, Hope Rajlich); Uni High (Ella Greer, Zoey Muller-Hinnant, Caylee Losch, Vivia Nguyen).
800 relay — St. Joseph-Ogden (Payton Carter, Raegan Crippen, Grace Schmitz, Hope Rajlich); Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (Aubrey Peters, Gabby Moreman, Vivi Ruffo, Amber-Christine Reed).
1,600 relay — St. Joseph-Ogden (Ashlyn Lannert, Kailyn Ingram, Helene Jones, Hope Rajlich); Uni High (Ella Greer, Zoey Muller-Hinnant, Kate Ahmari, Cadi Hu).
3,200 relay — St. Joseph-Ogden (Kailyn Ingram, Helene Jones, Malorie Sarnecki, Ashlyn Lannert); Uni High (Erin Smith, Madeleine Keenan, Danbi Choi, Stefania Dzhaman).
Pole vault — Brynlee Keeran, Salt Fork; Grace Schmitz, St. Joseph-Ogden; Payton Carter, St. Joseph-Ogden; Haley Carlton, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
High jump — Abby Behrens, St. Joseph-Ogden; Brynlee Keeran, Salt Fork.
Long jump — Gracie Jessup, Salt Fork; Atleigh Hamilton, St. Joseph-Ogden; Brynlee Keeran, Salt Fork.
Triple jump — Brynlee Keeran, Salt Fork; Shelby McGee, Salt Fork.
Shot put — Olivia Birge, Salt Fork; Kinzie Parsons, Watseka.
Discus — Olivia Birge, Salt Fork; Kinzie Parsons, Watseka.