Five months ago Stephanie Chaires would have never imagined she would be on her way to Charleston for the girls state track and field meet on Wednesday afternoon.
It had nothing to do with a lack of confidence by the Christian Liberty senior. It had everything to do with the fact she figured she would be playing soccer this spring.
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When the Chargers realized they didn't have enough girls to field a team, Chaires looked for another athletic outlet.
"I never even thought about doing track," Chaires said on the ride to Charleston on Wednesday. "But when I found out in January there wouldn't be a soccer team my first thought was track.
"I do like running. Soccer is my passion, but I do really like (running) now."
Especially since Chaires and sophomore Vivian Barclay will make school history in the Class 1A preliminaries this afternoon at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Field. Chaires will run the 1,600 meters and Barclay the 400 as the first state track qualifiers in the school's three years as a member of the IHSA.
"It is really cool," said Chaires, a Palatine resident who ran in the sectional in cross country.
Chaires dropped more than 50 seconds off her 1,600 time from the start of the season and finished second at the Lisle sectional in 5:32.64. Barclay, a South Barrington resident, also finished second in the 400 in 1:02.02.
The surprise for Barclay is she is usually better in the 200 and long jump.
"I was really excited," said Barclay, who is also a basketball and volleyball standout. "I really like competing and it was a good chance to see how other people competed."
Chaires had a distance-running background but still had to learn more about the nuances of racing on the track. It didn't take long through her work with distance coach Brad Wells and first-year head coach Randy Dunbar.
"She's a smart girl and she caught on pretty quickly," said Dunbar, the son of recently retired Wheeling football coach Dave Dunbar. "About three weeks back she approached us, because this was one of her goals from the beginning, and asked how realistic it was. We said it was still a realistic goal."
Chaires reached her goal with a 20-second drop in two weeks.
"It was a really good feeling," Chaires said. "I'm really happy about it and the coaches and team were a big part of it."
Barclay was a likely candidate since she competed in the Illinois Top Times, the unofficial indoor state meet. She dropped more than three seconds off her previous best in the 400.
Barclay also ran a full second under the state cut in the 200 prelims but fell just short in the finals.
"I thought I had a chance at it but the 400 is such a hard race," Barclay said. "When I qualified in the 400 I was kind of shocked."
Now they'll try to get through the awe-inspiring experience of running before thousands of fans. Dunbar, who ran on a state-qualifying 1,600 relay as a Wheeling senior, planned to give them an idea of what was ahead.
Next up for Chaires is to run for Harper College's successful program and play soccer. Barclay will get two more shots to return to Charleston.
"I know a little bit about it and the competition will be a lot harder," Barclay said. "They're all great athletes."
And Barclay and Chaires have proved they belong there with all of them.