O'Connell's off and running for Grayslake North
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Allie O'Connell's round-offs and back flips were impressive enough.
But when the freshman cheerleader hurdled the fence by Grayslake North's stadium following the football team's scrimmage late last summer, it was Knights girls track coach Brian Hamlett who wanted to do cartwheels, He had to have her on his roster.
Turns out, O'Connell had been running track — for all of one year.
"She's an impressive athlete," said Hamlett, an assistant football coach.
O'Connell demonstrated her athleticism again Thursday night at Grayslake North, becoming the first Lake County champion in the history of Grayslake North's girls program. She won the 100-meter hurdles in a season-best 15.66, nearly a full second ahead of runner-up Emily Troemel of Grant. Troemel, mind you, competed the 300 hurdles at state last year.
"I thought I did well," said O'Connell, her smile revealing her braces, which apparently don't slow her down. "I put it all out there."
"She's special," Hamlett said. "For her to come in and dominate the field (in the county meet) as a freshman is something."
O'Connell started competing track just last year as an eighth-grader but wound up qualifying for the state meet.
"I just really liked hurdles, and it came to me naturally," she said.
A year ago, the speedy freshman with the braces was Warren's Brittny Ellis. She's lost the braces since winning the Class 3A state championship in the 400 dash, and she might be faster when all is said and done next month.
Ellis led Warren to the county meet championship, as the Blue Devils totaled 87 points to comfortably outdistance runner-up Lake Forest (66) and third-place Lakes (58.3333). Grant (58), which saw Dartmouth-bound Melissa Dunham win the shot put (39-1.5) and discus (124-5), and Highland Park (55) rounded out the top five.
After Lake Forest began the finals by winning the 3,200 relay, Ellis anchored Warren's victorious 400 relay (season-best 49.88), which also featured Marquesa Daniels, freshman Brynn Santos and her sophomore sister Autumn Santos.
Ellis sped to first in the 200 (25.11), and she won the 400 (season-best 56.43) by five seconds.
If anything can slow down Warren's superstar and her training, it might be this spring's nasty weather.
"It's hampered it a lot because we've had a lot more indoor practices than usual," Ellis said. "I've had to work a lot harder."
Warren also got runner-up performances from Autumn Santos, who was nipped by Highland Park's Nyjah Lane in the 100 and was a second slower than Ellis in the 200, and Meg Tully. Tully led the 3,200 run the majority of her race before being overtaken on the final lap by winner Maddie Dolins of Highland Park.
Grayslake Central claimed the 800 relay with Cara Engal, Maddy Jacobs, Sara O'Malley and Leah Kloss (1:48.52).
Lakes ended the meet by easily capturing the 1,600 relay thanks to its sisters-to-sisters combination. The Eagles' time of 4:06.80 was significantly better than that of runner-up Lake Forest (4:12.04). Rachel Terry led off for Lakes, followed by Erica Terry, Danielle Griesbaum and Brittani Griesbaum.
"That was awesome," Brittani Griesbaum said. "We definitely got our goal to beat (state-) qualifying time. We definitely ran strong."
Brittani Griesbaum also won the long jump (17-2).
"I didn't get close to my PR," Griesbaum said. "But it was good considering it wasn't such a good pit to jump in."
Danielle Griesbaum (2:21.69) edged Libertyville's Carly Stewart (2:22.39) in the 800 run, while Vernon Hills' Alli Tran took the 300 hurdles (46.66) ahead of Lake Zurich's Amanda Papke (47.11). Stevenson's Jackie Setina high-jumped a winning 5-2.
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