In years past, while Hampshire's Patti Nihells, one of the longest-tenured area girls track coaches, may not have had the largest teams but she's always had talented individual athletes both on the track and in the field events.
This year, Hampshire is enjoying the best of both worlds. The Whip-Purs are fresh off winning the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division team title in only their second year in the conference.
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Hampshire, which finished third overall in the 14-team FVC meet, will look to continue that season-long success at Friday's Class 2A Burlington Central sectional. At the sectional level, the top two place-finishers in each event and any individual or relay team equaling or surpassing the minimum state-qualifying standard in each event advance to the state finals in Charleston at Eastern Illinois University.
"Coach Nihells is dedicated to helping us," Hampshire senior Elizabeth Pagan said. "We ended up winning a majority of our invites or placing right up there. One of our main goals the entire season was to win the conference and prove ourselves."
Pagan, like a number of her teammates will compete in four events at the sectional. She'll do the 400, the long jump and the 400 and 1,600 relays. Pagan teams with Caitlyn Graff, Ashley Fouch and Jenny Dumoulin (who set the FVC shot-put record Monday) in the 400 relay and with Elizabeth Evans, Natalie Dumoulin and Fouch in the 1,600 relay.
"My best event would be the long jump," Pagan said. "I've been working on my speed and approach. Technique is always the key."
Pagan noted Hampshire's success in relays this year stems from a deep talent pool to pick from.
"This year we don't have just four girls who can run relays," she pointed out. "We have a lot of all-around good girls, so we always have girls who can be put into relays."
Fouch will run the 400 and compete in the 400 and 1,600 relays.
"The relays work well together," she said. "We've been working on handoffs and being in union."
Pagan said the team set an additional goal at the beginning of the season.
"A previous goal was to win sectionals," she said. "This is the best team I've been on at Hampshire. We have a great team. We'll see how it goes."
Fouch added: "We're all excited and the coaches are excited. I'm happy we've worked so hard to get as far as we have. Winning the conference helps with our confidence level. We know we are capable of running good times."
Host Burlington Central shared the Big Northern Conference title with Byron. Coach Vince Neil described a pro-sportsmanship scenario after the meet earlier this week where both Central and Byron athletes posed together for a combined team photo.
Central's Katie Trupp won a conference title in the pole vault and took second in the long and triple jumps, while Jasmine Castillo won the 300 hurdles. Central's 3,200 relay team also won a conference title.
Another team no stranger to conference-championship success is Cary-Grove. The Trojans recently won the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division championship and have their eyes set on a sectional team title today at the Class 3A Belvidere North sectional. Cary-Grove finished first overall in the FVC competition for a fifth year in a row.
Sophomore Olivia Roehri leads a deep Trojan throwing contingent. She set the FVC girls meet record for longest discus throw earlier in the week. Freshman teammate Nikki Freeman finished second. Both are already above the minimum state discus standard. Anna Wcislo and Ketyra Taylor will compete in the shot put.
"I'm more consistent now," Roehri said. "At the beginning of the season I struggled to get big numbers and stay at the big numbers. At the conference meet it was awesome. I broke the record and then I was consistently in the 120s. Staying above the state-qualifying standard is the most important thing for me and keeping that up during meets and practices is reassuring."
Joslyn Nicholson (triple jump), Faith Furio (long jump) and Morgan Schulz (300 hurdles) also won conference individual titles for the Trojans.
"This is a really awesome team," Roehri said. "We have a lot of talent, but the girls also are close. It's special to be part of something where there is so much talent and closeness at the same time."
Jacobs, Crystal Lake South and Huntley also are at Belvidere North. Jacobs set an FVC record in the 3,200 relay, while running standout Lauren VanVlierbergen won three conference titles (3,200 relay, 800 and 1,600). Huntley's Macy Tremblay (100 hurdles) and Omo Tseumah (high jump) and the Red Raiders' 1,600 relay teams won conference titles.
Bartlett, Dundee-Crown, Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin and Streamwood will compete in the Class 3A West Aurora sectional today, while Westminster Christian, Harvest Christian, St. Edward and Elgin Academy will compete in the Class 1A Lisle sectional Friday.