The Hampshire girls track team had a successful 2013 outdoor season, winning the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division championship.
A year later, the Whip-Purs want more. And based on their performances at the Illinois Prep Top Times indoor state meet in Bloomington, they mean business.
"We have a lot of big goals to fulfill for coach (Patti Nihells) and ourselves," said Hampshire senior Elizabeth Pagan. "The first is we want to win the Fox again and we'd also like to win the entire conference. Those are big goals and we're training even harder so we can achieve those goals. We're excited about this season."
Pagan competed in the long jump and 1,600-meter relay in Bloomington and tied for third in the long jump with a leap of 17 feet, 6¼ inches.
"I've been working hard on my technique and form," she said. "I tied for third place and ended up with the fourth-place medal by three-quarters of an inch, which was upsetting; but there were a lot of good jumpers out there."
Pagan, who qualified for the indoor state meet all four years, also was part of the 1,600 relay team that finished third after coming in seeded 11th.
"We were in the slower heat so we had to race against the clock," said Pagan. "That pushed everyone in the relay."
Pagan, who is close to making a decision on where she will attend college next year (and compete in track and field), noted Natalia Vel Stzuk subbed into the relay as an alternate and played a key role in the relay's strong finish. Caitlyn Graff and Trish Dumoulin also were part of the relay as the leadoff and anchor runners respectively.
"We all pulled through," said Pagan. "We have a lot of strong girls that don't give up. We had run 4:17 to qualify and we ran 4:09. Natalia's lowest 400 was a 1:07 and she ran 1:04. She did what it took to help us get third. Cutting three seconds off in that atmosphere is awesome. These girls have a desire to win and they don't want to let their teammates down in a relay."
Graff also finished 18th in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 10.22. She came in seeded at 10.35.
"I started doing three steps in races," said Graff. "Last year it was all four-stepping. It's made a huge difference this year. My times are a lot better."
Graff, a senior, said the key to the 60 hurdles indoors is keeping in mind how short the race is.
"You have to get out of the blocks and get a good start and push through," she said. "I try and do a three-step and push through and not tire at the end. It's such a short race. You definitely have to get out there and give it your all right off the bat."
Graff said the team's future is bright in part due to the size of the roster.
"We have a lot of girls on the team this year," said Graff, who said she plans on doing both hurdles events and two relay events outdoors. "We have 50 girls. We're all pushing each other at practice and that makes a lot of healthy competition."
Hurley stars in shot put: Cary-Grove's Ricky Hurley finished fourth in the Class 3A shot put finals with a throw of 55 feet at the Illinois Top Times meet. Hurley threw 55-3¼ at last year's Class 3A state outdoor meet.
"The 55-0 is what I was throwing in warm-ups," he said. "It was not my best meet. It kind of felt like I lost myself there. It was a three-hour car ride down there and I was a little exhausted. I keep telling myself it's the indoor season and there's still the entire outdoor season ahead."
Hurley said he's making progress in the event this year thanks to a different mental approach.
"Last year I was the young guy throwing with the seniors," he said. "Getting up there with all of them every meet was nerve-racking. I would get amped up. This year I'm working on being calm every meet and it's paid off for me."
Hurley has a specific goal in mind heading into the outdoor season.
"This year I would like to go over 60 feet and get some colleges' attention," he said. "I'm doing some more lifting and speed work. My technique is not sloppy and it's clean. I just don't have the speed yet that I had last year. I'm looking forward to getting into the weight room and going to the facility where I do my speed work and hopefully all the pieces come together here."
Richter shines in 800: Harvest Christian Academy junior Valerie Richter took eighth in the 800 in the Class 1A Illinois Top Times meet in Bloomington. She ran 2:27.08 after being seeded at 2:28.18.
"I've been working on my endurance and speed," she said. "I've been doing some distance workouts and some short distances to train for speed."
Richter already has knocked off two seconds from her outdoor time last year.
"The key to running well in the 800 is not starting off too fast and then finishing strong in the end," she said. "At the state meet, I tried to stay with the big pack of girls and tried to pass them up at the end."
Richter has her eyes on a trip to Charleston later this spring.
"I always want to improve," she said. "I would like to place in the state (outdoor) meet."