Girls high school track is alive and well in the Fox Valley area.
This weekend's girls state track and field finals at O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston features no shortage of local participants.
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At the forefront of the pack are representatives from the successful Hampshire and Cary-Grove teams.
Hampshire, which won Fox Valley Conference Fox Division and sectional titles this season, set a program record by qualifying individuals in 4 events in this year's Class 2A meet. However, last year's Whip-Purs version holds the mark for most overall girls in the state meet (4 relays and 2 individual events).
"We came off last season determined to do a lot more than last season," said Hampshire senior Elizabeth Pagan. "Our goal last year was to win sectionals and we took second. We had the same goals this year -- to win conference and sectionals. We won our side of the conference and won the sectional."
Pagan points to one constant with this year's group.
"We have a group of girls here who are all so dedicated to what we do," she said. "It's kind of rare in high school. There aren't a lot of girls into the sport. With us, everybody is so dedicated. We all want to get better. We try hard and we work hard. It's a great group."
Hampshire's success this season has come with a smaller group of rosterees than last season.
"Everybody definitely plays a role on this team," said Pagan. "We couldn't do it without them. It's definitely a team effort."
Pagan will compete in the long jump, 300 hurdles and will anchor the 1,600 relay team along with Elizabeth Evans, Nikki Dumoulin and Aimee Jarvis.
Junior Dallas Krueger will compete in the high jump, while senior Caitlyn Graff will compete in the 100 high hurdles. Hampshire also qualified its 3,200 relay team of Natalia Szutkowski, Trisha Dumoulin, Evans and Nikki Dumoulin.
Also in the Class 2A meet, Burlington Central will have representation in both hurdles events.
Junior Bryce Weinrich (100 highs) and junior Jasmine Castillo (300s) both won sectional titles in those events. Castillo is seeded seventh in the 300s.
"I've been focusing on getting faster and building up more endurance," said Castillo. "We've also been doing more hurdle drills and those have helped me go over the hurdles more smoothly."
Castillo said she keeps one thing in mind during the longer hurdles race.
"Not dying out at the end," she said. "You have to give it your all when you are really tired and keep your form throughout the race."
Weinrich is making her first state finals appearance. "I've trained way harder than last season," she said. "I'm eating better. I've done everything I can to make it Downstate. I fell at sectionals last year. It was horrible. I really wanted to make it down this year. And with Jasmine running with me, that's pushed me to run even faster. I really wanted it this year."
Central's Katie Bush will run the 1,600.
In Class 3A, Cary-Grove continued its season of excellence by running roughshod on its way to the DeKalb sectional title. Cary-Grove won the title with 127 points. The next closest team had 62 points. In the process, the Trojans eclipsed their previous program high for individuals making the state meet (9).
"The big thing is we've been able to adjust to things this year," said Cary-Grove's Eva Burk. "Our 4-by-2 changed midway through the year. We've all been able to adjust smoothly and push through together. When something goes wrong, this team steps up. The girls push themselves past their limits and do things they didn't even know they could do in these meets. That's what sets us apart as a team."
Burk, a junior, will compete in the 100 high hurdles and is part of Cary-Grove's 800 relay team with Faith Furio, Nicole Robins and Delaney Perrone.
Perrone also qualified in the triple jump.
"I've improved a ton since my freshman year in the triple jump," she said. "I was in the low 33s and now I'm almost at 36 at the end of my junior season. I have to give a lot of credit to the girls I've jumped with in the past and now. I jump with Maggie Cherveny this year and we push each other meet by meet. I also have to give credit to my dad -- he's one of my biggest supporters."
Cherveny, a sophomore, also qualified in the long jump.
Another Cary-Grove girl to keep an eye on in Charleston is junior Morgan Schulz, who qualified in the 800, 300 hurdles and 200. She's seeded second in the 300 hurdles and second in the 800 (2:14.33) behind Jacobs junior phenom Lauren Van Vlierbergen (2:14.30 sectional time).
The rest of the Cary-Grove state troupe includes Erika Sternard and Robins in the high jump, Nikki Freeman and Olivia Roehri in both the shot put and discus.
Jacobs' Van Vlierbergen also qualified in the 1,600. Teammate Kayla Giuliano also made it in the 400.
Huntley junior Delany Lyman is tied for the seventh seed in the pole vault, while teammate Emily Schmidt is seeded eighth in the 300 hurdles and Tess Miller is seeded 10th in the triple jump for the Red Raiders.
Other Huntley qualifiers include Macy Tramblay in the 100 high hurdles, Tina Driscoll in the 400 and the 1,600 relay team of Miller, Tramblay, Kate Mitchell and Driscoll.
Crystal Lake South's Taylor Schau is one of three area girls seeded in the 300 hurdles. She's ranked sixth. Teammate Kianna Clark will be in the triple jump, while South's 800 relay team of Gaby De Jesus, Clark, Kathleen Pencak and Schau also will run in Charleston.
Streamwood junior Gabby Juarez is seeded fourth in the 3,200 and also will run the 1,600. Dundee-Crown sophomore Kayla Lawrence qualified in the 100 high hurdles.
In Class 1A, Elgin Academy junior Kaitlyn Pearson is having quite an inaugural track season. She's seeded fourth in the 200 (26.16) and seventh in the 100 (12.69).
"It's my first year running so it's very exciting to get this far," said Pearson. "My mom has wanted me to run since sixth grade and I finally decided to do it this year. I like it. It's a lot different challenge. It's not easy for me."
Pearson said she's benefitted from recent practice sessions against some new competition.
"Coach (Adrian Ayala) has me running against the boys in practice and that's helped me with picking up my speed and kick," she said. "I've also improved my block starts. That's a big part of my races."
Pearson is a bigger fan of the 200 dash.
"I like it because I have the curve to try and pass everybody," she said. "I try to pass everybody before I get out of the curve. It gives me a point on the track where I can see the competition and then try to get past everybody before the end of that curve."
Pearson is all for a medal finish, but has a bigger-picture goal as well. "If anything, I want to have a good experience there," she said. "It's my first year there. I want to have fun on it and not focus on winning or losing."
Harvest Christian Academy's Kylee Knox qualified in both the 100 and 300 hurdles, while teammate Sydney Doby made it in the discus and Valerie Richter qualified in the 800.
St. Edward also will be represented in Charleston with its 3,200 relay team.