CHARLESTON -- Karina Liz and Nicole Sreenan performed like seasoned veterans on the opening day of the girls state track and field meet.
Liz, the Aurora Central Catholic reigning state runner-up at 800 meters, and Sreenan, a freshman 400 wunderkind for Kaneland, authored the top times in Class 2A preliminaries at their respective distances Friday at Eastern Illinois University.
Liz obliterated her heat in 2 minutes, 12.69 seconds, and Sreenan broke her week-old school record in 56.44 to earn the top seed for the Saturday finals at O'Brien Stadium.
"I was trying to make a statement," Liz said. "I'm shooting for under 2:10 (in the finals)."
But that is where the comparisons end between the two standout underclassmen.
Sreenan ended her afternoon with three more finals berths after bolstering two sprint relays (the 400 and 1,600) and snaring the last at-large berth in the 100 dash.
"I'm excited that Lauren (Zick) gets to run," Sreenan said of the four-year Kaneland star who was injured in the Knights' conference championship two weeks ago.
Zick will anchor the Knights' shortest relay as she is unable to run curves due to her tender ankle.
"I broke a record I already made," Sreenan said of the 400 time set at the Freeport sectional.
Kaneland trails only Cahokia in total finals berths with eight.
Rosary also made a grand re-entrance to the middle-tier division after a two-year stint in Class 3A.
Emily Bakala, the only returning state qualifier, helped the Royals' 1,600 and 3,200 relays to the finals.
Sarah Nyaeme and Madison Ronzone are also in excellent shape to score in the triple jump and open 1,600.
"Last year we were just happy to get down in 3A," Bakala said. "This year is a totally different mentality. We're going for finals, we're going for medals."
Emma Spagnola has four gold medals within her reach after the Class 3A preliminaries.
The West Aurora immortal has the top times in both the 100 and 300 hurdles (13.9, 42.95) and is three inches off the lead (18 feet, 9 inches) in the long jump, where the Minnesota-bound senior is the defending state champion.
But Spagnola saved her best moment for the 1,600 relay.
After Tamiya Rayford nearly overcame an 18-meter Lincoln-Way East lead on the third leg, Spagnola ran down Asia Brown to win the heat in 3:50.06.
The Blackhawks shaved 10-plus seconds off their sectional time to take the top seed.
Reigning state champion St. Charles East is the fifth seed after winning the third heat in 3:55.26.
"I just had to run the best 400 of my life," said Rayford.
"I'm still in shock, actually," Spagnola said of the improbable time drop. "I don't know how we dropped 10 seconds. It was crazy. I started going as fast as I can."
West Aurora and St. Charles East trail only defending champion Lincoln-Way East (10) for total finalists with six apiece.
Edwardsville and Mt. Prospect also advanced six individuals each.
Rayford, St. Charles East 1,600 anchor Jordan Shead and Geneva sophomore Foster Ignofo all made the open field at 400 meters.
St. Charles East junior Torree Scull overcame health issues to reach the finals at 1,600 meters while leading off the Saints' defending all-state 3,200 relay to another Saturday berth.
The Saints' Allison Chmelik is tied for fourth in the triple jump.
But the West Aurora final relay was still reverberating after the preliminaries ended.
"It feels like there's more on the line," Shead said of being the defending relay champion.
"Never in my wildest dreams," West Aurora coach Teresa Towles said. "If I weren't here to see it, I would never have believed it."