CHARLESTON -- Libertyville sophomore Avryl Johnson has definitely found her comfort zone this season.
The Wildcats sophomore continued to impress on Friday in the Class 3A state preliminaries at Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Stadium.
Johnson has been concentrating on her starts, and that led to a big finish in the opening heat of the 800-meter run.
On an overcast and drizzly afternoon, Johnson found an extra gear in the final 100 meters to win her heat (2:14.22), advancing to Saturday's finals.
"I knew I wanted to get them at the end and I just started sprinting the final 100 meters," said Johnson, who relinquished the lead with 300 meters remaining before her dramatic finish.
"My starts had been slower last year and I've been focusing on the first 400 this year to set up my last lap."
Defending Class 3A champion Michaela Hackbarth of Downers Grove South captured the top qualifying time in the 800 (2:12.72). With the slowest qualifying time at 2:15.80, it sets up for a very fast race on Saturday.
"It going to be a really interesting and fast race," said Johnson who will be competing her in first state track final. "I'm hoping to get to the podium."
Grant senior Rachel Bicknase gave the Bulldogs a big lift by advancing to Saturday's finals in both the shot put and discus.
Bicknase started her day by hitting 40-09.5 in the shot put and ended it by advancing in the discus (122-06) under a steady rain.
"It feels really good," said Bicknase who qualified last year in the shot put. "Right now I feel better knowing that I can still improve in each event. It's like I can breathe now."
Bulldogs junior Katie McEnery (39-09.75) will join Bicknase in the shot put finals.
Senior Madison Romig gave Grant a boost on the track by qualifying in the 1,600 (5:04.72).
Senior Katie Schroeder of Grayslake Central cleared 11 feet and advanced in the pole vault.
Schroeder missed her first attempt at 11, but made good on her second attempt and will challenge for a state title. She earned a state medal her sophomore year in Class 2A, and has her sights set on Class 3A medal Saturday.
"I'm just going to jump as well as I can, I have put in a lot of work," added Schroeder who came back from a medical situation in February. "It's been crazy but I have a good support system and I'm happy to be at the state meet."
Senior Alexa Schmitt also advanced for Grayslake Central in the high jump (5-4).
Senior Lily Moore cleared 11-0 and will be advancing for Libertyville in the pole vault. Moore missed last season with a broken right arm, but the Wildcats senior is in line to capture her second state pole vault medal on Saturday.
Lake Zurich junior Alyssa Morello gave the Bears a jolt by advancing in the pole vault (11-0) and in the 300 low hurdles (45.58).
"I just wanted to push myself at the end," said Morello, whose final burst in the 300 low hurdles secured her spot in Saturday's finals.
Grayslake North senior Kennedy Krieg made good on final attempt to advance to Saturday's finals in the discus (117-02). Krieg struggled on her earlier throws but connected on her final attempt.
"I just went after it on my last throw, I wanted to get to finals," said Krieg. "I felt a lot of pressure, but I was determined to get to finals."
Wauconda freshman Grace Daun made quite a first impression by advancing to the finals in the high jump (5-4). The freshman hit her qualifying mark on her second attempt, after missing her first attempt.
"It was bit nerve-wracking, but it was fun," said Daun, whose season best mark is 5-8. "The confidence totally contributes to me jumping consistently. If it's not mentally there, I don't think it will be physically there either."
Warren junior Abena Atuobi advanced for the Blue Devils in the shot put (38-11).
Vernon Hills went four-for-four on its relays, and now the Cougars are set up for a big Saturday.
Sophomore Lauren Katz, senior Vivian Overbeck, senior Shannon Skeoch and sophomore Nicole Pinter started the Cougars fast by advancing in the 3,200 relay (9:43.26)
Junior Emily Carido, senior Molly Wasserberg, freshman Raeden Mays and freshman Kennedy Smith continued the Cougars' surge by advancing in the 400 relay (49.89).
Sophomore Jordyn Bunning joined Wasserberg, Mays, and Kennedy to advance in the 800 relay (1:45.23).
Bunning, Smith, Katz and Wasserberg finsihed the day by getting the Cougars' 1,600 relay (4:02.06) into the finals.
"This year is a really special year and we really have a great team," said Bunning, who also qualified for Saturday's final in the 300 low hurdles. "It has really been coming together."
"We never advanced all four relay, so it's special," said Katz, who also advanced in the 800 (2:19.74). "Everybody has done amazing today."
Senior Vivian Overbeck qualified in the 1,600 (5:10.30) and also will be running in the 3,200 finals.
Carmel sophomore Aileen Hull advanced to Saturday's final in the 1,600 (5:11.53), and Antioch senior Mikayla Christian advanced in the shot put (114-7).