Girls track and field: Wauconda's Daun in good position to defend state title
CHARLESTON -- Grace Daun understands her legacy requires another chapter.
After becoming the first female state champion at Wauconda last year, Daun said she's embraced the challenge and responsibility of attempting a repeat. Daun won the Class 3A state title with a top leap of 5 feet, 8 inches last May.
"The nerves surprisingly have increased because of the pressure of being a two-time state champion," Daun said. "Everybody wants me to do it again. The pressure has increased and I'm trying for it to not get to me."
Daun barely broke a sweat during Friday's Class 3A state preliminaries at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Field. The Illinois State recruit had a short but productive day, qualifying for the finals with a jump of 5-3.
Daun said she received a small send-off state parade on Tuesday. She admitted her life has changed since beating out Normal's Grace Cleveland for the state championship last year.
"Since I was the first female athlete at my school to win a state title, I hope it gives other female athletes the drive and determination that they can do it," Daun said. "It was amazing to come back here."
One hundred feet away, Daun's club coach, Jeremy Herriges, watched Daun easily soar over the qualifying mark from his viewing spot.
"Grace might feel the pressure to win again, but her body language tells me something different," he said. "I see someone in a really good place. We're excited to see how she does in finals after being really sick in the finals last year."
Highland Park's Taylor Gilling was one of the surprise standouts in the preliminaries. The senior sprinter caused an uproar in the crowd by clocking a personal record time of 11.65 seconds in the 100-meter dash. Gilling easily won her heat, ending up as the only 100 competitor to notch a sub-12 second time. Seconds after crossing the finish line, Gilling started crying.
"I'm just so surprised I was able to do it because I've been waiting for state for such a long time," Gilling said.
Gilling showed her 100 time wasn't a fluke, notching the best time in the 200 (24.17) to reach the finals in two events. Gilling placed second in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at last year's state meet. Gilling said she's motivated to become the first female athlete to win a state title at Highland Park.
"I'm happy that I'm in the finals, but I have bigger goals now after winning the 100 and 200," Gilling said. "I want to win on Saturday."
Warren senior Janii Jenkins secured a spot in the finals in two events. The Indiana recruit qualified in the 400 (56.36), while leading the 400 relay (48.17) to Saturday's finals. Jada Vaughn, Kayleigh Glickley and Jataia Harris also ran on the 400 relay.
"I was hoping to qualify in all four events, but it was a good day," Jenkins said. "I know I can do better in the finals."
Lakes had a pair of standout performances on the track. Sophomore Brooke Stromsland, after sitting out most of last season with an injury, bounced back with a big effort in the 1,600. She battled Glenbard West's Katelynne Hart for most of the race to end in second place (4:57) in her heat.
"Katelynne is so talented and she really pushed me to do my best," Stromsland said.
Junior Olivia Schmitt also had to battle Hart in the 800. She pushed Hart to the limit, taking second place in a time of 2:11.84. Hart, one of the top track athletes in Illinois history, posted a winning time of 2:11.78. Schmitt was the last qualifier in the 400 (58.06).
"Last year I didn't make it past the preliminaries and this year I was not going to let anything stop me," Schmitt said.
A pair of sophomores, Stevenson's Camille Clay and Grayslake Central's Julia Reglewski, advanced in both the shot put and discus, Clay threw 40-4 in the shot put and 122-6 in the discus. Reglewski went 40-11 and 128-10.
Besides Daun, Warren's Annika Bynum and Grayslake Central's Meghan Fletcher also cleared 5-3 in the high jump. Among those to make 11 feet in the pole vault and advance to Saturday's finals were Lake Zurich's Kelsey Rothas and Lakes' Noelle Jones. Vernon Hills' Emily Kim made it through in the long jump (18-4.75).
Others to earn their spot in Saturday's finals included Mundelein's Jordyn Miller in the 800 (2:16.46) and Antioch's Ayanna Tommy in the 100 (12.33).