CHARLESTON — The Lady Hubs varsity track and field team sent five girls to the IHSA Class 2A State Meet at Eastern Illinois University this past weekend, and as they’ve done so often this season, the girls delivered when it mattered the most.
After qualifying just one relay team last season, Rochelle fielded three relay teams in this year’s state competition, with the 1600-meter relay group of juniors Jacie Wyatt, Morgan Knight, Cesca Vardman and Morgan Baker medaling in third place with a time of 3:58.92, shattering a Rochelle Township High School outdoor track and field record.
“We were all really proud and accomplished after getting third and breaking the record,” Wyatt said. “Breaking the school record was something that we’ve been working for ever since our freshman year. We knew the school record was going to be hard to beat because there were amazing athletes before us who were in it so we were really excited to do that.”
A pair of rain delays slowed the two-day competition down, but the Lady Hubs did their best to keep their speed up on the track. The girls competed in three preliminary races on Friday including the 400-meter relay, where freshman Macey Ryan joined Vardman, Knight and Wyatt to place fifth in the first heat with a time of 49.91.
“Going to state was a great experience for me,” said Ryan, who helped the Lady Hubs qualify their 800-meter relay team for the indoor state meet earlier this season. “I think what I enjoyed the most was being able to spend so much time with my team… I wasn’t planning on going out for track at first but it’s the best decision I have made.”
Rochelle’s second event of the day was the 800-meter relay. The Lady Hubs edged out Kaneland by .02 seconds to win the sectional title prior to reaching the state meet, and the girls followed up their winning performance by placing fifth in the third and final heat of the preliminary round, with Vardman, Knight, Baker and Wyatt clocking in at 1:46.14.
“Running the 4x200 at state was a learning experience,” Baker said. “We were definitely nervous because we hadn’t raced in any other events at state before except the 4x400. I still think our performance was strong even though it wasn’t a personal record… We had been trying to qualify for state in that event for two years, and to finally make it and compete at a higher level was an accomplishment.”
Rochelle finished 19th out of 28 teams in the preliminary round of the 400-meter relay, and the girls placed 14th out of 27 teams in the 800-meter relay prelims. Neither group reached the state finals on Saturday, but the Lady Hubs still had the 1600-meter relay to look forward to, and their early exits in the first two relays are pushing them to return even faster next season.
“I think missing finals in the 4x100 and 4x200 will motivate us to work even harder on those events because we can compete in those events at that level,” Knight said. “We will be even more comfortable with three high-level races in one day next year… Next year will be our senior year, so at state it will be our last time racing together which will motivate us to do everything we can for each other.”
The Lady Hubs dominated the 1600-meter relay at the sectional meet last week, winning with a time of 4:01.72 behind Wyatt, Knight, Vardman and Baker. The four girls qualified for state in the same event last season, and they made their case for this year’s title in the prelims on Friday, taking first in the second heat at 4:03.79.
Rochelle entered Saturday’s finals with the fourth-fastest preliminary time, and only Dunlap finished the race in less than four minutes (3:57.91). Three teams cracked the four-minute threshold on Saturday including the Lady Hubs, who finished 1.14 seconds behind runner-up Westinghouse College Prep (3:57.78) and 2.93 seconds behind state champion Dunlap (3:55.99).
“Breaking the school record and taking third at state was a great experience for all of us,” Vardman said. “Our goal was to compete and leave everything on the track, but to also compete with Dunlap which was our motivation… We knew how difficult it was going to be, but at the end of the day we got through the race and succeeded. Next year our goal is even bigger and we just have to finish what we started.”