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Dixon’s Duncan, Sterling’s Zuidema keep their cool in Charleston

At ease on big stage

Dixon's Lexy Duncan lands during Friday's 2A state long jump preliminaries at O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Duncan had the fifth best jump after preliminaries at 17-9 1/2.
Dixon's Lexy Duncan lands during Friday's 2A state long jump preliminaries at O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Duncan had the fifth best jump after preliminaries at 17-9 1/2.

CHARLESTON – There were two things Sterling senior Lauren Zuidema and Dixon junior Lexy Duncan had in common Friday.

One was the ability to remain perfectly calm on high school track & field's biggest stage. The other was advancing to Saturday's finals at the Class 2A girls state track meet at O'Brien Stadium.

Zuidema easily cleared 9 feet, 9-6 and 10-3 on her first attempts in the pole vault, despite being forced to wait for more than 20 minutes while other vaulters competed in the 3,200 and 400 relays. She was one of 11 vaulters to clear 10-3, and one of 15 finalists.

Meanwhile, Duncan popped leaps of 17-2, 17-3 1/2 and 17-9 1/2 in her three attempts, earning the fifth seed of the 12 competitors who advanced.

Duncan's secret: plenty of sleep.

"I actually take naps before I long jump," the three-time state finalist said. "I guess it just wakes me up more. I slept in the car ride to the stadium, then I slept in the bleachers before I ran in the 200."

Yep, you read right: While other competitors talked about how nerve-racking the final meet of the year can be, Duncan was off catching a few Zs.

"It's one way I can relax and stretch out," Duncan went on, "and I have to do it, or I'll psych myself out."

Zuidema can relate. The toughest part about the long wait Friday wasn't staying loose, as temps were in the low-70s with a slight breeze. Instead, it was making sure she kept mentally sharp while envisioning her third vault.

"You just have to be confident," Zuidema said. "You know you're going up against the best in the state, and you just have to remember that you're here, too. You have to know you can still make it if you trust yourself."

Zuidema was in the zone, even after the hiatus. A two-time state qualifier in the vault – she didn't advance to finals in either 2010 or 2011 – the senior was bound and determined to make the most of her final high school meet.

Using a 10-day-old pole, Zuidema breezed through the first two heights with ease. Then, she matched her sectional vault of 10-3, again on the first try, with several inches to spare between her stomach and the crossbar.

"I broke the old pole before sectionals, so we went out the next day and bought a new, stiffer one," Zuidema said. "I felt like the old one was bending too much, and the new one seems to be a good fit; I'm just as comfortable with it as I was before."

As good as Zuidema felt, she wished the competition could continue instead of stopping. Instead, she packed up her pole and left the vault pit feeling like she still had something to prove.

"I'm really excited to be in the finals, but also relieved at the same time," she said. "My goal was to keep making heights until I got into the final, and now I have to come out Saturday and keep doing the same thing. If I can be consistent like I was today, hopefully I can bring home a medal."

Duncan is eyeing the same prize and, like Zuidema, knows she has her work cut out for her. Walther Lutheran's MaShayla Kirksy went 19-0 1/2 to claim the top spot after prelims, and Friday's best jumps carry over.

But Duncan isn't the type to rest on her laurels and hope the rest of the field doesn't knock her out of a medal.

"I definitely want to get to 18 [feet]; that's been my goal the whole season," she said. "My other goal is to make it down to state – and medal – all 4 years. I want to keep that streak alive, and make something special happen [Saturday].

"I wasn't even on the [launching] board until my last jump, so I know I've got more inches I can get with a little adjustment. You never know what can happen until you get out there and make it happen."

Class 2A finalists

Lexy Duncan, Dixon jr., long jump

Lauren Zuidema, Sterling sr., pole vault

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