CHARLESTON – The four Dixon Duchesses waited anxiously to find out if their track season would last one more day. Turns out, another new school record will have to suffice.
For the second Friday in a row, Dixon's 3,200 relay quartet of Maggie Bushman, Katie Pitman, Clara Thorpe and Brittany Schwarz bested the best time in DHS history, blazing to a 9:51.10. That topped their sectional time (9:53.96) by nearly 3 seconds, and left the Duchesses thinking they might have been one of the fastest 12 teams in the Class 2A preliminaries at the girls state track meet Friday on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.
But even when their time came up 10.9 seconds shy of making the cut – they were 18th among 33 teams – there were no regrets from the foursome.
"That run felt really good, and I think we left everything on the track," said Pitman, a junior. "It's bittersweet to get down here and then not make the finals, but we definitely ran our best race."
Already, the Duchesses are eyeing the future. Schwarz is the only one who won't return next year, and sophomore Bushman and freshman Thorpe still have multiple cracks at coming back to O'Brien Stadium and running on the weekend.
"We've got a lot of good eighth-graders coming up, and I think we're going to have a good chance to make it back," Thorpe said. "It was a new experience for us this year, but now we know what it takes, and we'll push harder to get there."
"I'm really happy I got to run with Brittany; I've learned a lot from here the last 2 years, and she's going to be missed," Bushman added. "But I'm really looking forward to next year. Hopefully we can come down here again, and keep moving forward to finals."
The Rock Falls Rockets' 800 relay team didn't have to wait to find out its fate. While its time of 1:49.26 was the best of the season, it placed 25th in the 26-team field, 4.38 seconds behind final qualifier Triad (1:44.64).
"Even though finals didn't happen, we still ran a good race," freshman Michaela Bush said. "That's all you can ask for."
"I don't think it's ever going to be not exciting to be down here," sophomore Dallas Clevenger added, "and we made the most of it with a PR."
Senior Shasta Day led off the relay, followed by freshman Sydney Arickx, Clevenger, and Bush. Such youth has the Rockets thinking big down the road, but the loss of Day – who also competed in the 100 (21st in 13.33 seconds) and 200 (24th in 27.70) – will be a big hurdle to overcome.
"We did what we had to do to have our best race at state," Arickx said. "We didn't place, but I'm OK with that. We know what to expect now, and even though we're really going to miss having Shasta around to answer questions and lead us, we're not going to be rookies anymore."
"Losing Shasta is a big hole to fill," Clevenger added, "but hopefully we'll have some younger girls step up and fill her shoes."
A pair of Sterling seniors, Peyton Cater and Emily Crossley, also closed their careers Friday morning. Cater placed 24th in the 100 in 13.44 seconds, while Crossley was 30th in the 400 in 1:02.21.
With neither girl expecting to even qualify for the state meet, both were ecstatic to be running on the famous blue track.
"It was exciting and nerve-racking; my nerves really didn't go away until I started running," said Cater, who ran with the 400 and 800 relay teams in 2011. "At first, I was focused on me, but then the other runners got to where I could see them and I started thinking about them. I wanted a PR, so that's disappointing, but I'm happy I got to run at state."
Crossley was at state for the third time, but the first as an individual. She ran on the 3,200 relay teams in 2010 and 2012, and said that experience helped her nerves being out there all by herself.
"It was way different being here as an individual, but I liked it equally as the relays," she said. "I think being down here in the relays before made it better, just having the experience and the confidence that I'd been here before. It was my last race, against a great field of competitors, and I just wanted to run as hard as I could. I'm just thankful for the chance to run down here one more time."
Sterling sophomore Morgan Zuidema missed the finals in the high jump, clearing the opening height of 4-10 on her second try before missing three attempts at 5 feet. Despite that, she was smiling after every jump, and was eager afterward to watch older sister Lauren compete in the pole vault prelims – and now finals.
"I was a little nervous, but it was a really exciting new experience," Zuidema said. "I was so happy to be here, and it got even better when I made opening height. Now, I'm looking forward to watching Lauren; I think she's going to have a great weekend."