CHARLESTON – The emotions Lauren Zuidema expected came, but they were nothing like she expected.
They were far better.
Still looking for her first medal in the pole vault at the Class 2A girls state track meet, the Sterling senior came through in a big way Saturday. She tied her personal best by clearing 10 feet, 9 inches, and will bring home a seventh-place medal in her final try at O'Brien Stadium.
"I'm so excited; I never imagined it would feel this good," Zuidema said. "This is such a great way to finish my career. You always dream it ends this way, but it doesn't compare to it actually happening."
Zuidema was so in the zone in her 2 days at state that she missed just one attempt through 10-9. She couldn't clear 11 feet, though, as she landed on the crossbar three times.
Still, after failing to qualify for finals in the event as a freshman and sophomore, and missing state altogether last year, she made the most of her final chance – and enjoyed every minute of it. Just like her younger sister, Morgan, on Friday after getting knocked out of the high jump in prelims, Lauren popped off the landing mat after her final vault with a smile from ear to ear.
"I was hoping I could limit my misses," she said, "and I stayed consistent just like yesterday. Things felt the same today; I was really focused, and it worked out really well all weekend."
As she ponders walking on to the Northern Illinois University track team over the next couple of months, Dixon junior Lexy Duncan will most likely be somewhere working on her long jumping.
After an eighth-place finish in the event as a freshman and a fourth place last year as a sophomore, Duncan kept her medal streak alive with a sixth-place finish Saturday.
She was seeded fifth heading into the finals, and dropped a spot over the final three jumps. She failed to break the coveted 18-foot mark, but her 17-9 1/2 leap from Friday's prelims carried over and got her another medal.
"I didn't really feel it at all today," said Duncan, who had a season-long calf strain flare up overnight. "I couldn't pop that big jump, but there's just so much motivation now for next year. I've got all summer to work out and get better, and good things will come."
Sterling sophomore Mercedes Sanchez ran in the 3,200, placing second in her section. Her time of 11:42.59 was good enough for 15th place in the 28-runner field.
Despite not medaling in her first trip to Charleston, Sanchez was thrilled to be performing on the big stage.
"I'm happy with the way things went today, even though I didn't run the time I wanted," she said. "It was kind of scary out there. My goal was not to die too early, but I did. Still, I tried my best, and it's great experience for the next couple of years I pushed myself as hard as I could, and that's all I can ask for."
Rochelle's Michelle Dobbs turned some heads, easily winning the 800 in a 2A-record 2:10.78. The senior won by 3.15 seconds, and broke the 3-year old record of 2:11 flat, set by Metamora's Amanda Duvendack.
Spurred on by a third-place finish to two seniors in last year's 800 finals, Dobbs said her entire season revolved around the goal of winning the state title. She did it in style, and knocked nearly 3 seconds off her personal best of 2:13.61 she set just a day before. It's the second year in a row Dobbs has set a PR in the event in prelims, only to break it in the finals.
"Since I did that last year, I had it in my head that I was capable of doing it again," Dobbs said of the rapid-fire PRs. "I knew I needed something in the 2:10s for the record, and I wasn't watching my time, but I thought I had a chance if I pushed myself and ran with the intensity I felt I needed to get it. I'm still in disbelief that I actually did it, though.
"I'm just really happy I showed my family and friends what I could do and give them what they deserve for supporting me."
Class 2A finals
Lexy Duncan, Dixon jr. 6th in long jump
Lauren Zuidema, Sterling sr., 7th in pole vault
Mercedes Sanchez, Sterling so., 15th in 3,200