For the last 4 years, Courtney Cobert has been in the middle of everything for the Erie volleyball and basketball teams, and the Erie-Prophetstown Panther track team.
The last 2 years, she's been able to share all of her experiences with younger sister Rachel.
But after five highly successful seasons together, the Cobert sisters are entering the final phase of their shared athletic careers … and they're determined to make the most of it.
"It's been a blessing," said senior Courtney. "We've always cheered each other on, but we never really got to compete together until last year. We mesh really well on the court and on the track, and it's been a lot of fun. We're really looking forward to one final season … and hopefully, it's another great one on the track."
The Cobert sisters were major factors in the Panthers' runner-up finish at the Class 1A state meet a year ago, and hope to once again be at the center of a special run this spring. The duo combined to score 29 of Erie-Prophetstown's 56 team points last year, and together with sister combo Paige and Peyton Rus, was part of a quartet that accounted for every single Panther point.
"It was unreal, especially winning the 4x100 together," Courtney said. "We jumped on each other and hugged so hard after the race was over, and we couldn't stop talking about it the whole way home. It's a great experience not a lot of people get to have, and the fact that we got to share it is something we'll never forget."
The Panthers got state titles from the Cobert sisters, Peyton Rus and Heather Strike in the 400 relay, as well as Paige Rus in the triple jump. EP also placed second in the 1,600 relay and third in the 800 relay, with the Cobert sisters, the Rus sisters and Corrie Reiley playing parts in those. Individually, Paige Rus was fourth in the high jump, Peyton Rus took third in the 200 and sixth in the long jump, and Rachel Cobert placed sixth in the triple jump.
But with Paige Rus having graduated, and Peyton being a long shot to join the team this spring while recovering from a knee injury suffered at the end of volleyball season, the Coberts are left to anchor this year's effort.
They're far from alone, however. The Rus sisters are the only athletes who qualified for the state finals last year who are not back this season, and the 3,200 relay squad of Reiley, Breanna Jensen, Kassi Henrekin and Brooke Remley – which finished just out of a medal last year in 10th place – returns completely intact.
Add in Strike and several new faces hungry for success both on the track and in the field, and the Panthers are primed to reach the same heights as 2013.
"We know it's going to be different on some of the relays and in other events this year," Courtney Cobert said, "but we're already accomplishing things we did last year … and we're still expecting big things."
The sense of urgency is starting to creep up on Courtney Cobert, Remley, and EP's other eight senior athletes. Longtime coach Don Robinson told the team at practice Monday there were only 7 weeks left until the state meet.
"I told the girls that a goal is a dream with a deadline, and the countdown is on for the seniors," Robinson said. "But they've been leading us in every practice, really working hard to make the most out of their last season … and they want it be just as special as last season."
The younger girls aren't immune to the countdown. Rachel Cobert, for one, also feels like she's on the clock, especially when she considers that she'll be on her own once again when Courtney graduates next month.
"It's been so great, but we know there's not a lot of time left," said Rachel, a sophomore. "It's really coming up on us fast, and I'm going to enjoy the time I have left with Courtney as much as I can.
"And we're not just doing it for the seniors, but for every one of our teammates. We're all in this together, and we all want to have success for each other … but the seniors are definitely leading the way."
Courtney and her senior classmates can see the affect last year is having on their younger teammates. She said the seniors haven't once had to tell their teammates what's at stake, what another trip to state would mean.
Robinson sees the same thing, calling his entire team "true competitors" every time they hit the track. If last weekend's Top Times indoor state meet, and Wednesday's Rosenberry Classic at Westwood are any indicator, he loves how fired up his team will be for the next month and a half.
None of the Panthers know what the future holds, and Robinson isn't about to set the program's first state title as the ultimate goal. But after the amazing feeling following last year's stellar state performance, another successful trip to Charleston is most definitely in the back of the Panthers' minds.
"Last year, we set the bar pretty high," Rachel Cobert said, "but we're not thinking about the end of the season too much yet. The state trophy last year was so special, and we'd love to have that same success at the end of this year, but we're just going to keep improving, keep trying our hardest to get better, and hopefully things will work out for us again."
"It would mean the world to me to do it again, though," Courtney added. "I mean, how many people get to experience two really successful track seasons … and do it with their sister? So far, last track season is my favorite memory of high school sports, and it would be amazing to add another memorable season to that."
Returning state qualifiers
• Rachel Cobert, so. – won 400 relay, 2nd in 1,600 relay, 3rd in 800 relay, 6th in triple jump
• Courtney Cobert, sr. – won 400 relay, 2nd in 1,600 relay, 3rd in 800 relay, qualified in 100
• Heather Strike, jr.. – won 400 relay, state qualifier in 100
• Corrie Reiley, jr. – 2nd in 1,600 relay, 10th in 3,200 relay
• Brooke Remley, sr. – 10th in 3,200 relay
• Kassi Henrekin, jr. – 10th in 3,200 relay
• Breanna Jensen, jr. – 10th in 3,200 relay
FYI: Sophomore Peyton Rus, who was on the 400 & 800 relay teams and also placed 3rd in 200 & 6th in long jump, will likely miss this season recovering from knee injury suffered in volleyball.