ROCK FALLS – The Oregon Hawks were flying in rarefied air all evening long at the Big Northern girls track meet … and they more than held their own.
The Hawks led most of the way, only to see Burlington Central pass them up in the final event for the Rockets' 10th conference championship in 11 years.
But that didn't dampen the mood in the Oregon huddle as the final scores were announced. The Hawks' cheers echoed off the empty Hinders Field bleachers longer than the Rockets' celebration of the victory.
"You're always more proud of your team, happier for your teammates than for yourself," said junior Sarah Lauer, one of three Hawks to score at least 18 points by herself. "It means just as much to us to finish second as a team as it does for any of us to win individual events."
Burlington Central finished with 91 points, six more than Oregon's 85. Byron was third with 69, with Marengo right behind in fourth (68). Rock Falls finished ninth (30 points).
Hawks senior Cydney Long was the star of the meet, winning the 100 hurdles and placing third in the 200 (27.17 seconds), 300 hurdles (47.92) and long jump (15 feet, 6 1/2 inches). The 28 points tallied for those four finishes topped the next-best individual point scorers by eight points.
The 100 hurdles also made for the most dramatic finish of the night. She avenged a recent loss to Burlington Central's Bryce Weinrich, blazing to a time of 14.98 seconds to edge Weinrich by two-hundredths of a second.
"That was one hell of a race," Long said, smiling as Weinrich offered her a hug. "I got third to her and another girl at a meet in Ottawa, and I told myself before the race today, 'You got this.' It was definitely a confidence-builder for the rest of the night."
Wienrich was on Long's right hip the entire race, with both girls making a clean run. As they cleared the final hurdle, Long followed her coaches' advice and turned on whatever afterburners she had left.
"The coaches always yell, 'Dig' when someone's close and I need to go faster," Long said. "They said it way more than a couple of times during that race, and I knew I had to just go for it."
Teammates Shannon Cullen and Lauer tied for fifth individually with 18 points apiece. Cullen won the shot put (37-4½) and took second in discus (107-9½), while Lauer won the triple jump (33-1½) and was runner-up in the long jump (15-7½), just ahead of Long.
Cullen and Kelsey Pudlas started the meet off strong for Oregon, as Pudlas added a win in the pole vault (9-6) to Cullen's victory in the shot put. Those were the first two events to be announced, with both getting in before the longest of the three weather delays.
Cullen had mixed emotions on the night, as the senior was thrilled to win the shot put but a bit disappointed to not win the discus.
"I'm happy, glad I finally threw closer to my full potential in the shot put, which I haven't been doing lately," Cullen said. "I threw two 37s, so I was proud of that.
"The discus, I'm a little mad I got second, but I'm happy for the girl who won [Winnebago's Allison Klosinski]. We've been at four meets together already this year, and every time I always seem to beat her by just a little bit. I guess second is all right, when she's the one who won it."
Lauer was ecstatic about winning the triple jump. After finishing fifth in each of the last 2 years at the BNC Meet, the junior won the title this time around by 12½ feet. Her second in the long jump was just icing on the cake.
"I wasn't going for first, I just wanted to improve from fifth," Lauer said. "I just focused on warming up between jumps, and not letting the weather delays bother me. I just kept my legs loose and didn't worry about anything but my jumps."
The weather wreaked havoc with everyone, but especially the 800 runners. The longest delay came around 5:35 p.m., when lightning was spotted in the distance; soon after the athletes returned to the field, around 6:15 p.m., a second storm cell moved in and forced another delay. In all, those two delays lasted nearly 2 hours.
Even worse, they forced the stoppage of the 3,200 relay in mid-race, after the first two legs had already completed their 800s.
Still, it accounted for Rock Falls' best finish of the meet, in second place with a time of 10:06.31, 1.15 seconds behind winner Harvard. But it took a lot out of junior Dallas Clevenger, who was one of the pre-race favorites in the open 800 and 400. She took third in the 800 (2:31.26), and faded to a non-scoring eighth in the 400 (1:06.07) a few events later.
"It was awful; I don't even really like the 800, and I had to run it three times tonight," Clevenger said. "Running that leadoff leg twice was the worst, and it took the most out of me mentally, because you just know you're going to be dying by the end of it the second time, then the third time [in the open 800] especially.
"Usually, the last stretch of the race is where I do the best, really catch up at the end. But I had almost nothing left in the 800, and even less in the 400; I was crying before the 400, because I didn't really want to run it, but I'm glad the coaches made me do it, because that will just make me tougher for sectionals next week."
Bailie Smith, Makaley Velazquez and Katie Anderson joined Clevenger in the 3,200 relay. The Rockets also got a fourth from Michaela Busch in the high jump (4-10), and fifths from Velazquez in the 1,600 (5:36.83), Sydney Arickx in the 200 (27.82), Emma Miller in the 100 hurdles ( 17.19), and Molly Mammosser in the long jump (15-0).
Mackenzie Skoumal added a fourth for Oregon in the 400 (1:03.17), while Karissa Corbin was fifth in the shot put (32-9 1/2) and Whitney Long was fifth in the high jump (4-10).
There was one BNC Meet record broken Thursday, as Byron's Kelsey Hildreth ran the 3,200 in 10:35.95 to top the old record set in 2008. Hildreth also won the 1,600 (5:13.37), missing the meet record by 2 seconds.
Girls track & field
Big Northern Conference Meet
Top 3 teams: 1. Burlington Central 91; 2. Oregon 85; 3. Byron 69
Star of the meet: Cydney Long, Oregon, top individual scorer with 28 points, won 100 hurdles, added 3 3rds
Looking ahead: Class 1A & 2A girls track sectionals, next Friday: Oregon at 1A Byron Sectional, Rock Falls at 2A Freeport Sectional