MANLUIS – When Erie-Prophetstown's Rachel Cobert was handed the baton from relay mate Corrie Reiley, she was looking at the back of a light blue track uniform.
The Panthers 1,600-meter relay team had been in first place at that point in the race in every meet so far this season, and Cobert never gave up the lead.
So for the first time this season, Cobert had some ground to make up in the last race at the 1A Bureau Valley Sectional.
"I've never had to chase anyone this year," Cobert said. "Not once. I just knew that I had to run my hardest and do my best for my relay team and the team as a whole."
Courtney Cobert, Rachel's sister, led off the race and grabbed a lead. On the second leg, Heather Strike held the lead, but Bureau Valley's Sabrina Webb pushed the Storm into first place on the third leg with a strong back-half of her lap, forcing Rachel Cobert to make up ground on Lindsey Hoffert, who already had already qualified for state in three events.
"If you have someone in front of you," Rachel Cobert said, "you need to have that mentality where you want to catch them and you want to beat them."
On the final turn, Rachel Cobert passed Hoffert and held her off, as teammates and coaches screamed from the sidelines. The Panthers finished in 4:10.19, more than 4 seconds faster than the state-qualifying standard.
The Storm finished in 4:11.89, good enough for nearly 3 seconds faster than their previous best time, and a trip to Eastern Illinois in Charleston for next weekend's state meet.
The Panthers finished second at the sectional with 81 points, and qualified in eight events. Annawan-Wethersfield won with 108.
Bureau Valley (60) took fourth, Amboy (48) was sixth, Morrison (28) was seventh, Fulton (27) was eighth and Newman (22) took ninth.
It was the first time that Storm coach Dale Donner used that combination in the relay, and it worked.
Donner said that he spent a lot of time toying with the lineup over the past few weeks, and used last Friday's Three Rivers Meet as a way to solidify the relay teams.
The gamble to wait so long worked, as the Storm also qualified two other relays, the 800 and 400.
The Storm's first state qualifier, Sydney Lebahn, kicked off a successful day for the host team. Despite the constant rain, Lebahn was able to get a good grip on the discus, and her first throw traveled 112 feet, 6 inches.
"I'm a Packers fan, so I love this weather," Lebahn said. "Most people were complaining about it, but I knew what I had to do and when they announced that first throw, I was able to use my other five to relax and work on getting a better seed."
Newman will send Mary Jensen to Charleston, after she placed second behind Amboy's Erika Zimmerlein in the 200. Jensen, a freshman, topped her previous-best time of 30.20, and finished in 27.64.
"As a freshman it's just so awesome," Jensen said. "I don't even really know what to make of it right now.
"I just made sure to focus and run my best, because I knew I could qualify if I ran my best and did everything right."
Amboy freshman Megan Grady impressed with a trip to state in the 3,200. She placed second in 11:45.28, dominating the qualifying standard of 12:12.24.
Qualifying for state was a big relief for her, as she worried about the race all day. For lunch, she barely ate anything, and before the race, she wasn't sure she was up to it.
"I was so nervous," she said. "I told the guys that I was going to get sick, but it turned out good.
As for what's on the menu for lunch next week?
"I'm definitely going to eat a much bigger lunch," Grady said. "That was not a good one today. All I'm thinking about now is what I'm going to eat."
Number of events qualified for state by school
Bureau Valley: 5