CHARLESTON – Rebecca Waite found one of the few shady spots near the O’Brien Stadium track, next to some bushes and a picnic table, just beyond and to the right of the finish line.
Her spikes were off her feet, and she lay prone on the field turf, oblivious to just about anything going on around her. Four heats of the 300 low hurdles were contested, and Waite hardly moved.
The Milledgeville junior had left it all on the track in the 400 meters. She was spent, but got paid in a big way. Her time of 58.01 seconds was the best in the field at the Class 1A State Meet preliminaries held Thursday on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.
It was the middle of three individual events Waite qualified in, and came on the heels of a stunning performance by the Missiles’ 800 relay team, which also had the crowd buzzing.
Waite was clocked at 12.3 seconds in the 100 and 25.9 in the 200 to safely advance, but it was the 400 that stood out. Her time shattered her own school record of 58.58, set at the NUIC meet.
Midway through the race, the public address announcer pointed out Waite was virtually running by herself – a rarity in a relatively short race.
“I tried not to listen,” Waite said, “but I heard that a little bit.”
By the end, Waite was by herself. She won by 1.6 seconds ahead of Timothy Christian’s Olivia Hoekstra in Heat No. 4.
“It’s definitely just the feeling of running at state,” Waite said. “It’s a hard race to run and not die, but being at state, it gets you excited.”
Milledgeville-Eastland coach Jason Wroble has had to push and prod Waite to run the 400, one of the most physically taxing events in track. His coercion is finally paying dividends.
“I’ve been trying to sell her on that 400 all year,” Wroble said. “At times she hasn’t wanted to do it, but it’s paid off, and I think she knows that’s a good race for her. She’s so strong in that race.”
Waite will be looking to crack 58 seconds in the finals, and a stronger finish might do the trick. She admitted her form wasn’t the best down the homestretch.
“When you’re dying and trying to give it your all, you lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing when you run,” Waite said. “Focusing on that and finishing hard will definitely help.”
Prior to Waite’s magical 400, four of her teammates put on a show in the 800 relay. Lydia Coatney, Sage Walrath, Alyvia Woodard and Olivia Sturrup combined for a time of 1:45.25. It was a season best by nearly 4 seconds, eclipsing the 1:49.2 turned in at the Bureau
“It was all in our handoffs, I would say,” Coatney said. “Before, we struggled with the handoffs, either taking off too early or too late. Today, it was right on.”
“I think we knew we could do better because our handoffs haven’t been spot-on,” Walrath added. “We just wanted to do our best, really.”
Bureau Valley’s 800 team was the target for the Missiles. The Storm had run a 1:48.63 to win their own sectional, and entered the meet as the No. 3 seed, behind Warrensburg-Latham (1:46.14) and Pana (1:48.37).
“We haven’t had clean handoffs all year, and I knew we could run with Bureau Valley,” Wroble said. “We were at sectional, and we messed up a handoff. I was hoping to get down to the 47s and get to finals, but I never expected a 1:45 out of them. They just ran great.”