PEORIA – The Dixon Duchesses made it to state. Now what?
Getting to Saturday’s Class 2A State Meet at Detweiller Park became quite an accomplishment for the Duchesses, who struggled with injuries early in the season and peaked during the postseason run.
Despite not making a dent in the top 20 in the individual race, Dixon’s strategy of staying as close as possible to one another was good enough for a sixth-place finish among 25 competing teams.
“Today was a celebration day,” Dixon sophomore Nicquelette Fazekas said. “We made it to state, and that was our goal. We’re actually very ecstatic and proud about that because, with the way the season was going, it didn’t look like we were going to [be here]. Being here and running here for the first time with these girls was a great thing.”
Fazekas led the Duchesses for the first 2 miles, peaking just above the top 40, before tired legs got the best of her. She still managed to set a new personal best with a time of 18 minutes, 20 seconds – which shattered her previous best of 18:37 set the Saturday before at the 2A Kaneland Sectional.
“The first mile was faster than what I was used to,” Fazekas said. “I had a strategy of where I wanted to be in the top. I got through my first [mile] and was feeling good, but by the second, my leg started to give a bit. I gave myself 100 percent out there, but it wasn’t the greatest last mile of the race.”
“We wanted Nicquelette to be our point person,” Dixon coach Evan Thorpe said. “She’s got the most experience, and we wanted her about 30th or 35th at the mile mark. She was just a little bit back out of there. She was always about 10 seconds out from that 25th spot.”
Fazekas finished in 37th place, but freshman Paige Stees was the first Duchess to cross the finish line. Stees improved upon her sectional time by 30 seconds, and her personal best by about 10 seconds, placing 32nd with a time of 18:16.
“That just shows that we can both really push each other,” Stees said of competing with Fazekas. “We can make each other better throughout the season. I’m glad I have a teammate like her who can push me.”
Jade Miller, who was Dixon’s fourth-best runner at the sectional meet, was the third Duchess to cross the finish line in 18:43. One of four freshmen on Dixon’s top seven, Miller improved on her sectional time by 34 seconds, finally getting past the challenge of starting a race off well.
“I finally broke 19 [minutes],” Miller said. “I usually don’t get a good start in my races, so my main goal was to start off a lot faster. My first mile isn’t as fast as my second.”
Senior Leah Drengenberg, the only upperclassman in the Duchesses’ top seven, was fourth-best on her team with a 91st-place finish in 19:09, a 20-second PR. She was followed by Taylor Renkes (113th, 19:24), Taylor Hills (159th, 20:01) and Grace Johnson (148th, 20:21). Hills and Johnson also improved on their sectional times.
“I think we have a tremendous amount of growth to do mentally and maturity-wise,” Thorpe said. “Our potential is fantastic. Physically, we’re fine. Just, our approach to the workouts, and the approach to the races, I think next year we’re going to be dynamite.
“These girls are so happy to be here. They’re thrilled, are all straight-A students, and you can’t say enough good things about them.”
Drengenberg, who struggled with injury at the beginning of the season, will now concentrate fully on her role on the Byron co-op swim team, of which Dixon is a part. Swimming sectionals are this coming Saturday, and Drengenberg looks for another state final appearance in the same season.
“If I did do that, I would be really excited,” Drengenberg said. “I just have to focus on swimming. They’re both endurance sports, so they both kind of help each other. I ran PRs this season because swimming helped a lot with that.”
With any cross country runner, running on the track team also helps when it comes to blazing through a 3-mile course. Dixon’s 3,200 relay team took sixth in 2A last spring, a quartet which consisted of Fazekas, Renkes, Kira Goral and Drengenberg.
Goral, who sat out this cross country season due to illness, is expected to return to the team next year.
“We’re going to have a great track season. I can already feel that,” Fazekas said. “This is a great thing just to be down here.”