On a beautiful Tuesday evening at the Terry Lakes Track and Field Facility, new school records were set, personal bests were established, and above all, Grant County was well represented in the 2021 Girls Track and Field Sectional as 17 area athletes punched their ticket to the regional round.
Competing a pair of tremendous teams in Norwell and Bluffton, who finished in first and second, respectively, Oak Hill finished in third with a team score of 69, Eastbrook placed fourth with 64.25 points, Mississinewa came in eighth with 24.5 points, and host Marion finished in a tie for 11th with 18. Each Grant County school had at least one athlete advance to the regional round, with two coming away with sectional championship medals.
Heading into the sectional, Paige Brunner’s Golden Eagles were suffering with both injuries and a lack of depth, a key component to their success throughout the regular season. Long jump extraordinaire Kristen Travis, together with emerging sophomore Melissa Kluevein, were lost for the season before Tuesday’s competition, while top distance runner Kate Hornocker was not running at 100 percent due to illness.
Despite this, however, the Golden Eagles still put together a tremendous performance, advancing eight athletes in four events while setting 21 new season and career bests.
“For us to still be in the top four or five teams, being in the situation we are in…I’m proud of the girls with the way they fought,” Brunner said. “We will see what we got next week.”
The star of the evening for Oak Hill was pole vaulter Taylor King. After a stout regular season, King recorded her best performance on Tuesday, finishing as the sectional champion in the pole vault with a personal, and new Oak Hill record, height of 10 feet even.
“She is gaining more and more confidence there,” Brunner said. “We have started the last couple of weeks here having that conversation that if she can be 9’6” or 10 feet, and be consistent, she is going to have a shot next week. I think she’s got a fighter’s chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Additionally, Taylor’s sister, Tori, also advanced to the regional, finishing in third place at 7’6”, an incredible accomplishment for someone still relatively new to the track and field scene.
“Getting Tori out was huge,” Brunner said. “Tori is a girl that is new to the sport in the pole vault, and she gets second in the Grant Four…and then gets out in the sectional.”
Oak Hill’s 4 x 800 team of Joy McDivitt, Selah Jackson, Emma Bledsoe, and Kinzie Robey, also qualified for the regional, holding off Eastbrook down the final stretch to take home third place honors with a time of 10:39.32.
Carlee Biddle was the Golden Eagles’ final qualifier, finishing in third and setting a new personal record in the 300 Meter Hurdles with a time of 51.33.
Despite facing adversity, Brunner was proud of how his group competed in a tough field.
“I thought we battled,” Brunner said. “We wanted to get as many girls out as we did, and hopefully, we will get some callbacks.”
Despite their youth, the Panthers performed like a group of veterans on Tuesday.
“We had a lot of season-best, PR type performances today,” Eastbrook Track and Field Head Coach Stu Goble said. “Not all of them are going to show up in the scorebook, but the kids came in and had their best meet of the year at the right time. It was a good, competitive meet here today.”
Freshman Olivia Howell shined in her first sectional action, setting a new Eastbrook record in the 800 Meter (2:22.34 – second place), while also helping the Panthers place third in the 4 x 400 Relay (4:23.12 – season best) with some clutch running down the stretch.
“Liv had a great night,” Goble said. “She ran a lot of really good times tonight—broke our school record in the 800 by about a second. It’s been coming.”
In the 100 Meter Hurdles, Emma Neargardner left no doubt, dominating both the preliminaries and the final to finish as the sectional champion. Neargardner finished the race in 16.06.
“Emma had a nice race. She was real close to getting below that 16-second mark,” Goble said. “She has put in a lot of work this year.”
After a strong week of practice, Kristin Goff’s hard work paid off in the discus. The sophomore finished with a throw of 109’5”, qualifying for the regional round with a third-place finish.
“Kristin competed well, got herself out in the discus in what was a tight race,” Goble said. “She did a really good job with practice this week in just making some improvements.”
Along with its 4 x 400 relay team advancing, Eastbrook’s 4 x 100 relay team of Camden and Emmerson Chellis, Allyson Hiles, and Chloe McDaniel made it out of the sectional as well, placing third with a time of 53.01.
“Our relay teams are made up with depth,” Goble said. “Our 4 x 1 has had good chemistry the whole year. They enjoy running together and have fun running together.
Mississinewa’s Kaiyah Jones finished second in the 100 Meter (13.15) and third in the 400 Meter (1:03.95), while Marion’s Jackie Williams rounded out Grant County’s regional qualifiers with a third-place finish in the 200 Meter (28.14).