The initial prospect of morning anxiety ran high as Class AA division of the Illinois Prep Top Times Classic stepped up to start the final day of the meet … but it wouldn't be enough to stop the main cogs from stepping into the arena, living up to the hype and then going out performing up to the very best of their abilities. There were many top names that stood tall on Saturday morning, but none were more bigger than Bell or Little.
A common bond between Bell and Hull
The first event of the morning was the girls’ pole vault, and it was kind of ironic that Sarah Bell’s biggest competitor and fan would be on the sidelines. The competitor and fan in question? Brittany Hull goes to neighboring Normal Community and Bell is a student-athlete at Bloomington Central Catholic. The two best friends rarely compete against each other because of classification reasons. Hull’s school is in the larger 3A division, so she would be vaulting later in the day, but it doesn’t stop the two from having a competitive drive to top one another. “I knew [Brittany] had the top jump in the country, but I wanted to go over 13-0 too,” said a seemingly relieved Bell.
Bell had a recipe that would ultimately tie for Hull's national lead (from a previous meet) at 13-0.25. “I started at 11-0 and then cleared 11-6. I passed up to 12-0. I didn’t miss until I got to 13-0,” she said. “I blew two poles along the way and once I got over 13, I was using a 150 [weight pole].”
Now the new personal goals have to be reassessed by Bell because she achieved her season aspirations. “My goal was to reach 13-0 and I did that (13-0.25, actually). I think now it’s going to have to be 13-3 or 13-4.”
Whatever happens from here on in the vault world, you can bet Bell and Hull will continue to be best friends as they go for top marks -- though Hull would suffer an upset loss in the evening's 3A session.
Little tough to beat over flat land and obstacles
Shamier Little of tiny Chicago Lindblom on the south side of Chicago (in the rugged Englewood Community) didn’t appeared to be fazed by the competition even though she said she was. The first obstacle to erase any self-doubts or fears would be the 55HH. Little was already the state’s overall leader at 8.19.
As the gun sounded for the first prelim heat, Little smashed through the barriers in a meet record 8.03. It also happened to be the second-fastest time ever run at the meet. The only girl ahead of her: Evanston’s Shalina Clark’s awesome 7.96 set in 2006. Clark has been revered as the state’s best-ever hurdler.
The final wasn’t much different as Little came back within an hour and devoured the field in 8.06.. “I was just trying to run my race; I didn’t have any thoughts of big records -- just running a clean race,” said a stoic Little.
The 400 is perhaps Little’s strongest event in terms of having an equal competitor. She would draw class leader Megan Paul in the championship heat. Keep in mind that Paul had to run hard in the 4x800 relay for her team about an hour prior. As the race got off to a flying start, Paul got out on Little. However, Little did not panic as she moved up like an elevator on the backstretch after a conservative opening 200. It wasn’t until the final curve that Little shifted into overdrive. Paul moved her legs valiantly, but she could do little to keep from rigging up. Little held on for the 57.10-57.29 win. Both tough competitors shared a congratulatory hug shortly afterwards.
The final event of the day for Little was the 200 and it would serve as icing on the cake for one of the state’s most premier athletes. She appeared to acknowledge that she perhaps spent whatever energy reserves she had in the hurdles and long dash. Instead, Little hung tough for a strong second place and season's best 25.34.
Little went on to earn the athlete of the meet for her fine feats.
Best of the rest
• The 4x800 saw Class 2A newcomers Petersburg-Porta impress a solid field in their first attempt. The Lady Blue Jays trailed after the first leg on Normal U-High’s Sydney Billingsley’s strong 2:18 leg. But it was all over after that for Porta, which won going away in 9:43.01. University of Arkansas-bound Megan Paul brought her team from way back in 8th place to the runner-up slot on the strength of a 2:16.7 carry (9:49.05).
• Springfield South East didn’t need the spectacular feats of Charday Crawford to get the job done in setting a class meet record in the 4x200 relay. The Spartans took complete control after the lead leg and won in 1:45.94. By the time Crawford got the stick on anchor leg, she was on auto pilot. The runner-up Urbana charged hard on the final straight, but they ran out of real estate in running a season best 1:46.10.
• Kristen Busch of Freeburg's introduction into Class AA was a breeze in a winning 11:01.23 during the 3,200. Busch stayed glued to a pack of eight girls for the first two kilometers (7:02.7). She then made a crucial move with just under four laps remaining that was the moment of truth. No one matched her surge and she won going away over the runner-up Julia Williams (Washington Community) who ran to a personal best 11:08.66.
• The slowdown tactics of the main players in the 1600 was expected after several of the ladies doubling back from other events. The first half pace was around 2:35 and turned into a kicking affair between the aforementioned Billingsley and Busch over the final 400. Billingsley hung on for the slim victory, 5:07.84-5:08.44.
• Charday Crawford once again helped her team when she won the 200 in a class record 24.68. Crawford got out well against a solid field that featured the likes of Little and Lake Kwaza. By the time the Crawford hit the homestretch, it was too late to even think of making up any ground.
• Kayla Wolf (Burlington Central) likes the 400 a lot. “I consider myself more of a quarter-miler,” she would say after a barnstorming victory in the 800. Wolf’s undetected long speed surprised the field when she immediately took charge of the race, after breaking strong after the first cut-in. Wolf led in strong 200 increments of 31.0, 64.3, and 1:40.8. The tremendous bank of space that she created with just one circuit remaining dwindled as Allie Sprague (Marengo) and pre-meet favorite Kelsey Cramsey (Effingham) began to move strong. It was a little too late, though, as Wolf barely hung on for the win.
• Sophomore Lena Giger (Highland) improved on her state leading shot put mark from 42-7 to 43-6.5. Giger stays in the IL#2 slot, but moves up in the US rankings to #21. Also, four other throwers eclipsed the 40-foot mark making the event very competitive despite only seven finalists.