Coming into to the track season, the Oregon girls faced one of the biggest challenges in the programs history.
The 2016 sectional had only one Hawk state qualifier, the lowest in decades. Additionally, there were concerns about a new soccer program impacting track participation.
If the results of the 1A sectional were any indication, Oregon survived the trying times with flying colors, taking second place and sending four individuals downstate.
With 2A Byron’s 12-year reign of 1A sectional championships gone, Winnebago won the 19-team meet with 105 points. Oregon was next at 82, far ahead of Dakota (50).
On paper, Dakota was seeded slightly ahead of the Hawks.
“It was a total team effort,” said Oregon coach Nick Schneiderman while posing for pictures with a very happy bunch of girls. “You can’t score 82 points with only state qualifiers. I told the girls I was very impressed and proud of what they accomplished.”
One of those state qualifiers, Abigail Hopkins, remembers the disappointment of missing going downstate by one place last year. He used that motivation to spur on titles in the 110 and 300 hurdles.
“That was rough on me,” Hopkins said. “Coming back, I had to go harder, yet stay more relaxed and definitely be positive.”
As the top seed, she won the 100 hurdles with a time of 16.60. The 300s were considerably more difficult, as Hopkins had to fight off a charge from Sam Heavlin of Winnebago, winning 48.67-48.71.
“I love competing against her,” Hopkins said. “She was the reason I dropped my time by two seconds tonight.”
Hopkins nearly made it 3-for-3 in qualifying, but settled for third place in the triple jump (32-feet-2) and was perfectly happy with that, as teammate Gylian Finch grabbed the No. 2 qualifying spot with a 33-9 on her last jump, which also met the SQ mark.
The combination club volleyball player and occasional trackster was immediately hugged and lifted in the air by her high school volleyball coach Faith Watson, who is also the Hawk jumping coach.
“I’m super excited,” Watson said. “I’m glad to see volleyball athletes be successful in track. I enjoy coaching it and am looking forward to going downstate.”
Because of volleyball, Finch has only been to a handful of meets and rarely is able to practice more than a couple times a week.
“On that final jump, I forgot about distances and who was in what place,” Finch said. “I ran without any fears.”
Senior Ellen Reckamp survived a competitive field in the discus to become a qualifier by virtue of meeting the state mark of 107-6. Reckamp threw 108-10 on her second attempt and took third to Emily Offenheiser (137-10) of Stockton and By Gwen Heimerdinger (113-5) of Pearl City.
“It helped hitting state qualifying at sectional prep (Monday) and in warm ups,” Reckamp said. “I look at other girls being bigger and stronger than me and am thankful to have coach Engle. What a difference it makes having him teaching us.”
In a field of only six 3,200 runners, Mayra Nava-Moyotl ran 13:19 to place second and earn the automatic spot for Charleston. It capped off a 4-year career plagues by trying sprinting as a freshman, a hip injury as a sophomore and surgery her junior year.
“Whether it was winter, cold or rain, Mayra never missed a day her senior year,” Schneiderman said.
Nava-Moyotl also placed in the 800, 1,600 and ran anchor on the fifth-place 1,600 relay.
“Mayra was the one that pulls us through,” Hopkins said. “This team really connected.”
Other placers were Breanna DeHaan (third in the 400), Meredith Gelander (fourth in the shot and fifth in the discus), Finch (fourth in the long jump), Cynthia Nyderek (fifth in the long jump and 300 hurdles and sixth in the 100 hurdles), Teddy Beachum (sixth in the shot) and Grace Mongan (sixth in the pole vault).
The Hawks also scored in the 800 relay with Christina Trachina, Jessica Brink, Brooke Harris and Mongan.
Forreston-Polo was 12 the in the standings with 22 points. Like Oregon, it performed much better than its seeds.
Its top finish was third in the 3,200 run by Lena Bauman (13:30). Sierra Reining was fifth in the 400.
Team leader Justine Gorzny added a fourth in the 300 hurdles (52.72) and fifth in the 100 hurdles (18.54). She also had a PR in the triple jump with a distance of 30-4, two inches away from a place.
“As a senior, this a bittersweet,” Gorzny said. “I placed higher than my seed in the hurdles and glad to finally get the times and distances I want.”
Coach Terry Jenkins was happy to see three of his four relays place. Lexi Cox, Tylor Behrens, Katrine Stevens and Anna Snider ran on the 3,200, while Kaitlyn Mateika, Audrey Hess, Lauren Rhodes and Behrens did the 800 and Makayla Hennemanm Mateika, Hess and Rhodes on the 400.
“It’s nice to come here and have 11 girls go back with medals,” Jenkins said.
In the biggest story of the meet, Rockford Lutheran’s Courtney Sockwell came in as defending state champ in the 100 and 200, but was beaten in both by Bella Uscila of Elgin St. Ed. In the 200, meet officials had to be called in to review the 25.68-25.69 finish.
“It will be totally different at state,” Sockwell said.
“I know she’ll come at me at and I’m excited to take her on again,” Uscila said.