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Princeton’s Phoenix Smallwood (right) hugs teammate Zoe Mead after Mead qualified for state in the 800-meter run at Thursday’s Class 2A Princeton Sectional to ensure that both PHS athletes will compete in next Friday’s Class 2A IHSA Girls State Track and Field Meet at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The pair were two of six athletes who advanced to state out of the Princeton Sectional. NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
PRINCETON — La Salle-Peru’s Megan Krolak, Mendota’s Kaitlyn Horn and Princeton’s Phoenix Smallwood were all expected to advance to the IHSA Class 2A State Track and Field Meet.
Each was a No. 1 seed in at least one event Thursday at the Princeton Sectional. Each delivered two state-worthy performances.
Krolak pulled the distance double dip by qualifying in the 3,200-meter run and 1,600, Horn advanced in the shot put and discus and Smallwood moved on in the triple jump and long jump.
The question was, would any of them be joined by a teammate?
The answer was yes — times three.
Krolak’s L-P classmate Jena Argubright is heading to state at Eastern Illinois University next weekend in the high jump, Horn’s fellow Trojan shot putter Elizabeth Willis will compete with her at state and Smallwood will be joined by Zoe Mead, who qualified in the 800 and 400.
“That was super exciting,” Smallwood said about her and Mead both qualifying. “Throughout my season, I thought I had a pretty good chance of qualifying. With Zoe’s times, she had a pretty good chance. … We were like, ‘One of us can’t go to state by ourselves. We need a roommate so we both need to do it.’”
When Mead placed second in the 800 in 2:17.45 to ensure both Tigresses would go to state, she ran toward the jumping pits and Smallwood ran toward the track and they met with a celebratory embrace.
“We knew each other could do it,” Smallwood said. “We were just waiting to see, and to finally get that clarification that yes, we both are going down to state, we were very, very excited about that.”
Smallwood punched a return ticket to state in both events by winning the triple jump with a leap of 35 feet, 6 ½ inches and placing second in the long jump with a leap of 16-8.
“Long jump was a little scary at first — scratch, scratch,” Smallwood said. “I’m like, ‘OK, all I need is one to get into finals.’ It wasn’t the greatest jump ever, but I pulled it out. The finals definitely went a lot better than prelims.
“Triple jump was totally opposite. I came out sharp in the triple jump. My first jump was qualifying distance. That was a relief not having to stress like I did in the long jump. Overall, I think I did pretty decent considering the circumstances and the pressure, so I’m happy.”
After placing second in the 800, Mead had a quick turnaround to somewhat unexpectedly qualify for the 400 as well.
Mead was seeded fifth in the event but passed Plano’s Zhate Jackson on the backstretch to place second in 58.59 seconds.
“It feels really good,” Mead said. “I didn’t think I had that in me to pull out two of them, so it feels pretty great.”
Krolak’s double dip also was somewhat unexpected.
She was the No. 1 seed in the 3,200 and cruised to victory in 12:01.63, but she entered as the No. 3 seed in the 1,600.
Krolak made a late surge to pass Aurora Central Catholic’s Irene Crown on the backstretch to finish second in 5:36.48.
“I missed (state) last year by 0.15 (seconds in the 800), so I wanted to come back and make sure I made it in at least the two mile,” Krolak said. “I wanted to make sure I made it in the two mile, then save myself for the mile just to get my best time. I wasn’t really planning on going to state in the mile.”
Krolak’s teammate Argubright was the first area athlete to qualify for state Thursday.
The sophomore cleared 4-10 to tie for second place in the high jump.
“It’s exciting. I was sort of disappointed I didn’t get 5-2 — the state-qualifying height — but I’m really happy to go,” said Argubright, who was seeded third. “I was trying to change up my steps a little bit in the past couple days to get a better jump, but it was rainy and I felt I wasn’t as loose as I could be with the weather.”
Horn, who adjusted to the rainy weather by wearing gym shoes instead of throwing shoes for the discus, won the shot put with a toss of 38-11 ½ and won the discus with a throw of 111-5.
“It means a lot to me,” the junior said about returning to state after missing as a sophomore. “I tried my best and worked really hard — a lot with my coaches’ help. It’s really nice I have a teammate going with me this year. I’m glad she’s going.”
Willis also qualified for state in the shot put by placing second with a toss of 36-7 ¾. She was seeded sixth.
Notes: Ottawa did not have any state qualifiers. … Geneseo won the team title with 121 points. Princeton was the top local finisher with 42 points to place sixth.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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