The high school outdoor track season will start in earnest on Apr. 1. And based on indoor results, many girls programs in Lake County will have tremendous seasons.
One of the leading indicators of spring track success outdoors is the annual Lake Michigan Invite – a 30-team indoor festival hosted by Carthage College in Kenosha on Saturday.
This year, there were 14 events contested in the girls meet, and seven of them were won by athletes from Lake County schools.
That’s the best showing, by far, in anyone’s memory. In the team scoring, a school from Indiana won, but Warren was second, Lakes third, Grant fourth, and Waukegan and Lake Forest tied for sixth.
Leading the list of winners was Warren sophomore Brittny Ellis, who won the state title last May in the 400 dash, and won that event, the 200 and 55 dash at Carthage.
Also winning were Grant’s Julia Sangster in the 55 hurdles, Melissa Dunham of Grant in the shot put, Elsie Rehberg of Grayslake Central in the 1,600, Ellie Palacios of Mundelein in the 3,200, and Lake Forest’s Carly Schmidt, who crushed the competition by clearing 12-0 in the pole vault.
At the IHSA state meet, Schmidt has placed as high as 4th in the pole vault and will be one of the favorites to win the event this May.
At Carthage, the pole vault runway was lined with bleachers, and over a hundred spectators cheered Schmidt on as she cleared 11-6, 12-0, and made three attempts at 12-6.
“In outdoor meets, you’re usually out in the middle of a big field with nobody around. This is nice,” Schmidt said. “Everybody is cheering right in your ear. It really gets my adrenaline going. It’s pretty cool.”
As for winning state, Schmidt is focused on the task at hand.
“I thought last year was going to be my year, but now I’m even more driven,” she said. “My focus is really on keeping myself healthy. Last year, I had injuries and got sick a lot. This year, I’m really trying to stay healthy so I can stay on top of my game.”
Dunham easily won the shot with a throw of 39-6. Teammates Sydney Moore (37-2) and Kyra Varney (34-9) finished second and sixth respectively. They were the top three area finishers in the event.
Dunham placed second in the discus in 3A last year, and while she likely won’t defeat defending champion Emmonnie Henderson of Edwardsville in either the shot or the discus at the outdoor state meet this spring, another second-place finish in the discus and a medal in the shot are definite possibilities.
Dunham, who was also a member of Grant’s competitive cheerleading squad that won its second consecutive North Suburban championship this winter and finished third in the coed division in the IHSA state competition, will be throwing for Dartmouth next year.
“At my first meet this year (at Maine East), I PR’d in the shot with a 42-4. I had a bit of a dip after that. This is the first meet since then where I’ve actually came away feeling good,” she said.
Lakes didn’t win any events, but that’s because there were big schools in the field. The Eagles compete against smaller schools in the state series.
Lakes’ Griesbaum twins —sophomores Brittani and Danielle — both had big meets without winning.
Brittani set three PRs, finishing second in the long jump (18-9.5), second in the 400 (57.76), and fourth in the 55 (7.38).
Brittani and Danielle also rallied Lakes to a fourth-place finish in the 1,600 relay.
Recovering from the flu, Danielle finished second in the high jump (5-2), and third in the 800 (2:28.88). Danielle was sixth in the high jump at the IHSA 2A state meet last year.
“We keep an eye on what the 2A schools are doing, but having the 3A schools around to really push us is great,” Danielle said. “We know if we can be competitive with the top girls from 3A schools, we’ll be in great shape against 2A competition.”
The top 3A girl at Carthage was Warren’s Ellis, who is one of those athletes spectators enjoy watching circle the track.
“It was a very good meet. I ran my best time indoors this year in the 400, and broke my all-time PR in the 55,” Ellis said. ”I’m very happy with where I’m at, but I can definitely work on my starts. It’s always my starts that kill me.”
Ellis’ teammate, Autumn Santos, finished third in both the 55 and 200.
“This has been my best meet so far,” Santos said. “I set a PR in the 55. Having Brittny around to really push me to better times helps a lot, and picking up those extra points (in the sprint events) means a lot in the team scoring.”
As far as Warren’s team is concerned, Blue Devils coach Ryan Dunn is fired up.
“When you come to a big meet like this, it’s hard to know what to expect. The girls did some outstanding stuff. There are a lot of areas where we exceeded my expectations, which is definitely encouraging.
“This is a great venue with great competition. That’s why teams are here. The girls know they’re going to be pushed, and that helps them rise to the next level. It’s definitely a positive when you can finish the indoor season with some great marks.”
The runaway race of the day was Mundelein’s Palacios in the 3,200. She won by more than 15 seconds over Warren’s Meg Tully.