MORRIS – When the Class 2A girls state track meet kicks off Friday, there will be two entries representing Morris Community High School.
Sophomore Joy Dudley will take part in the 3,200-meter run after finishing second at last week’s Geneseo Sectional, and the 4x100-meter relay team of sophomore Maddie Rushing, junior Alexis Johnson, senior Kyla Kjellesvik and freshman Ava Smith, along with alternate Izzy Sallese, another sophomore, will also be on hand to compete at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.
Dudley, who finished 20th in the Class 2A Peoria Notre Dame cross country sectional in the fall, is happy to get the chance to run Friday.
“I am excited,” she said. “I qualified for state in cross country, but there wasn’t a state meet. This time, I get to compete at state. It’s nice that I made it early in my high school career. I can just enjoy it and take it as a learning experience.
“It’s also going to be nice that I only have one race to run. In most of the meets this season, I was also running the 1,600, so I had to make sure I saved something for that race. This time, I can go out and give it everything I have in the 3,200 and see what happens.”
The 4x100 relay team features a mixture of athletes with varying experience in state competition. Kjellesvik has competed in the state tennis tournament, while Johnson competed at the state track meet, representing Saratoga in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Rushing, meanwhile, competed with the poms team in the virtual state competition earlier in the school year.
“It’s very exciting,” Kjellesvik said. “I didn’t get the chance to go to state in tennis this year, so this is a pretty sweet ending to my senior year.”
“We just want to go out and relax and give the best performance we can,” Johnson said. “We have been working all year, and our timing on our handoffs has gotten better.”
Much like an automobile race, in which the short time spent in the pits is often the key to winning and losing, the short time spent handing off the baton can be the difference in a relay race. Morris saw that firsthand at the sectional, when race favorite Geneseo dropped a baton during a handoff and was disqualified.
“That made a huge difference for us,” Morris coach Ryan Battersby said. “We went from fighting for second and third to being in the top two and qualifying.”
Rushing is the leadoff runner for the Redskins and only has the responsibility of handing the baton off. Smith is the anchor and must only receive the baton. Johnson and Kjellesvik must do both as they run second and third, respectively.
“I try to get out to the best start I can and give the other girls a chance,” Rushing said. “I competed at state with poms, but that was virtual. This is my first in-person state competition. I am not really nervous, just excited.”
“I am the anchor,” Smith said. “I only have to deal with one handoff. The rest of the girls are usually telling me if I have someone in front of me or behind me. My teammates are the only ones I hear.
“We all get along pretty well, which helps. We spend a lot of time together, so if we didn’t get along well, it would make for some long road trips.”
As for Sallese, as an alternate, she has to be ready to run any leg of the race should one of the team members not be able to perform.
“I have to be ready for anything,” she said. “I practice handoffs with everyone. I am excited to go down to state. It’s going to be a great experience.”