NORRIDGE – Benet senior Shirley Bai is accustomed to big-time moments.
Pressure in sports is nothing new for Bai.
An accomplished figure skater for over a decade, Bai is starting to make her name in a new event – the long jump.
“I’ve been a skater for a long time, almost 10 years now,” Bai said. “I do competitions, but I just started long jumping two weeks ago. We had a home meet and we just tried everything out, so I tried long jump. I placed pretty well, so my coach put me in long jump for conference and then today for sectionals. I did long jump in my freshman year, but I was injured.”
Bai is proving to be a quick learner in the long jump.
She earned second place in the long jump with a personal best leap of 5.30 meters at Wednesday’s Class 2A Ridgewood sectional in Norridge. Her runner-up finish, right behind winner Chinara Caldwell of Illinois Math and Science Academy, was just one of many outstanding performances by Benet.
Even Bai was shocked by her performance, which allowed her to advance to the state track and field meet in Charleston next weekend. She also ran a leg in Benet’s 4x100 relay which qualified for state with a second-place time of 50.65 seconds and the 4x200 relay which also advanced with a runner-up time of 1:48.64.
“Today was a bit rough because I just started long jumping two weeks ago,” Bai said. “It was difficult getting the mark. Overall, it was really good. It’s amazing to be going to state.”
The Redwings dominated the 15-team meet, scoring 127 points to easily win the sectional title on a sun-splashed afternoon. Kaneland placed second with 66 points, Montini took third with 58 points, Rosary snagged fourth with 55 and Aurora Central Catholic claimed fifth with 40 in a tie with Nazareth.
“Every once in a while a program is blessed with not just talent, but wonderful leadership, motivation, intelligence and kindness,” Benet coach Bill Takahashi said. “The 2023 Benet team is one of those very special teams. This team is so deserving of being the first team in school history to win back-to-back conference and sectional championships and we will be bringing 20 athletes to the state meet. I would put this group up against any in the long history of Benet’s track and field program.”
Benet’s Nicole Grimes started the parade of state placers for her program by easily winning the pole vault competition, which was held on Tuesday. Grimes, an Ohio State recruit, also competed in the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relays.
“I didn’t come close to a personal record in the pole vault,” Grimes said. “But I really liked having pole vault the day before, so I could focus on one thing one day and come here and put all my energy into my running. It was a super exciting day. It was awesome day. I’m going to try and top my fifth place in pole vault last year. I learned to go with the weather. It was very bad last year.”
Benet senior Louisa Diamond shined on the track, blazing a winning time of 10:57.55 in the 3,200 meters to advance to the state meet for the third time. She also claimed the 1,600 title in a time of 5:06 by nudging out Nazareth’s Colette Kinsella (5:14).
“I’m just hoping to leave a good impression for the underclassmen and leave a good impression on them and hope they can follow in my footsteps and achieve great things,” Diamond said.
Benet junior Valerie Sarros, who also plays volleyball, showed she can soar far in the long jump by winning the event in a jump-off (1.49) to punch her ticket to Charleston.
“It’s good to go to state after going last year,” Sarros said. “I just wanted it. Doing it in a jump-off was stressful. I just focused on getting over the bar. I’m hoping to do better at state after getting fifth last year.”
One of the highlights of the sectional came in the 4x100 relay, when Montini cruised to the sectional title in a school-record time of 49.43. The foursome of Camryn Amouzou, Takeisha Berry, Julia Gergen and Sofia Fisher caused a stir with their massive celebration following a stellar race.
“The key was getting good handoffs and just sprinting and having fun,” Berry said. “We all ran really good.”
Glenbard South senior Gianna Huerta was one of the top performers on the track. She won the 100 hurdles (15.17) and the 300 hurdles (45.55) and placed third in the 200 (26.00) to set in motion the possibility of a big weekend at state. Huerta, a Western Kentucky recruit, placed third in the 300 hurdles at state.
“I was just thinking about getting out hard today and getting over that first hurdle and keeping that time and pushing the last 100,” Huerta said of her 300. “I’m very excited for state. I’m hoping to get first or second.”
Wheaton Academy sophomore Madi Jenkins dominated the two sprints, capturing the sectional title in the 100 (12.72) and 200 (25.78). Both were personal best times for Jenkins.
“I was determined to do well,” Jenkins said. “I was happy with how I ran.”
In the shot put, Benet’s Nida Polikaitis won the event with a heave of 9.82 meters to nudge out Montini’s Lily Townsend (9.71). St. Francis’ Abigael Sheldon won the discus (30.85) and Kaneland’s Amari Eddington claimed the triple jump title (10.66). Aurora Central Catholic’s Isabella Orozco had a solid showing in the 400 to snag first place, beating out Nazareth’s Clare Sandoval.