CHARLESTON – After finishing the preliminaries in the triple jump at the IHSA Class 2A State Track & Field Meet, Sterling junior Alice Sotelo had a sly smile on her face during her interview afterward.
Sitting second after a top jump of 11.13, Sotelo still had confidence that she had a better jump in her.
“I’m not worried; I know what I can do, and maybe I have something in my back pocket,” she said Friday morning.
That prediction was spot-on.
Sotelo covered 11.22 meters with her first jump in Saturday’s finals to take the lead, then leapt to the state title with an 11.36 (37 feet, 3 1/4 inches) on her final jump inside Eastern Illinois University’s Lantz Fieldhouse.
“That exceeded expectations. It’ actually unbelievable, and I haven’t really processed it yet,” she said with another grin. “But I’m so excited, now that I’m actually thinking about it. That was what was in my back pocket. You never know. You have to be ready for everything.”
It’s the fourth time Sotelo has set a new school record in the last month; she broke the old record of Tori Gaumer – the sister of current Sterling girls track coach Tyler Gaumer – on April 21 at the Geneseo Invite, then broke her own record eight days later at the Sterling Night Relays, before topping her own mark again at last week’s 2A Geneseo Sectional.
The key this weekend was her cool, calm demeanor. Sotelo said she never felt nervous, just excited for the chance to compete at the state meet.
And she wasn’t fazed when the triple jump was moved inside due to inclement weather.
“Being mentally strong is the key. I was expecting to be outside, and being told that we’re going to be inside, and it being delayed and having to sit there forever – I was still so mentally ready,” Sotelo said. “I knew I came her for something. I didn’t know I was going to win, but it feels so great that I did.”
Sotelo knew as soon as she landed her first jump that it was a good one, and she felt it again on the last one. But she couldn’t celebrate immediately, because Lincoln’s Reese McCuan – who led going into the final round of jumps at 11.30 meters (37 feet, 1 inch) – still had one more attempt left.
But McCuan scratched, and Sotelo was able to let it sink in a bit that she had just been crowned the best in the state in the Class 2A triple jump.
“I can usually feel it for every jump; if it’s a bad jump, I’ll know – and you can see it on my face that it’s a bad jump. But I knew it was a good one,” she said. “My competitor from Lincoln had one jump left, so it was exciting that I had jumped that far, but I still had to make sure I wasn’t getting too excited for a title and then get second.”
It was another item to check off her personal to-do list – and it was even sweeter than the goal she had set for herself.
“My goal this year was just to place,” Sotelo said. “But knowing that I didn’t meet one of my goals this year, which was to make to state in two events, this definitely made up for it.”