There are a lot of paths a team can take in capturing a state championship in the team competition at the IHSA State Track and Field meet.
The most common path is to get as many athletes to the state finals as possible, advance them through to the finals and hope the quantity of top performances in the finals outweighs the competitors that stand in the way.
The girls teams will vie for a state title this weekend at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. Class 1A preliminaries will be held Thursday, followed by Class 2A and 3A preliminaries Friday and then the finals for all three classifications Saturday.
Lincoln-Way East is the defending Class 3A state champion. They racked up 56 points in winning the title, using a strong individual effort from Mariam Azeez to lead them to the crown. Azeez took an individual first in the 100 meters and also stood near the top of the podium in the long jump (2nd) and the 200 (3rd).
Azeez is back to help the Griffins try to defend the title. She ran a very limited schedule before sectionals, but will participate in the 100 and long jump as an individual and is seeded among the top five competitors in those events and will also be a key cog in the Griffins relay efforts.
But like any good team, Lincoln-Way East won’t rely only on Azeez to add more hardware to the school’s trophy case. Sophia Barnard is the No. 3 seed in the 100 and 300 hurdle events and should supply more points to the Griffins title chase, while Jaiden Knoop is a top five seed in the pole vault.
Lincoln-Way East also advanced all four its relays to state. Only the 400 relay currently is seeded in the top 10, but the Griffins might be able to find a way to get one or two more of those teams into the final round for more points.
They may need all they can get. Last year’s runner-up and long-time rival Homewood-Flossmoor looks well-armed to challenge East, while Chicago Public League power Whitney Young looks poised to do very well in the individual sprints and sprint relays and should be a factor.
Other teams that look like they could be in the mix for a team trophy are Evanston, Huntley and Prospect.
Several other local individuals could make a big impact. Lincoln-Way Central’s Marla Hayes enters the preliminaries as the top seed in the Class 3A discus competition after throwing 42.2 meters (138 feet, four inches), and Minooka’s Kendal Franklin is tied for fourth in seeding in the high jump after her clearance of 1.6 meters (5-3) in sectionals.
The pole vault pit could be where area athletes fare well. Plainfield Central’s Tessani Foster [seeded in a tie for 2nd], the aforementioned Knoop (5th) and Lockport’s Makenna Skoczylas (10th) could all be a factor.
Plainfield’s South Janiya Bowman could be a factor in multiple events. She is seeded in the top 11 in three individual events (100, 200 and long jump).
Class 2A doesn’t have as much local representation, but one athlete that will almost certainly be heard from is Providence’s Natalie Papes who is tied for the best sectional clearance in the state with Kaneland’s Jessica Phillipp, as both cleared 3.51 meters (11-5).
In Class 1A, Seneca may be able to find its way to a team trophy because of the sheer volume of qualifiers it has. The Fighting Irish have 10 individual qualifiers and advanced all four of its relays. Many of them have high seeds, with all four of the Seneca relays seeded among the top ten teams.
Individually, Wilmington’s Kate McCann is the fifth seed in the long jump. She also is a qualifier in the 100 and 200.