SJO headed to finals

CHARLESTON — St. Joseph-Ogden junior Zea Maroon tried to instill confidence in teammate Parker Francisco all season long about her ability to outperform her expectations in the 300-meter hurdles.

“I think she was always cautious, like, ‘Oh, I’ve never been a 300 hurdler,’” said Maroon, a fellow 300 hurdler who struggled after missing a month of training with a hip adductor injury. “This year I was like, ‘Parker, I haven’t been doing so hot, I’m recovering. I need you to step up for both of us.’”

Francisco didn’t believe Maroon until about 50 meters into Thursday’s Class 1A preliminaries during the state meet at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, when she unexpectedly held even with Luther North’s Natasha Bernett, the top seed.

“Multiple times over the week, I thought, ‘There’s no way, there’s no way,’” Francisco said. “With the girl who was supposed to be the top seed right by me, I was feeling good about it.”

Francisco finished just behind Bernett, with Bernett clocking in at 46.35 seconds and Francisco finishing in 46.45, and heads into Saturday’s finals with the third fastest time overall in the event. On Saturday, it might take surprising performances like that for the Spartans to bring home a team state title.

A year ago, SJ-O came into the state meet without expectations of winning a trophy, but behind strong performances in the relays and a surprising second-place finish in the pole vault from Hanna Atwood, they took second.  

With virtually the entire lineup returning, a trophy was expected this spring and a state title seemed within their grasp. That appears to be coming to fruition. Heading into Saturday, SJ-O is in a dead heat with Warrensburg-Latham and Luther North based on preliminary seeds. 

The Spartans ran the top preliminary times in the 400 relay (49.77) and 1,600 relay (4:06.59), but the 800 relay was the most surprising to junior Abbey Mizer, who was part of all three races. The Spartans came in with the fifth fastest sectional time but bested it by four seconds with a time of 1:45.49, good for the third best time on Thursday. The 3,200 relay also qualified for Saturday’s finals.

“We thought, ‘Oh maybe we can skate by and place,’” Mizer said, “but we weren’t expecting to be in the top two, top three going into finals. We didn’t think we’d be able to drop that much.’”

Francisco enters Saturday with the top preliminary time in the 100 hurdles, replicating her ranking up to this point with a time of 15.07 on Thursday. Atwood moved on in the pole vault, as did Maroon in the 300 hurdles and Maclayne Taylor in the 200. 

The Spartans, though, believed a long time ago that they had the ability to win the state meet.

“Our expectations were so much higher (coming into this season),” Mizer said. “Our coaches said, ‘We know you can do it, so do it ... It’s going to be extremely close, and we’re going to have to perform our best in every single area.”

 

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