Girls' state track meet at EIU

It was a bittersweet day for Sarah Christopher. Though competing at the highest level of her sport — the state finals meet — the Pontiac senior did not advance beyond Friday’s preliminaries.
    It wasn’t due to lack of effort. In fact, she did the best she could — and has ever have done. In the 400-meter dash, Christopher beat her all-time best time with a mark of 59.78 seconds. She didn’t make the finals, but Christopher went down swinging by setting a career PR.
    “When you go to state, you want to run the best you’ve ever run, and she did,” PTHS head coach Mike Lucas said of Christopher in the 400. “She went from 59.85 to a 59.78. If you can’t be happy when you drop time, then you’re looking at it the wrong way.
    “She did a great job. I was thrilled for her to have a lifetime best in the 400.”
    The 400 meters, which is Christopher’s signature event in track, had a loaded field. There were 14 runners who came in under the 1-minute mark. Of those, five did not advance.
    The fastest 400 time was from Jayla Campbell of Rich Central, who won the heat Christopher ran in.
    Christopher’s first effort of the day was the 100-meter dash, where she clocked a 13.7-second sprint. It served as a warmup.
    Christopher’s swan song was the 4x400 relay. Pontiac’s time of 4:11.18 was virtually the same as at sectional (4:11.16). Christopher finished strong as the Indians were fifth in their heat.
    The 4x400 might have been Christopher’s finish, but it was the beginning of something new for Megan Leigh, Tristina Einhaus and Franchesca Smith.
    “It’s crazy, it’s everything I ever wanted,” Christopher said of competing. “I’m glad these ladies were able to run next to me during the 4x4.”
    For Leigh, who ran the third leg, she gained experience at the state level and was able to see what senior leadership looks like with the example Christopher set.
    Einhaus ran the first leg and kept the Indians in the hunt. Smith took the baton and did what she could after getting held up a bit on her takeoff. Leigh also had trouble with a  crowded field at the exchange.
    “We had a couple of goals coming down and we were wanting to drop time,” Lucas said. “Tristina had a fantastic leadoff leg. When you have two freshmen going first, you’re putting a lot of trust in them and they did a nice job. They ran well and they’re going to learn from it.”
    As for Einhaus and Smith, these speedy freshmen found out that the high school state meet is not the same as the junior high version.
    “Junior high is definitely not as hard. It was competitive, but coming up to high school and getting to state is a big change,” Einhaus said. “Going from eighth grade to high school, you have to take it more serious.”
    That’s where the biggest factor in Pontiac’s experience at state came in. Christopher, who had been the big blue oval before, went about her business as a senior should.
    “We deserved to be here, we did earn it,” Christopher said. “We worked hard trying to get here and we got here and were able to prove ourselves. It’s just an overall great experience.
    “I hope they get the same experiences I did, knowing what they can do when they work hard. They’ll be able to come back here.”
    Leigh, Einhaus and Smith will be looking to make a return next year. For Leigh, she was aware of the meaning of simply competing on this stage.
    “I hope they can learn from us and learn that they can be leaders, themselves,” she said.
    For the freshmen, the talent is there for them to make a return trip in multiple events, like their mentor Christopher.
    “It’s really exciting to get up here our first year and getting that support from the senior,” Einhaus said. “It’s sad to see Sarah go, but gave up the motivation and told us that we can do it. We believe we can come back here next year.”
    “I think that in high school, there’s a lot more competition,” Smith added. “(We learned) to work hard and that hard work pays off.
    “I would love to come back and triple jump, but I would just love to come back.”