CHARLESTON – Coming into the final race of the day, the Kaneland girls 1,600-meter relay team needed to win in order to catch defending Class 2A state champion Cahokia.
After the team of junior Nicole Sreenan, seniors Carly Bartholomew and Allie Heinzer and sophomore Jamie Martens cruised to a first-place finish, it helped the Knights to become the co-state champions with the Comanches on a sunny Saturday at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium in Charleston.
"It's a dream come true for my senior year, I couldn't ask for anything more for my teammates," said Heinzer, who also took fourth in the 200 dash.
It's the best finish for the Knights since they won back-to-back Class A championships in 1987 and '88.
While the relay team needed all 10 points to earn a tie with Cahokia, Kaneland relays coach Keith Snyder said he kept the team blissfully ignorant on the matter.
"I don't think they knew. We weren't going to tell them," Snyder said. "When they ran together this year, there wasn't many teams in Illinois that could beat them."
The 1,600 team led almost the entire race – helped by a strong push by Heinzer in the third leg – and Martens maintained the advantage to beat Springfield Southwest for the title.
"I got to keep the lead," Martens said of what she was thinking when she was handed the baton for the final leg. "I knew we were close in team points, so I knew I had to get it."
It was another strong day for the relay teams for the Knights, who finished with 53 points. All four relays finished in the top five: the 1,600 (first), 400 (second), 800 (fourth) and the 3,200 (fifth).
"To have four relays place that high, it shows how strong of a team we have," Snyder said. "We got contributions from everywhere."
The 400 relay team of sophomore Shanya Hurston, Heinzer, Sreenan and junior Carly Elliott, which came into the finals with the top prelim time, finished with a time of 48.30 seconds.
"Honestly, I was a nervous wreck – I was," Elliott said about running in the final. "But once the gun goes off, you just have to clear your mind and run your race and do your thing."
Springfield Southeast ended up taking first with a time of 48.15. Sreenan said being the state runner-up is a good step for the team, which will bring back three of the four legs in the relay.
"I think it's good encouragement for next year," she said. "We're second, which is awesome, but that leaves room for improvement. I think that's what that means. Allie won't be here, but we can still hold on to the legacy that we made this year."
The fourth-place 800 relay team of Heinzer, Bartholomew, Martens and Elliott finished in 1:43.42 and the 3,200 relay of junior Sarah Daley, seniors Noelle Espino and Brianna Bower and junior Becca Richtman crossed in 9:46.
The Knights had multiple little moments throughout the day that helped add up to their point total, also. Junior Lexie Guerra was eighth in the pole vault, which netted them two valuable points and in the 400 dash, Sreenan had a strong finish that helped propel her to second place.
"I think that's my strong point in the 400 is to be able to push harder at the end – that's what I've really had going for me in the end," said Sreenan, who was also second in the 100.
Kaneland narrowly missed getting a trophy last season, finishing fifth and was one point behind a two-way tie for third. According to Knights coach Doug Ecker, who was an assistant on those 1987 and '88 teams, the moments like Sreenan's late surge and Guerra placing eighth in the pole vault are what helped put them over the top Saturday.
"When you're down here, that's what it is when you have the best relays and best individuals – the difference between first and fifth can be one little thing," he said. "That's why you never know how many points you're going to score, or what you're going to place. I thought we might have a chance to get a trophy."