SENECA — Seneca is a regular presence at the Girls Track and Field State Final Meet, with at least one qualifier annually since 1997, when the IHSA’s website debuted.
At Friday’s 1A Seneca Sectional, the Lady Irish had a program-record 15 athletes qualify in some capacity. According to IHSA records, they have never placed as a team at state. They have never had a state champion outside of the pole vault, which 2012 graduate Alyssa Applebee won twice.
Some history has already been rewritten, and more may be by the end of the week. Among the 72 teams that scored at least one point at the 2012 state meet, none has more entrants at the 2013 state meet than Seneca’s 14.
“If we can finish in the top 10, I’m happy,” Seneca coach Kim Sedlock said, “but it would be great if we could be in the top five, and it would be even greater if we could win it.”
If what happened in the sectional round repeats itself, Seneca will have its second state champion by the time Saturday’s finals are completed. Aspen Stuedemann’s career-best mark of 14.98 in the 100 hurdles was the best sectional time in the state by a margin of 28-hundreths of a second.
“I’ve been working so hard for so long to break 15 seconds,” Stuedemann said. “In the (sectional) prelims, I was extremely happy. I ran a 15.07 and was really happy with that. I knew I was close. ... (In the finals), as soon as I cleared that first hurdle, my legs started moving faster than I’ve ever felt them move. I knew I had never ran it like that before.
“I’ve never been to state, so this is new for me, but I do want to win a state championship. I want it really bad.”
Stuedemann’s younger sister, Willow, won or helped win four events at the sectional. She was individual champion in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter relays and anchored a come-from-behind win in the 4x400-meter relay. Her time in the 100, 12.75 seconds, was the fifth-lowest in the state, and her time of 26.46 seconds in the 200 was the 10th-lowest.
Willow has been in a situation similar to her current one — a freshman readying for the state final meet — before. She qualified for the IESA state event as a fifth-grader at Milton Pope School.
“So I’ve been the person on the bottom before,” Willow said, “but I’m still really nervous. Going up against so many girls that are more experienced than me is tough. I have to make sure that doesn’t psyche me out. I know I’ll have three more chances after this, but I still want to do really well.”
Cortney Helms is another Seneca athlete with a chance to place. She is a member of two qualifying relay teams, the 4x200 and the 4x400. In addition, she had the ninth-longest long jump in the state in the sectional round, covering 16 feet, 10 inches.
“It’s a great experience to win my senior year. I’ll always remember it, especially since it was my personal best jump by 9 inches,” Helms said. “It was totally unexpected. ... I’m looking to repeat it. Really, I would like to go up four more inches, to 17-2. That’s just the number I have been trying to get my whole high school career. It’s always been my goal. I’ve never been that close until now.”
Rylee Anderson of Seneca tied with several others for the state’s third-best high jump distance in the sectional round at 5 feet, 2 inches.
None of the Lady Irish qualifiers cracked the top 10. Their other entrants are Caroline Collet, Claudia Paulson, Lexi Bogren and Mali Sellheimer in the 4x800-meter relay, Helms, Mackenzie Maierhofer, Shailee Bauer and Willow Stuedemann in the 4x400-meter relay, Michaela Hart, Bauer, Helms and Mickey Juricic in the 4x200-meter relay, Lexi Wilkinson in the triple jump and the 100-meter high hurdles, Collet in the 3,200-meter run, Rebecca Henry in the shot put and Madisen Warning in the pole vault.