BY CHAD DARE
Salt Fork senior Toria Plotner thought her high school running career was over after Monday’s Vermilion Valley Conference meet at the Don Lashmet Complex.
Plotner, a three-time state qualifier in the 400 meters, pulled up with a hip injury during the finals of the 200.
Just four days later, the Storm senior came back as strong as ever — qualifying for state in three events.
“I was very worried. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run anymore,’’ said Plotner about Monday’s final race. “It scared me, but thankfully, it wasn’t a major injury.’’
Plotner, who has signed to run track at Rend Lake College next year, did everything the trainers told her to do this week.
“I was icing it, I was going to bed early every night and I was taking extra vitamins,’’ she said. “I was going to do whatever it took to be ready for sectionals.’’
Plotner said she started feeling better on Wednesday and she knew on Thursday that she was going to be able to run.
Not only did she get her fourth trip to state in the 400, with a winning time of 1 minute, 1.19 seconds, but Plotner also had a state-qualifying time in the 200 and she anchored the Storm’s 400 relay team that took second.
“I’m really proud of the relay, it’s the first time I’ve been a part of a relay since eighth grade,’’ Plotner said. “It’s not just me this year.
“Every year, it’s only been me and coach (Gail) Biggerstaff. Now, I’ve got Jenny (Kimbro), Morgan (Kirby), Estella (Bush) going with me along with Abby (Nicholson) and Rachel (Negangard).’’
And by qualifying for state in three events, it’s going to be a little extra work for the t-shirt vendors.
“My dad (Brian Plotner) is upset because he has to pay for more letters on the back of my state t-shirt,’’ Toria Plotner said.
Another Salt Fork athlete that will have three events on the back of her state t-shirt is freshman Jenny Kimbro, who won the 100 and 300 hurdle events as well as running a leg on the Storm’s 400 relay team.
“This is really cool,’’ Kimbro said. “I’ve been looking forward to sectionals.’’
Kimbro, who also just missed qualifying in the long jump, gave up the high jump to run in the relay. That was a move that she was very happy to make for the team.
“Going to state with a relay is really fun because you have three other girls with you,’’ she said.
And Kimbro isn’t the only freshman from Salt Fork to punch her ticket for state.
Abby Nicholson continued her family’s success in the shot put and discus with a pair of sectional titles, but unlike her older brother (Cody) or cousins (Sean and Erin), she qualified for state as a freshman.
“There is a lot of competition in the family, because everyone in the family has been so good,’’ Abby said. “And, it really helped, because they were here pushing me and I had the biggest cheering section.’’
Nicholson said her goals starting the year was to just throw better than she did in junior high and hopefully place well in a few big events.
This year, she has increased her discus best by 10 feet to 118 and her shot put by 4 feet to 36.
“I did a lot of lifting and throwing in the summer,’’ she said. “I have an excellent coach (Herb Wilkins) and a couple of excellent leaders in Alec (Dutton) and Rachel (Negangard) to push me every day in practice.’’
Negangard will join Nicholson at state in the discus event.
While Plotner completed a four-year run of qualifying for state, Bismarck-Henning junior Mary Bass has now made it three years in a row after winning the 100 and 200 races.
“I had push to get to state today,’’ she said. “This is the highest thing that you can reach in track and I didn’t want to miss it for a year.’’
Another athlete making a return trip is Oakwood junior Hailey Bennett, who advanced in the 300 hurdles as well as with the Comets 800 relay team.
“I’ve never gone in a individual event and I’ve never made it two events,’’ she said. “So, this is really exciting.’’
But she almost didn’t get the opportunity. Because of a malfunction in the first heat of the 300 hurdles, track officials had to use hand-held times.
According to official IHSA rules, only the top-two place winners advance to state in that situation. The fully-automated-timing system was operation for the final two heats.
Meet official Bob Rice contacted the IHSA, and it was determined that the top two, along with the third and fourth runners — based on their state-qualifying times — would advance to state.
“I knew there were some really good girls in that race,’’ Bennett said. “I ran a state-qualifying time earlier this season and I knew if I stayed close with them that I could do it again.’’
Freshman teammate MaKayla Gayler also advanced with her time in the 100 hurdles.
Other area qualifiers include Schlarman Academy’s Janelle Marion in the long jump and Bismarck-Henning’s Jessica Hall in the shot put.
St. Joseph-Ogden claimed the team title with 97 points, while Salt Fork (86) was second and Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, the Vermilion County and the Vermilion Valley Conference champions, was third with 57 points.