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PREP GIRLS TRACK: Haley Carlton finally gets her state medal

May 21—CHARLESTON — Haley Carlton's past experiences at the IHSA Class 1A State Track and Field Meet were anything but good.

Most people tried to tell the Georgetown-Ridge Farm senior to not even think about those disappointing days at O'Brien Field in Charleston.

And maybe they were right.

But, Carlton had a new attitude this season. She had been getting herself prepared for the state finals and it paid off.

For the first time in school history, Carlton won a fifth-place medal in the pole vault event with a jump of 3.35 meters.

"I cleared 11 foot (3.50 meters), which wasn't a PR, but it was something meaningful to me," she said. "I had three very good attempts at 11-6 and when I missed my third and final attempt, I cried. They weren't tears of sadness, they were tears of four years of hard work and finally get my spot on that podium.

"I worked at this four nights a week and I finally did it. Today, it feels like a bunch of hard work paid off for me."

The last two years, Carlton was right there but each time, she came up short by one jump. She finished 12th in 2022 and 10th in 2023, the top nine receive state medals.

"I didn't come into this weekend thinking I had to win or even be in the top three," Carlton said. "I just wanted to get a medal and do well for myself. I didn't want to crash like I had the last two years.

"I said on Thursday that I was figuring a better way to balance my adrenaline and energy toward both days. I think I did it very well."

Carlton admitted her change mentally started back in December when she signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

"This weekend was all about me. When I got here everything was just so familiar," Carlton said.

And the previous years miscues?

"As much as I tried to stop myself from thinking about them, I just let those feelings come at me," he said. "Actually, I used those past experiences to push myself and I got angry with the mat. I just took out my aggression on every attempt."

Carlton was also sporting her favorite socks on Saturday, the ones with pictures of her coach Bryan Carrel of the Pole Vault Junkies in Champaign.

"Bryan is one of my favorite people ever," Carlton said. "He is one of the coaches that has greatly, greatly influenced who I am today. And it's kind of like having him with me. I don't have a coach at school to help me pole vault, so whenever I look down at my socks, I just think about what he would tell me, standing by the mat."

Over the years, Carlton has had a pair of Harry Potter socks, a pair with stripes on one sock and stars on the other, and then she has a pair of American Flag socks.

"These proved to be my lucky socks today," Carlton said.

As for the rest of the girls from Vermilion County, Saturday proved to be a very difficult and frustrating day.

Danville junior Nickiya Shields came into the weekend with an opportunity for three state medals, but after failing to reach the finals in either the 100- or 300-meter hurdles, she was left with an opportunity in the triple jump.

Starting the day in seventh place after prelims, Shields couldn't improve on her 11.50 meters jump from Friday and settled for an eighth-place finish as Layla Bonita of Chicago Whitney Young passed her with a jump of 11.62 meters.

"I didn't get on the board today. I was on it during warmups but when it came to the final jumps, it just didn't happen," Shields said. "It just seems like everything goes downhill when it comes to the finals.

"We are going to get that figured out."

In her first two years at state, Shields made the finals twice in the 300 hurdles and once in the 100 hurdles, taking a pair of ninth-place finishes and an eight-place finish.

"I know I can do better," she said. "I know it's mental. I can do it physically, but when it comes the mental side, there is just a block.

"I just get into my head and once I do that, than everything goes wrong."

Most track athletes would love to have four medals in three seasons, but Shields has a higher standard.

"It's good," she aid. "But, I know I can do better."

Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior Ella McFarland knew that Saturday's would not only be her final high school athletic event, but it would probably also be her final day as a track athlete.

McFarland, who will be playing volleyball next year at Tennessee-Martin, was wanting to end her career with a pair of state medals, instead she settled for an eighth in the Class 1A triple jump.

"I wouldn't say that track is like my thing, but I didn't expect to be so sad that it's over," she admitted. "I feel like I was supposed to do really well today and I think I put too much pressure on myself.

"I didn't want to get complacent from the rankings, I still held myself to a higher standard."

First in the high jump, McFarland cleared 1.55 meters and she needed to clear 1.58 to medal. Teammate Natalie Thomason just barely earned the ninth-place medal with a jump of 1.58 meters.

Next came the triple jump where on her second attempt in the finals, McFarland went 10.67 meters moving up from 11th into eighth where she would finish.

"Looking back on my high school career, there are some things that I could have done better, like today, but overall, I didn't do too terrible," she said.

Westville junior Ella Miller finished 11th in the triple jump, while Hoopeston Area junior Claire Dixon was 12th.

In the Class 1A finals of the 800 meters, Salt Fork senior Macie Russell ran another personal best time of 2 minutes, 21.10 seconds. Unfortunately for her, it was only good enough for 10th place as both the eighth-place, Caroline Tepe of Okawville, and ninth-place, Mikayla Chambers of Dwight, also ran personal best times to claim the final two medals.

Danville sophomore Gabi Huerta finished in a tie for 12th after clearing 1.55 meters and Salt Fork freshman Callie Richardson was 25th in the 3,200 with a time of 12:33.18.