December 6, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO girls’ track and field ready for sectional meet on Friday evening

The first few weeks of a track and field season are sometimes about finding out what runners to slot into what events, what athletes can contribute to field events and what members make a relay team click.


And sometimes, it’s the simple thing of making sure all team members are healthy.


That was the case for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School girls’ track and field team, who are clicking at the right time leading into Friday’s Class 1A sectional meet the Spartans will host in St. Joseph.


SJO will welcome in 16 other teams for the meet that is slated to start at 4 p.m. with field events before running events take place at 5:30 p.m. The Spartans are fresh off winning their own 15-team Spartan Classic last Friday night in St. Joseph, and coach Kelly Steffen has seen the confidence of her team grow throughout the spring.


“The most important progress we have made is getting all of our sickness out,” Steffen said. “We have had lots of girls come down with colds during the outdoor season, so we are crossing our fingers that we have flushed it all out of our system. Now that we are healthy, it is time to fine-tune and find our confidence. I have said many times to the girls that they need to trust all of the hard work they have put in this season. This is the time that you allow it to show. We have all the practice we need under our belts. Now it is time to compete.”


SJO, the defending 1A state champions, will try to send a large representation to next week’s state meet. The top two finishers in each event, plus any athlete or relay team that hits state-qualifying standards in their respective event, will advance to the state meet, held May 16-18 at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.


“Just like every team, we want to have as big of a showing at state as possible,” Steffen said. “Trying to get as many people qualified as possible is always the goal. However, we also love showing up as a team and fighting for the sectional title. We look to everyone on our sectional roster to fight to score top six for team points.”


SJO will vie for its eighth consecutive sectional title on Friday night as the tradition-rich program seeks to add to its collection of postseason hardware. Winning the Spartan Classic can only add to the momentum that SJO has rolling at the moment.


“Friday’s win just echoes what we stress all year long: team effort,” Steffen said. “It was super exciting to see some girls who aren’t normally our big point scorers step up and place in the top six to contribute to the team title. We had a great team huddle after the meet, thanking our seniors and celebrating a successful regular season while re-focusing our attention to postseason.”


Competing in a familiar environment should benefit SJO come Friday night. Hosting a sectional meet, though, is a double-edged sword, according to Steffen.


“It is always fun to compete on home turf and draw more of a crowd than we would have had with it being away,” Steffen said. “However, there is a lot of work that goes into being a host of a big meet. If something technical goes wrong with the meet, the coaches’ attention has to go to fixing the problem. We cross our fingers that this doesn’t happen, and we also have a wonderful volunteer base that allows us to continue to coach as the meet runs.”


SJO has a plethora of talented athletes set to compete on Friday evening, with state aspirations at stake. Maclayne Taylor, Atleigh Hamilton and Jillian Plotner are fresh off winning events at the Spartan Classic, along with SJO’s 1,600 relay, so Steffen’s squad has shown it can fare well against other top area schools. The quest continues on Friday.


“This is always one of the busiest times of year with school ending, graduation, final exams and more,” Steffen said, “However, I encourage people to stop by and support the Spartans. This group of girls is determined to chase state qualifying, personal records, school records and more. This determination is contagious. The more fans we have cheering, the better it will be.”

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