Eastern Illinois University has always stood for one thing in my mind: State track meet.
This year, EIU had an even bigger impact on me than in years past. After going to state Freshman year, I had just assumed that it's what you do to end the season. I never realized how difficult it was to qualify for State until I started coaching.
Last year, my distance stud missed qualifying by 3 seconds. It was the most devastating race I have ever watched in my life: 300m to go, on pace; 200m to go, 45 seconds to finish; 100m to go, 22 seconds to finish. Those 22 seconds turned into 25 and was the most agonizing 25seconds of my life. It was as if my runner had hit a gust of wind that was just holding her back. She had no idea how close she was to qualifying. She literally gave EVERYTHING she had; collapsing at the finish line, she grabbed the watch from my neck and saw the time. She burst into tears and we had to carry her off the track. I promised her that if she worked hard this summer, she would qualify for State in Cross Country and Track (although I was not the XC coach, I did trust that he could keep her in the shape she was in--he did and she qualified for State in XC).
This year, she had many setbacks and obstacles in her way: her knee cap randomly doubled in size over Spring Break, causing her to miss 10 days of running and she got Laryngitus the week of Conference. However, this year there was another distance stud as well.
My Junior used to be a soccer player, but decided to go out for track this year. In her first meet, she actually ran against Ryan's freshman cousin in the pouring rain. They were neck and neck and literally ran the same overall 5:54, but I knew that I had a lot of talent that I was working with. She continually improved her times throughout the season: when I finally put her into a meet completely fresh, she ran a 5:40 (on Monday). The next time she was put into a meet fresh (Thursday of the same week) was Conference, where she ran a 5:32. After Conference, I told her dad how close she was for qualifying for State (time standard is 5:25). This runner has a "whatever" kind of attitude, in a good way. She never puts pressure on herself and just listens to you-- the most coachable athlete I've ever had. I could tell her "get up with the girl in green" and she'd be up there in less than 5 seconds. She is just incredible.
Up next: Sectionals. My Junior tells me she has a game plan: 1:24, 2:37, 4:02, 5:24. Her first lap was a 1:24, second was 2:38 ("you need to get up with the girl in green" and she does), 4:01 ("you have to get around x, x, and x if you want to go to State, GO, GO, GO!!")... 5:23. Incredible. 10 second PR. Who does that in a 1600m race?!
In addition to our 1600m runner that qualified for State, we also qualified a Discus girl. I remember last year when I started coaching track at Woodstock North, her dad called me to tell me that his daughter is state-qualifier material and will be there, if not this year, next for sure. Unfortunately, throwing isn't my specialty, but we did have a throwing coach on the boys side. He worked hard with this girl and she did end up qualifying for State this year. She just continuously improved this year and always had a good attitude; she was fun to watch when I was actually able to!
So, at the State meet.... After driving the 4.5 hours to EIU from Woodstock, we warmed up on the track/disc area. The girls seemed pretty pumped to be there. When we went to check in at the hotel, I ran out to get my license and the female receptionist says to the male, "Make sure it shows she's 21." Why being 21 was relevant, I am still unsure, but the girls got a kick out of the fact that, despite JUST turning 25 the week before, I was being questioned as to if I was old enough to drink?
The hotel that we were staying at was THE SAME ONE I STAYED AT MY FRESHMAN YEAR. Definitely had tears in my eyes when making that realization. I told the girls that there was a Dollar General behind our hotel (there still was) and that we used to decorate our rooms with streamers and such in celebration of being at State. Well, my assistant coach wasn't there yet, so they asked if we could decorate his room....so we went to Dollar General and had a good time putting streamers up in his room.
We then went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, the girls' choice. A sign on the table said something about a Buffet, I thought it was "Birthday Buffet" and it actually said "Sunday Buffet".... I apparently can't read. But next thing I know, the freshman that we brought along for experience had told the waitor that it was my 21st birthday and they are bringing me a sombrero, shot of tequila and singing! CRAZY! We poured the tequila into the salsa (I hate looking like I don't appreciate things, but I was NOT going to drink any sort of alcohol on a school related function, despite how much crap my family and friends gave me!).
I really enjoyed spending time with the girls in a different setting than as a coach. We ended our night verifying that my assistant would be taking down our wonderful streamers (he thought it was funny and appreciated the hard work). The only reason I even mention this is because we actually got charged a "repainting the ceiling" fee from the staff taking down the streamers and paint being pulled off. None of us believe this but when it's their word against yours, what can you do.
Back to State. Well, as usual, it was a HOT one. My 1600 girl was not used to the heat, or starting out fast (I told her they'd go out in a 1:14/15 since she was in Heat 1; they went in 1:14) and it really hurt her in the final lap. She was still on pace to make Finals in the third lap, but the fast start (or the 80some degree weather!) really hurt her final lap. The disc girl did qualify for Finals--she hadn't really expected to I don't think, and wasn't prepared for it as she was Valedictorian and graduation was Saturday at 7pm!
That night (Friday night), there was a coach's race (open to any non-competing athlete or coach)that the girls had wanted to wach me do. The meet was supposed to start at 8pm. Order of events: girls 100, boys 100, girls 400, boys 400, girls 800, boys 800, combined 1600, girls 300hurdles, boys 300hurdles. Well, the first (of four) head of the girls 100 didn't start until 8:15, so I was already all warmed up for my 1600. I tried staying loose but it was hard. The 1600 was going to start at 9:15....the FIRST heat started then. Figured that I was NOT one of the 20 in that heat. Oh well. I tried my best to be patient and not get mad. Afterall, this was for fun (but I just kept thinking that the girls needed to get dinner and I was holding them back!). I finally ran close to 9:30. I ran a 5:24, which for all things considered (being outside coaching and watching the meet all day, warming up an hour prior) wasn't bad. hey, at least I still qualified for the 2A state track meet!
Saturday, my disc girl threw placed at her seed place for the finals (11th) and made it back just in time to give her Valedictorian speech. Also on Saturday, Kayla Beattie (one of the best female high school distance runners EVER) dominated in the 3200 (9:56) and 1600 (4:46 or 4:43-- I can't remember now after the crazy weekend).
Overall, what a difference being a coach versus athlete makes. I really enjoyed myself and am so glad that my girls had a good time as well. Hopefully, they'll be making the trip again next year too!