A lesson learned at last year’s state tournament paid off in a big way for Center Grove high jumper Taylor Pennington at Saturday’s IHSAA Girls Track and Field State Finals at Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Complex.
The sophomore, who let nerves get the best of her as she stalled out in the regional round of last year’s state tournament, was the picture of calm all day and outlasted everyone but Oak Hill sophomore Janae Moffitt to claim second place in her first State Finals appearance.
Pennington, who was perfect through her first eight jumps, ran into trouble when the bar was raised to 5-feet, 8-inches, and only she and Moffitt remained in the competition. On her first attempt, Pennington got over the bar, but clipped it with her heels on the way down.
Fatigue then set in, and she was unable to clear on her final two chances.
Moffitt won the event with a final clearance of 5-feet, 10-inches.
Pennington said her goal for the meet was to keep her emotions in check.
“I just wanted to keep calm and be happy,” she said. “I was just thinking ‘I’ve worked all season for this. If I don’t make it on the first jump I just need to get it together and not freak out because I still have two more jumps.’”
Center Grove coach Wes Dodson said being relaxed made a huge difference in Pennington’s performance.
“She was really good last year, but she kind of got nervous at the regionals and didn’t jump well,” Dodson said. “Now, she got to the state finals, and she wasn’t nervous at all. She was just cool over there, hanging out and waiting for her turn, and then she was skying over the bar.
“She had tons of confidence. She’s a phenomenal talent.”
Pennington, who will begin training for the 2014 season at track camp this week, was thrilled with how her 2013 season finished.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s not first place, but it’s still second. And I’m happy with it.”
Meanwhile, Pennington’s teammate, senior Tori Schoettmer, closed her high school career in style, reaching the podium in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.
A standout throughout her four-year career, Schoettmer claimed her third-consecutive top
five-finish in the 1,600, where her time of 4:59.78 was good for fourth place. A year ago she finished fifth. As a sophomore, she was runner-up.
In the 3,200, Schoettmer hung between the 10th and 15th positions through the first seven laps, then closed strong to claim eighth place with a time 10:55.47 in her final high school race.
Although winning was her goal, Schoettmer has no regrets with about her state meet finishes.
“It’s hard because after the first year you think, ‘That’s never going to happen again,’” Schoettmer said. “To keep coming back year-after-year, it’s tiring, but it’s definitely rewarding.”
Dodson agreed that early success does not always carry over in races like the 1,600 and 3,200.
“It’s super tough,“ he said. “Those races start at a blistering pace, and it’s all about if you can hang on, and if you have the guts to do it. And that’s why she’s been a wonderful runner. She’s so gutsy, and it takes a lot to bring her down.
“She does things the right way and is such a hard worker. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Schoettmer, a cross-country standout who will continue her career at the University of Louisville next fall, had mixed emotions about her final high school meet.
“Before this, I thought, ‘I’m ready to be done, and I’ll end with a bang,’” she said. “But now, I’m not ready, and I’m sad. I’d like to come back again, but I’m moving on to bigger things.”
Whiteland’s Melissa Rios came painfully close to qualifying for the 100-meter final. She ran her preliminary race in a time of 12.48 seconds, just 0.08 seconds slower than the last qualifier.
In the 3,200 relay, Center Grove’s team of Jordan Timmons, Shelbi Dishman, Taylor Hickey and Morgan Lee placed 22nd in 9:50.61. The winners, Eastern (Greentown), ran the fastest time in the United States this year, and the eighth-best recorded high school time ever, shattering the state record by 10 seconds with a time of 8:53.74.
Trojan pole vaulters Casey Elliott and Melissa Nelson placed 10th and 14th, respectively.
Fort Wayne Northrup captured its state-record 10th team championship, racking up 60 points to outdistance to second-place Lawrence Central (51).
Center Grove finished tied for 13th with 16 points.