Thornwood’s Janeah Stewart is going back to the state track meet in just her second season in the sport while Lincoln-Way East is going for its second straight Class 3A state championship.
The three-class meet that begins Thursday at Eastern Illinois is a three-day event in which Stewart and other individuals compete on their own while a handful of teams hope to combine individual points for a run at a trophy.
Lincoln-Way East has 15 qualifiers in 11 events, led by sprinters Alexis Hyshaw and Meghan Marias, two top-ranked relays and pole vaulter Julia Junkroski, a group capable of scoring 50-plus points on their own.
That doesn’t include the 1,600-meter relay, which took third in the state last year with four underclassmen, and Junkroski and Ololade Ayoola in the high jump.
It’s a different scene for Stewart, but no less competitive for the former softball player-turned-two-time sectional champion in the shot put.
“It’s really, really great,’’ Stewart said. “I feel really excited, only having one year of track before this year.’’
Stewart made the 2013 state finals and finished seventh with a throw of 39 feet, 2? inches. That was just a couple of months before her very first throw, when football coach Billy Bundy, the track team’s throws coach, recruited the 5-foot-10 Stewart.
“One day, coach Bundy asked me to throw the shot put,’’ she said. “I threw like 35 feet, just throwing without technique.’’
“Quite amazing,’’ Bundy said. “Raw athleticism, very dedicated. She’s just a great kid.’’
Stewart ranked 18th going into the state meet last year with a 37-7 sectional throw, but she outdid several individuals above her in the prelims to make the field of 12 finalists.
Stewart is in a similar position this year; her winning 38-9 at the Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional ranks 17th in Class 3A.
“Just great focus, great technique and a strong mind,’’ Stewart said of her success. “If you’re not having a good day, just mentally push yourself through it.’’
Her outdoor best is 39-7, indoors it’s 41 feet. She plans to go to Iowa Central Community College, unless her state meet performance leads to other offers.
“When she goes to college and she’s on a yearlong program, has college coaching, she’s going to shoot through the roof,’’ Bundy said.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,’’ Stewart said. “Stay focused and you’ll have a great outcome.’’
Other area individuals to watch in Class 3A are H-F’s Jayla Stewart (100 hurdles) and Antoinette Broughton (200), Lemont’s Vika Marmaite (triple jump), Sandburg’s Casey Jensen (1,600) and Renee Letz (800) and Marist’s Maryclare Leonard (1,600).
In Class 2A, Rich South’s Ninaa Edwards is among the top qualifiers in the triple jump (36-5) and 100 hurdles (15.61). De La Salle’s Jaimie Robinson also is a triple jump contender (35-9?).
Morgan Park qualified three relays, including a fifth-best sectional time in the 800 relay (1:46.24). Thornridge sprinter Quianshana Johnson ran 25.84 in the 200 to rank among the top five qualifying times.