By Joe Gisondi

Charleston’s Olivia Conn qualified for the IHSA state and track and field meet Thursday night.

But it wasn’t easy.

Or relaxing.

The CHS junior had scratched on her first two attempts in the long jump finals at the Class 2A IHSA Sectional at Rantoul High School, leaving her just one more chance.

“I was shaking before I started,” Conn said.

But Conn responded by sprinting down the runway and leaping 5.23 meters, or about 17 feet, 2 inches – to set a personal best, eclipse the state qualifying standard and finish third overall.

Olivia Conn’s state-qualifying jump Thursday night.

Athletes advance to state either by finishing in the top two or by meeting IHSA state qualifying standards.

Conn has now broken 17 feet three times this season – at a five-team meet in Champaign, where her 17-1 distance had been the best for a CHS long jumper since 2016, and at the Mattoon Invitational, where she went 17 feet.

“I would have never imagined this,” Conn said.

Conn set another PR in just her fifth time competing in the triple jump, soaring 10.23 meters – or 33 feet, 3 inches – to finish fourth, just outside the standard of 10.56 meters.

“’She has been working really hard this season,” said CHS girls head coach Chris Hawk. “She came into the season as an average jumper with a best last year of 14-10. In our first indoor meet, she went around 16-5. Ever since then, she has been focused on doing everything she can to make the most of her opportunities. We were fairly confident that she wouldn’t be in the top two last night, so she would need to hit the qualifying standard. Jumping 17-2 on her last jump last night was a fitting reward for everything that she has put in.”

Olivia Conn

Mattoon’s Emily Maple, meanwhile, also faced a nerve-wracking finish to qualify in the 800 meters. The Greenwave junior ran an opening 400 in 68 seconds midst a blazing fast field that included current state-record holder Becca Heitzig from Lincoln and Olney’s Tatum David, a two-time state cross country champ and the winner of last year’s state 1,600 and 3,200 titles.

Mattoon coach Troy Haacke had cautioned Maple not to get boxed in, preventing her from passing runners on the final lap. When the field started their kick on the back stretch, Maple stayed with the pack.

With about 200 meters left, Haacke knew Maple had a good chance.

In the final 100 meters, Maple pushed hard for a strong finish that enabled her to clock 2:24.29, 1.34 seconds below the qualifying time.

“She gutted it out, drove through the finish line and ended up with a big PR and a state berth,” Haacke said. “It was a very smart race. I’m really proud of her.”

David posted the fastest time in IHSA history, her 2:05.29 nearly two seconds faster than a previous best set in 2013 and about three seconds off the national high school record. Heitzig’s second-place 2:08.04 was nearly two seconds better than the Class 2A state record she had set in winning the 800 last year.

Tatum also won the 1,600 and 3,200.

Maples (pictured above) was the ninth, and final, 800-meter runner to post a qualifying time in the race.

“I have had a lot of great 800 runners,” Haacke said. “She’s the first that I have coached to run the open at state. The others qualified in other events.”