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Redskins track thinking double time

For the first time in 15 seasons, the Redskins girls track team just may be able to 
send a pair of competitors to State in the same season.
For the first time in 15 seasons, the Redskins girls track team just may be able to send a pair of competitors to State in the same season.

The last time Morris had two girls simultaneously compete at the girls track and field state final meet was 1998, when Abby Kerr and Adrianne Leschewski both qualified.

A two-time state qualifier and a freshman who has recorded state-caliber marks have created hope that streak will end this postseason. The Redskins begin the season Thursday at the Class 2A Princeton Sectional.

Junior Haleigh Knapp already ended a 10-year gap between Redskin qualifiers when she was a freshman. She is the defending 2A state champion in the high jump. Leona Burton's season-best marks of 17 feet, 2 inches in the long jump and 12.97 seconds in the 100-meter dash might be enough for her to advance to Charleston if she can replicate them Thursday.

"We knew we had a lot of talent in this freshman class, between all six of the girls," Morris coach Lori Dite said, "and that they had the kind of talent that could take our program to a new level."

The member of that class who has had the most immediate success is Burton. Both of her career bests came during an April 30 meet at Kaneland. She followed them up last Friday by placing second in the 100 with a time of 12.95 at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet. She also won the sophomore long jump with a distance of 16 feet, 5 inches.

Burton admits she has surprised herself with her results, especially in one event.

"The 100 has always been my best one," she said. "The long jump was just kind of another event for me. I had never jumped over 17 feet, and when I found out I had jumped 17-2, I was really excited. I couldn't believe it. In the 100, I had always wanted to break 13 seconds, and when I finally did that it was kind of the same way, but I've been able to stay there."

Burton has competed at the state level in both events before. At Nettle Creek School, she qualified for the IESA State Meet in the 100 both her seventh and eighth-grade years. She also qualified in both the long jump and the 200-meter dash as an eighth-grader. In the girls 8A meet in 2012, Burton was second in the 100 and the long jump and fifth in the 200.

"I'm going to stick with track and field no matter what happens," Burton said, "so if it doesn't happen for me this year, there will be more opportunities for me in the future."

Thursday, Burton will actually have the chance to advance individually in three events. Throughout the regular season, she has competed in two individual events and also been a member of two relays. Dite plans to take her off of one of the relays at the sectional to give her a shot at moving on in the 200 as well.

"Leona does everything that is asked of her — she works hard, she does whatever events we ask her to — and she does it with a great attitude," Dite said. "Not every girl does that. She is truly a joy to coach."

Even if Burton does advance in one or more of her events, Knapp will have to return to state for the 15-year Morris multiple qualifier drought to end. She has yet to match the height of 5 feet, 7 inches that she reached at the 2012 state meet this season, though she has come within an inch of it twice. She cleared the bar at 5 feet, 6 inches at the NIB12 indoor meet and again on April 30 at Kaneland.

Still, Knapp is on a better pace at this point compared to last season, when she was jumping 5 feet, 4 inches as late as the sectional round.

"I'm pretty nervous right now," Knapp said at practice Monday. "We haven't had the chance to be outside very much just because of the weather. When the weather is like it's been, it's tough to be comfortable, unless you're competing indoors where of course there is no weather."

In addition to her jumping, Knapp has emerged as a captain for the Redskins along with seniors Airrha Alcanar, Jenna Runchey and Nancy Soto and junior Becca McKee.

"She's obviously a great athlete and she's a leader for our team," Dite said. "She has her technique and her form down. With her, I think it's a matter of fitness and being in top shape. It's tough to get there with the number of meets we've had canceled. Running other events in practice has been a help for her. Last year, she really got in great shape the last few weeks of the season and she took off."

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