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Memory lane

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Connersville senior Laila Fitzgerald clears a hurdle ata home double-dual meet against Union County and Oldenburg Academy on May 7. Fitzgerald was one of five seniors, the other beingOlivia Barrett, Hannah Delucio, Abbi Jacobs and Harley McQueen,performing for the Lady Spartans throughout the spring.
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Connersville senior Abbi Jacobs shows emotion after clearing the pole vault bar at eight feet at Spartan Field on April 5. Jacobs, who had been trying to clear that height since the 2017 season, accomplished it at her first outdoor meet of the 2018 campaign.
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Connersville’s Jessica Beckman spins through her wind-up in the discus event atthe IHSAA sectional meet at CHS on May 15. Beckman not only won both the discus and shot put events in the postseason meet, she also established a new Connersville High School record in the discus, with a toss of 125 feet,6 inches.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

When it comes to the 2018 Connersville High School girls track and field unit, one thing is for sure.

No one who was a part of it will ever forget how things played out, particularly in the sectional.

On Tuesday, May 15, the Lady Spartans went to bed as the second-place team, falling by half a point to Rushville.

By noon on Wednesday, however, they were champions.

A scoring error that was not caught until the next day gave CHS one extra point, lifting the team to a 98.5 to 98 win over the Lady Lions.

“It was very crazy, something I had never seen or heard of in my 20-plus years of coaching,” Connersville coach Jeff Cooley said. “Going from dejected to elated in such a short span of time was a new experience for me.”

Coach Kelli House agreed.

“It was a real emotional ride,” she said. “Going in, I was among the coaches who thought that the numbers were against us. Then, after the girls gave such great efforts in everything, we came up just short and it was just heartbreaking.

“When we all got called to the lecture hall the next day, I still didn’t know what was going on. I literally ran across the campus to get there in time so I could hear whatever they were going to tell us. When they announced that we had won, the response by the girls was so amazing, it was one of the highlights of my coaching career.

“I’m glad I ran and made it there in time to hear the announcement,” she added with a smile.

“They deserved to win it,” Cooley said of the sectional title. “The girls scored several personal bests, and did everything they could to get that extra point or extra place. They gave it everything they had, and as a result, peaked at that meet.”

The miraculous turnaround in the postseason was not the only moment worthy of the memory bank. There were several of them throughout the 2018 campaign.

As a team, the Lady Spartans finished 7-2 on the season.

Senior pole vaulter Abbi Jacobs kicked off the season with one of those memorable performances, flying over the bar at 8-feet, a height she had been chasing, dating back to the spring of 2017.

“Abbi is such a little firecracker, she’s one of the happiest girls I have ever coached,” House said. “She stays after every practice and works. She deserved everything she earned this season.”

One of those things was a regional qualification.

But she wasn’t alone in achieving that.

Also making the trip to the Shelbyville regional were the 4x400 (Sicily Bowling, Claire Kleve, Marley Smith, Kenzie Lynch) and 4x800 (Caroline Arndt, Bowling, Kleve, Smith) relay teams, as well as individual performers Jessica Beckman, Laila Fitzgerald and Smith.

“There were so many things that swung the sectional championship in our favor,” House said. “One of those was Kenzie (Lynch) passing (Oldenburg’s) Jenna Barker in the home stretch of the 4x400 to get us second place, rather than third. Passing Barker is no easy task.”

“The 4x800 team knew they were the favorite at the sectional, but they still went out and won that race significantly.”

Fitzgerald finished third at the sectional in the 100 hurdles, and Smith crossed the tape second in the 1600.

“Laila really stepped up for us this year,” House said. “This was the best year that Laila had in the hurdles.

“Marley had a personal best in the mile this season, she really deserved her trip to the regional.”

Beckman was a two-time champion at the sectional, winning both the shot put and discus events. In the latter, her throw of 125 feet, 6 inches, was also a new Connersville High School record, a mark that the CHS thrower targeted the entire season.

“Jessica was a leader for the team this season,” House said. “She’s not only a strong role model for her teammates, but she’s also a remarkable athlete. I remember that I was a little overwhelmed when I heard that she had won both the discus and the shot put.”

Beckman will return for the Spartans in 2019, but five others — Olivia Barrett, Hannah Delucio, Harley McQueen, Jacobs and Fitzgerald — closed out their high school careers this spring.

“I thought these girls gave us everything that they had,” Cooley said. “As a result, they grew and improved quite a bit. I am certainly going to miss them.”

“Nearly all of them were with us all four years, and the ones that weren’t were with us for three,” House said. “They grew with the team and became emotional leaders. They were all a unique part of the team that will be missed.”

Connersville will open defense of its sectional crown with nearly double the number of seniors, as eight girls — Elise Bottomley, Katelyn Burris, Elaina McCreary, Arndt, Beckman, Bowling, Lynch and Smith — should return for their senior campaigns.

Add to that 20 sophomores and juniors suiting up for Cooley and House, and the Spartan girls should be well stocked to make a run at two straight.

Hopefully, next time, it won’t be as close.