BLOOMINGTON | There was no group hug, final chant or any ceremonious departure.
Clad in all white, the Lake Central pole vaulting trio at Saturday's 40th annual Girls Track and Field State Finals, simply broke down their camp near the vault pit and dispersed for the last time on an infield.
Kaitlyn Moricz, Katie Brown and Brooke Lambert entered the competition primed to bring home Northwest Indiana’s first state title in the pole vault, but top-seeded Lambert did not record a height, Moricz was fourth and Brown was sixth.
The gritty effort by seniors Moricz and Brown included a personal-best 12-foot vault by Moricz. The winner cleared 12-3, but extra misses prevented Moricz from a runner-up finish. It was enough to make Lake Central the top local team at the state meet.
However, letdown and thick humidity permeated the air on a night when the region had plenty of surprises but not many in the “pleasant” category at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University.
Of 16 events, Northwest Indiana athletes made the medals stand for the top nine in just five.
The best individual finish came from Rensselaer’s Chelsie Meeks, but even she was miffed after a second consecutive runner-up finish in the discus.
Moricz, who was third in the long jump last year, didn’t make it out of the prelims in that event.
“I was definitely a little disappointed after the long jump,” said Moricz, who’ll jump in all-star competitions and then head to compete at Vincennes.
“I really wanted to make the finals. It’s senior year.”
Lambert will remain, but Brown is headed to Western Kentucky.
“It’s sad that we’re going to be separating,” Moricz said.
While Moricz did not get far in the long jump, two locals excelled in surprising fashion.
Portage senior Jade McKnight, Porter County’s lone medalist, was sixth in the long jump by half an inch, coming up with a top leap of 18-1 1/2.
“I really just practiced hard and worked hard,” McKnight said. “I stayed focused, stayed in my own zone and visualized. I came to win and just fell a little short.”
McKnght will run for Western Michigan next season.
Kankakee Valley freshman Jenna Jungels, who drew the ire of junior sister Joli when she qualified for state ahead of Joli by a quarter of an inch, took eighth in the long jump.
“I knew I could be up there with the winners, and I guess it worked,” Jungels said. “I felt fast, warmed up well and learned by watching other people ahead of me go.”
Jungels has years ahead of her, but two other region stalwarts walked away with medals and positive attitudes.
Griffith’s Taylor Austin couldn’t have developed walking-on-tacks plantar fasciitis in a worse week, but she overcame the ailment to earn a ninth-place medal in the mile, then suffered through a 22nd-place run in the 3,200-meter run
“It was killing me; every step was just pain-pain-pain,” said Austin, still undecided on a college. “I gave Griffith my all. I’m proud of where I came from and proud of what I did.”
Merrillville’s Airrica Harper, headed to Eastern Michigan, hoped to do better in the 200 and the 400 relay but did not earn a medal in either one. She finished seventh in the 100 and was pleased.
“I was expecting to get a medal in the 200, but to get one in the 100, I was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’” Harper said on her way to indulge in her traditional honey bun and Pepsi post-meet snack.
“I think I drank too much water and I had a little too much anxiety. But I came out here, prepared and gave 100 percent.”
While no region athletes could fulfill their dreams of a state championship, IHSAA Mental Attitude winner Bethany Neeley of Eastern (Greentown) had a dream day. She repeated as the mile champ, her twin sister Brittany won the 800, and both ran on the victorious 3,200 relay team that ran the fastest time in America this year, 8:53.74, a state record.