BLOOMINGTON — A hot, sunny day in Bloomington Saturday brought the 2023 girls track and field season to a close.
For Hancock County, that meant the culmination of three outstanding seasons.
Mt. Vernon’s Riley Nielsen, Eastern Hancock’s Ellie Meyer, and Greenfield-Central’s Savannah Lake all wrapped up their seasons at the IHSAA Girls Track and Field State Finals at Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University.
All three made the trip at different points in their high school careers. For Nielsen, the trip to Bloomington wrapped up her high school career, for Lake, the trip marked her second consecutive year in the finals, and for Meyer, the trip was her first.
“It’s kind of surreal almost,” Meyer said. “I didn’t think I would make it this far because I had a rough middle of the season, but I just kept pushing with it and was able to get here.”
Nielsen was the lone competitor to medal, and for her, it meant much more than just a medal.
She placed ninth in the pole vault with a height of 11-feet, 6-inches.
The ninth place finish was validation that a ruptured Achilles tendon that cost her to miss her entire junior season, wasn’t what people would remember about her pole vaulting career at Mt. Vernon.
Nielsen burst onto the scene in her sophomore season — her first year pole vaulting — and qualified for the state finals, and after the injury last year, Saturday’s performance was the perfect way to end her high school career.
“Last year was really hard. Rupturing my Achilles was not an easy comeback,” Nielsen said. “My main goal this year was to get a medal, and show everybody that last year didn’t define me. I think that today really showed that and did that for me.”
Nielsen was one of just nine competitors to clear 11-6, and that height broke her seeding height by three inches.
“The key was just to relax my mind and not let it control me because I tend to get in my own head sometimes,” Nielsen, a Central Michigan signee, said. “It was all about just taking a deep breath and remembering that no matter what happened, I’m still going to continue pole vaulting after (high school). I was just grateful to be back here.”
While Nielsen’s podium finish signified the end of her high school career, Eastern Hancock’s Meyer was competing in what she hopes will be the first of multiple trips to the state finals.
Just a sophomore, she placed 23rd in the high jump with a height of 5-feet, 2-inches, and was the Royals’ first state competitor since 2016.
Normally a four-event athlete for the Royals, running in the 1600-meter relay, 400 relay and 200 dash, her focus in the weeks leading up to state had been solely on high jump.
But for her, competing in all those other events were one of the biggest keys to helping her get to state.
“Having other things to work on. During the season I do the 4×400, 4×100, and the 200, so I wasn’t just hitting high jump every practice,” Meyer said. “That helped me keep in shape and then when I needed to crack down on high jump and really focus on it, I could just focus on perfecting my technique, and that’s what we had done the past few weeks.”
Whether the 90-degree heat, or first time jitters, Meyer’s height of 5-feet, 2-inches was down three inches from her runner-up regional height the week before.
“The heat was a lot,” Meyer said. “I feel exhausted, and my legs feel dead at the moment because just standing around and being here for hours, and competing in this heat was a lot.”
Greenfield-Central’s Lake made her second consecutive appearance at state, and entered the day as the highest seeded county participant. She entered seeded sixth in the 100, and 12th in the 200.
Her preliminary time of 25.65 seconds in the 200 gave her a 17th place finish in the state, and her time of 12.38 in the 100 was good enough for 18th.
While the state meet may have been disappointing, Lake’s overall season was far from that.
She was runner-up in both events at the Franklin Regional and ran a school-record time of 12.05 seconds in the 100. The junior was a sectional, Hoosier Heritage Conference and Hancock County champion in both events and was named the Athlete of the Meet at the county championships.