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Charleston's Megan Garrett heads to the finish line in a 800-meter run preliminary during the Class 2A Girls State Track and Field Meet on Friday, May 17, 2019, at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium in Charleston. Garrett won the event with a 2:20.83.

CHARLESTON – Megan Garrett didn’t even need her signature finish.

As the Charleston sophomore rounded the first turn in the second lap of the 800-meter run, the O’Brien Stadium public address announcer effectively called the race by pointing out that Garrett was at least 10 meters ahead of the other challengers with about 300 meters left. She finished 1.44 seconds ahead of the runner-up, using a strong but not all-out final quarter and earning a spot in Saturday’s finals by winning her heat.

“Great to see her growing as a runner, knowing she could save her legs a little bit for tomorrow,” Charleston coach Justin Tomaska said. “With the pace she started with, she didn’t have to use her kick at the end.”

Garrett was the top seed in the 800 in Class 2A entering the state meet after running a 2:20.21 at sectionals. Her Friday time was third behind Clinton’s Payne Turney (2:18.33) and Benton’s Amelia McClain (2:22.50), who were No. 3 and 2 behind her after all sectionals. Garrett finished sixth as a freshman at state last year, edging Turney by .11 seconds. She ran a 2:18.81 then. The goal now is to beat that. Add in her typical best work in the final 200, and she’s confident she can top it.

“I’m ahead of where I was last year,” Garrett said. “I think I can dip to a pretty good time. I’m more focused on place, and I know the time will come with that.”

Garrett’s only event of the weekend is the 800, leaving her fresh to cruise in her heat and rested heading into the finals tomorrow.

“She’ll be as fresh as anyone,” Tomaska said.

Flight, Ball will meet once more

In a surprise to positively no one, Charleston’s Sarah Flight and Mattoon’s Mariah Ball qualified for the finals in the high jump.

Ball, right after running the 4x800 relay, started at 4-11 and cleared it. She skipped 5-1 to give herself more rest, then hit the 5-2 needed to advance.

“She’s amazing,” Mattoon coach Troy Haacke said. “Anybody that runs that 800 and runs as hard as you can, I don’t know how you jump. That first 4-11, she did look a little leg-heavy, but her second jump was clean.”

Ball is onto the finals for the third straight year. She finished 10th in 2018. In 2017, she advanced, but didn’t clear the opening height. To finish top-three, she may need to come close to the personal best and school record 5-5 she set in April.

“You can’t let it get to you,” Ball said. “Just imagine that it’s a lower height than it actually is. If it’s 5-3, look at it like it’s 5-1. I’ve jumped way over that.”

Flight clipped the bar on 5-1 on her first jump, but flew over it on the next and then effortlessly cleared 5-2.

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“Her first jump, she slipped on her plant and barely kicked the bar off with her heel,” Tomaska said. “Every jump after that, she was at least four inches over the bar from our angle. She had some really good jumps today.”

Saturday, then is the final time the two will go head-to-head in a finals. They’ve jockeyed back-and-forth the last two years, each besting the other at times. Ball’s 10th place finish a year ago was one spot ahead of Flight. Both jumped 5-3 at the May 3 Apollo Conference meet, but a miss from Flight gave Ball the first-place finish. Flight cleared 5-3 at sectionals, while Ball cleared 5-1.

The relationship between the two, though, is hardly that of adversaries. They’re friends who support each other, even in competition.

“She helps me with my jumps,” Ball said. “I watch her jumps, but there’s nothing I can correct. I like having her around. We’re in a lot of meets together.”

“I look up to her a lot. She’s a crazy jumper.”

That mutual respect is obvious to their coaches too.

‘They’re so supportive of each other, and that’s awesome to see out of rival schools,” Tomaska said. “I feel like they just do well when they’re jumping with each other.”

Mattoon misses finals in long jump, triple jump, 400, 4x800

Summerlyn Smith reached 16-3.25 in her final try in the long jump after scratching her first two tries, which placed 21st. She reached 35-0.5 in the triple jump, good for 15th place. She placed 10th in the 400-meter dash, missing a spot in the finals by .4 seconds.

“It’s tough, because she’s been there and medaled,” Haacke said. “She’s had great jumps here. I just told her to forget about that one and focus on the next one.”

Smith, in turn, helped Mattoon advance in the 4x400, her fourth and final event of the day.

“She showed up and didn’t let it bother her in the last race of the day,” Haacke said. “She knows how to handle herself. There was no doubt she’d show up and run as best she could.”

Mattoon’s 4x800 relay team ran a 10:16.70, which was 15.12 seconds off the final qualifying time and good for 13th.

Contact Patrick Engel at (217) 238-6856. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickEngel_

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Sports writer

I cover Eastern Illinois football and basketball, as well as Mattoon/Charleston prep sports, for the JG-T

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