By FRED KRONER
CHARLESTON — Mara Pletcher’s accomplishment on Saturday was one never before achieved by a Mahomet-Seymour sophomore.
Jessica Franklin’s accomplishment on Saturday was one never before achieved by a hurdler at M-S.
A day earlier, a group of Bulldog runners achieved a feat never before matched by a collection of 400-meter runners at M-S.
It was with a flourish that the girls’ track and field season — and Darren Tee’s first year as head coach — came to an end Saturday afternoon on the blue track at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium.
Franklin emerged as the Class 2A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles in a come-from-behind race against the 2017 state champion in the event, Karyn Best from Wheaton Academy.
For the second day in a row, Franklin lowered the school record in the event, leaving it at 43.45 seconds.
She is the fifth girl from M-S to place at state in the hurdles and the first to finish higher than sixth.
The state meet marked the fourth and fifth times for her to run a competitive 300-meter hurdles race.
“In practice, I focused more on the 100 hurdles,” Franklin said. “I didn’t do much with the 300 hurdles at all.”
Because of her background in cross-country, Franklin originally gravitated to the middle distance races, including the 3,200 relay, where she ran 800 meters.
“I never dreamed I would run and jump over things,” Franklin said.
Six weeks ago, at a practice where younger sister Alexa was working on hurdling, Jason Franklin had his eldest daughter try them as well.
Neither of her races at state will qualify as technical masterpieces.
“Right now, my form is pretty ugly,” Franklin said. “It’s speed between the hurdles.”
As the midway mark of the championship 300 hurdles race approached, Franklin was running in fourth place.
Tee didn’t despair.
“You couldn’t have scripted this any better,” Tee said. “Hollywood should get ahold of this.
“At the third hurdle, she was three or four strides behind. By the sixth hurdle, she had picked up another gear and was closing.
“By the seventh hurdle, she was a half-step behind and powered ahead. She’s one of the toughest individuals I’ve ever coached.”
Typically a slow starter, Franklin is undaunted if she doesn’t take the lead from the outset.
“I don’t go out very fast, but under control, and have more endurance because of cross-country,” she said. “I like coming from behind.
“There’s something to motivate me. Go catch someone.”
Franklin’s hurdles time was not only the fastest in 2A, but also the quickest in all three classes.
She celebrated by joining her family for pizza at Monical’s.
Pletcher became M-S’ third athlete to place at state in the pole vault after clearing 12 feet in a 15-person field of finalists.
In the history of the Bulldogs’ girls’ program, she is the first sophomore pole vaulter to earn a state medal.
A year ago, she would not have predicted herself to be in that position even after placing 11th at state.
“Last year, I struggled with my confidence and didn’t know if I wanted to continue,” Pletcher said. “I took a break over the summer.
“Coming back was difficult for me.”
During the indoor season, however, she regrouped and cleared a personal-best (12 feet). Outdoors, she raised her personal-best to 12-1 at a home meet.
Entering her final meet of the season, Pletcher didn’t have a particular place or height in mind.
“My goal was to be competitive and end up on the podium,” she said. “I wanted to go in and have fun.
“I wasn’t expecting to get fourth.”
Her confidence had taken a minor hit four days before state when she cleared 11-0 and finished fourth at The News-Gazette Honor Roll Meet.
“I was worried if I could put my jumps together and get over 12 feet again,” Pletcher said. “I was looking for a nice confidence jump (at the Honor Roll Meet) and was frustrated I didn’t put it together.”
She used the remainder of the week to regroup mentally and finished with a performance that leaves her excited for next year.
“This season, I had a lot of fun,” she said. “I’m excited to see how it goes in the future.”
For a time on Saturday, Pletcher was the 2A leader. She was the only finalist to clear 12 feet on her first attempt.
“It was a fabulous day for her,” Tee said. “She left herself in great position.
“She looked good in warmups and I had a feeling it would be a good day.”
Also competing on Saturday was the 1,600 relay, which was timed in 4:04.74 and ended ninth.
The runners were Lakeida Nichols, Pletcher, Destiny Pryor and Franklin.
M-S was seeded fifth, based on Friday’s results from the prelims.
“We wanted to give what we had left (in the meet-ending race) and I’m proud of the group,” Pletcher said. “We put it out on the track.
“Ninth in the state is not too bad.”
Despite her hurdles effort, Franklin had enough left to run her fastest 400-meter split (56.6 seconds) with the 1,600 relay. Her split time would have placed her second in the Class 2A open 400 race.
There was no disappointment in the relay finish, Tee said.
“I don’t think a lot of people would have put us there (in the finals) on Day 2,” Tee said. “Even two weeks ago, our best time was 4:11.”
For Franklin, the disappointment was not in the outcome of her final prep race.
“I wish I had another year of high school,” she said. “This is a wonderful group of ladies.
As a team, M-S totaled 17 points and finished in a tie for 15th out of the 66 schools that scored points in Class 2A.
State champion Dunlap amassed 102 points.
Another school milestone was achieved during Friday’s preliminary round.
The M-S 400-meter relay broke its own school record, sharing the baton in 49.47 seconds.
The foursome placed 10th overall in 2A, missing a berth in the finals by one position.
The record-setting runners were Stacey Irwin, Pryor, Sylvia Byron and Nichols.
“Any time you lower the school record, you’ve got to be proud,” Tee said. “It was phenomenal that we got the record.”
The relay was seeded 12th, based on sectional times, but wound up placing 10th.
The only other M-S athlete competing at state was Franklin in the 100-meter hurdles. Her time of 16.24 seconds on Friday did not qualify her for the finals. She placed 14th overall.
M-S fell short of becoming the school’s fifth squad to secure a top 10 team placement since the school was reassigned to Class 2A 21 years ago.
The other top 10 team finishers in that time in girls’ track were 2009 (sixth), 2007 (sixth), 2005 (eighth) and 2002 (tied for fifth).
Three times as a Class 1A school, M-S won team state titles in girls track.
In the 45-year history of the state track and field meet, M-S has had seven individuals combine to win 11 state titles in non-relay events.
Franklin joins a group that includes Dani Bunch, Bonnie Byers, Mary Pat Choules, Sharon Farley, Maureen Scott and Karen Welke.
Last fall, in cross-country, Franklin placed 31st at state, helping the Bulldogs to a fourth-place team finish.