Kenli Nettles of Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond proved she was a top athlete and state contender in Class 1A last year at the state finals in Charleston.
On Friday, she cemented her status as one of the favorites to take home plenty of hardware this spring.
Nettles won three event titles at the Illinois Prep Top Times Meet to lead the area contingent competing at the Shirk Center on Friday on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University.
Nettles placed first in the high jump by clearing 5 feet, 6 inches and also took first in the 60-meter hurdles (8.94 seconds) and the 400 (58.74).
Nettles was far from unknown entering Friday’s Class 1A action at Shirk Center in Bloomington. The Knights star placed second at the 2018 girls’ outdoor state meet in the high jump, 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles, as well as eighth in the triple jump.
Even so, coming away from Top Times with three championship finishes is still a bit eye-opening.
“I was super excited about it,” the always-upbeat Nettles said Sunday. “(The 2018 state meet) really motivates me a lot. I really want to win the 100 hurdles because I was so close last year.”
At Top Times, Nettles took down the 60 hurdles in 8.94 seconds and the high jump with a clearance of 5 feet, 6 inches.
Her third triumph may have come as a bit of a surprise to those in the track and field community, however, as Nettles roared to the 400 dash crown in a time of 58.74.
Two things stand out about this: Nettles didn’t run the 400 last season, and she was hovering around the 1:01 mark in that event heading into Friday’s action.
“After all my training, I felt really good about it,” Nettles said. “I was super excited because I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll run a 1 flat.’ But my training’s been going so well. I definitely have more endurance.”
Nettles also is trying her hand at the long jump this year. Her variety of events plays toward the ultimate goal of succeeding in the hurdles.
Nettles has been training both at ALAH and with Vipers Track Club coach Marques Lowe in Champaign. The early returns certainly are positive.
“I had a problem with my trail leg, so I’ve worked on my fast-twitch muscles for that,” Nettles said.
These tireless hours are important even if Nettles was near the top of the 1A 100 and 300 hurdles fields last year.
Both girls who defeated her — Orion’s Danielle Taets in the 100 and St. Teresa’s DaeLin Switzer in the 300 — are returning seniors.
Just as useful for Nettles as performing well at Top Times was simply competing in that sort of atmosphere, knowing what she hopes to accomplish later this year.
“It was really loud in there, but it wasn’t like a bad loud,” Nettles said. “It was a good environment to be at.”
Sages distance runner Garrett Dixon had a strong showing at the Class 2A competition of the Illinois Prep Top Times meet in Bloomington on Saturday.
The senior finished second in the 3,200-meter race, less than nine seconds off the pace of winner Mathias Powell, who broke the meet record with a time of 9 minutes, 13.79 seconds.
Dixon also finished second in the 1,600-meter race, less than two seconds behind Centralia’s Brooks Harlan.
Monticello’s Emelia Ness topped the podium in the Class 2A 60-meter hurdles (9.03) and Landis Brandon finished third in the pole vault.
Colin Likas contributed to this report.