St. Charles East sprinter Britney Williams put her own spin on the traditional compliment sandwich this spring.
Praising her Saints teammates proved infinitely easier than abandoning what came in between.
Long her own worst critic, Williams still is working to quit self-deprecation cold turkey. While the Kane County Chronicle Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year admittedly expected more from her junior season, she also made strides in her ability to move forward.
“It’s something I struggle with, but I really tried at state to put it out of my mind and focus on the team,” Williams said. “I didn’t want it to affect how I was acting and jeopardize my other teammates.”
Williams stormed to sectional titles in the 4x100 meters and 4x400 and was third in the 400 to help East win the first team sectional crown in school history. One week later, in the Class 3A state meet, she qualified for only one final, running anchor for the fifth-place 4x400.
The 4x400 always closes a meet, leaving Williams three events between her near-miss in the 400 prelims and the relay to either sulk or shine.
Williams chose the latter, completing a 57-second split in the 4x400 prelims in what turned up as a school-record, 3:54.35 run. Her split in the high-56 range also was tops on East’s run of 3:55.91 in the finals.
“She’s the most solid, go-to kid on our team in anything,” Saints coach Denise Hefferin said. “She really took on that leadership role well this year.”
East athletes notably instigated a dance party during a weather delay at the Upstate Eight Conference River Division meet last month. Williams reluctantly took her star turn – “I like to dance, but it didn’t go very well,” she says – before the Saints sewed up the league title.
A third-year varsity member, Williams was decidedly more comfortable with smaller crowds from the start of the season. She embraced her role as one of the sprint group’s elder stateswomen by constantly counseling freshman Allison Chmelik, the 4x400’s third leg who filled the same role Williams had in her debut season of 2010.
Sophomore Jordan Shead, the second leg of the relay after Saint Louis-bound senior Kelsey Gentry, also benefited from Williams’ experience.
East’s lone double medalist after a seventh-place finish in the 400, Shead credited Williams’ persistence during workouts and motivation after them for helping her close the season strong.
“I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did, so that was exciting,” Shead said. “We definitely worked off each other, encouraged each other and mentally supported each other. That was a big key.”
Meanwhile, Hefferin ensured Williams heard something positive about her performances after each race, title or not. Some messages were easier to deliver than others.
In the state prelims, Williams’ 400 time of 57.32 actually was faster than the time that earned her seventh place in 3A as a sophomore (58.39). Knowing the field could quicken so much in one year has Williams brimming to catch up.
One week after the state meet, Williams learned she had competed with an upper respiratory infection for about the final month of the season. Much like her asthma, she did not use the condition as a crutch.
Instead, she kept training and running, and remained just as persistent as a voice in her teammates’ ear.
“I’m pretty happy with the season,” Williams said. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to at state, but the team overall did so well that it’s hard not to be happy for everybody.”
KANE COUNTY CHRONICLE GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD ALL-AREA TEAMS
Aurora Christian, Jr.
Placing second at state in the IHSA Class 2A triple jump with a personal-best 38-71⁄4, Bollinger withdrew from the 100- and 200-meter finals because of injury.
Burlington Central, Sr.
A stress fracture in her left foot prevented Conn from competing in hurdles, but the Alabama recruit took second in the 2A pole vault.
Also a defender for the U.S. U15 girls national soccer team, Davison qualified for the 3A state meet in the triple jump.
St. Charles East, Sr.
Gentry, a Saint Louis University signee, was on the Saints’ fifth-place 4x400 relay in 3A while also qualifying in the 100 and 4x100.
Aurora Christian, Sr.
Henzel was part of two 2A medal-winning relays, running in the sixth-place 4x200 and eighth-place 4x100.
St. Charles East, Sr.
Martines closed her high school career with a seventh-place finish in the 300 hurdles in 3A.
St. Charles North, Sr.
Raucci got rolling on a promising season with a UEC indoor title in the triple jump. She finished with a 3A state berth in the event.
St. Charles East, So.
Shead won two state 3A medals with a seventh-place individual run in the 400 and as part of the fifth-place 4x400.
After earning the 12th and final qualifying spot for the 800 finals in 2A, Strang moved up a spot to take 11th.
St. Charles North, Sr.
Also a state qualifier in the 3A 1,600, Stuenkel helped the North Stars’ 4x800 relay to an 11th-place finish in Charleston.
Qualifying for state in both throwing events for the first time in her career, the Iowa-bound Theuerkauf finished ninth in the 3A shot put.
St. Charles East, Jr.
East coach Denise Hefferin called the Chronicle’s Girls Track Athlete of the Year “the driving force” behind the fifth-place 4x400 relay in 3A. Williams also was a state qualifier in the 4x100 and 400.
Burlington Central, Jr.
An aspiring photographer, Wolf provided a freeze frame for the end of her season, placing seventh in the 800 at the 2A state finals.
Mallory Abel, St. Charles East, Sr.
Alyssa Andersen, Aurora Christian, So.
Kailie Briza, Geneva, Sr.
Natasha Brown, Aurora Christian, Fr.
Allison Chmelik, St. Charles East, Fr.
Jenn Howland, Kaneland, Sr.
Amanda Lesak, Kaneland, Jr.
Heather Mende, St. Charles East, Sr.
Grace Petry, Rosary, Sr.
Skylar Schoen, Batavia, Jr.
Jessica Scheets, St. Charles North, Sr.
Torree Scull, St. Charles East, Fr.
Kristin Sheehan, St. Charles East, Sr.
Lauren Zick, Kaneland, So.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Denise Hefferin, St. Charles East
Hefferin’s St. Charles East runners, jumpers and throwers easily pinpointed her yelling voice during practices and meets.
If there was one thing that could have drowned out Hefferin, it was the bedlam that ensued after the Saints’ 3A Bartlett Sectional title, the first sectional crown in the program’s storied history.
“It’s really our whole program that helped us go strong this year. From sprints to jumps to throws to distance, we were making new records and doing new things all the time,” Hefferin said. “There were just so many great things to talk about.”
Shouting was fair game, too.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com