Late last spring, a quartet of Class 1A track and field standouts reached the pinnacle of their sport by being crowned state champions.
With the new season getting underway, all four of those athletes are back to defend their state titles and to continue to build upon their impressive prep resumes.
Leading that group is Orion senior Danielle Taets, who brought home not one but two gold medals from Charleston last May, winning the triple jump state crown by clearing an even 38-feet, then capturing first place in the 100 high hurdles with a time of 14.72 seconds. She also scored a bronze medal in the 300 low hurdles.
Also back among area girls' standouts is Fulton senior Chloe Lindeman, who ascended to the summit in the shot put with a throw of 47-feet, 3¾-inches, and also brought home a fourth-place medal in the discus.
Among area boys, a pair of field-event state champions are back to defend their titles. Erie-Prophetstown senior Kyle Kruthoff struck gold in the pole vault by clearing 15-feet, 6-inches. In the triple jump, Galva junior Peyton Sopiars jumped 45-feet, ¾-inches to claim his crown.
Titles inspire greater work ethic for Taets: Bringing home not one, but a pair of state gold medals, has inspired Taets to take her already high-octane work ethic to greater levels.
"Obviously, (the titles) are still fresh in my mind," said Taets, who this past winter became the second-leading career scorer in Orion girls' basketball history. "But, it mainly feels like I've put in a lot more work since then and practiced more than usual.
"Right after state, I felt even more motivated to do better, and I wanted to get better, so I've put in more work than in past years. I want to bring home another medal."
With the indoor season giving way to outdoors competition, Taets feels she is well ahead of where she was at this point a year ago, which indicates another golden payoff in about two months' time.
"My times and jumps are actually better than they were last year," said the Illinois State-signee. "It doesn't feel like it for some reason, but they are. Knowing that I'm improving, that's a good feeling."
Kruthoff ready for more: Looking back on last season, Kruthoff still admits surprise at ending the year atop the podium in Charleston as he tried to keep his goals for 2018 in perspective.
"I definitely didn't see myself winning it last year," said the Erie senior. "I didn't want to underestimate myself, but I didn't want to put my goals higher than they should be. Coming out on top last year was a big plus, a big 'hoorah' for last year."
Like Orion's Taets, Kruthoff has used his state success as inspiration for his final year of high-school competition.
"After winning last year, I didn't think I was done yet. I thought I still have a lot more in me," he said. "Practicing over the summer and in the off-season has helped me, and I definitely feel I'm ahead of where I was last year. I knew I needed to work 10 times harder than the year before to get back down there this season.
"This being my senior year, I want to go down there and go out with a bang, and maybe get a state record along the way."
Lindeman hopes to double her haul: Having achieved last year's goal of mining state gold in the shot put, Lindeman not only hopes to repeat that feat in 2019, but to double her medal haul and capture a discus championship.
With this being her senior season, she hopes to use the time she has left in a Steamer uniform to inspire and encourage her to achieve her goal of a double-gold weekend at Eastern Illinois University.
"That's definitely a goal of mine," she said. "The discus has never been my forte; it's a whole different thing, and I've struggled with it a bit. But finishing fourth at state, that's very encouraging. Knowing I can place higher is really boosting me."
State experience beneficial for Sopiars: After qualifying for state as a freshman, Sopiars used that experience to his benefit last spring, and now hopes to use his state title as the springboard to bigger things in '19.
"I want to get down there in the 400, for sure," he said. "If I can run in the 49s and 50s, that should put me in a good place. My freshman year was all about getting comfortable with the scenery down there. Last year, I was calm, collected and ready to do my best."