Oak Park relay races to fourth in stateOak Park-River Forest's Tijuanna Williams (center) runs in the Class 3A 200-Meter Dash at the 2011 IHSA Girls Track and Field State Finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 24, 2011 5:55PM
One race at the Class 3A state meet exceeded all other expectations for Oak Park-River Forest.
It is safe to say the Huskies didn’t have many high hopes entering the postseason. The Huskies finished sixth in the West Suburban Silver outdoor meet May 7. The Huskies had the same finish in the indoor conference meet March 18.
OPRF’s 800-meter relay at the state meet changed everything.
First-year coach Tom Tarrant had the makings of a standout relay at the conference meet when OPRF won the 800 relay ahead of Hinsdale Central and Lyons. But when Tarrant added a missing piece, senior Te’Juanna Williams, the relay really took off at the sectional.
The relay turned in an even more stunning performance by finishing fourth at the state meet (1:41.50) Saturday in Charleston. Without Williams, the relay was timed in 1:43.60 at the conference meet.
The top three relays to finish ahead of OPRF came from schools which finished in the top 11 at the state meet. The Huskies tied for 31st.
The relay of Williams, sophomore Chaundia Jones, senior Ashley Parrish and freshman Tikara Owens finished behind Evanston (1:39.55), state team champion East St. Louis (1:39.58) and Belleville East (1:40.27).
“The combination of the seniors, who have been there before, with the freshman and sophomore following the seniors worked,” Tarrant said. “They went down there and they were all business.”
Williams, who will compete next season at Michigan State, was the blossoming star for the Huskies late in the season. But when it came to success for that relay, Tarrant gave much of the credit to Parrish.
“She was the emotional anchor on the team,” Tarrant said. “On that relay, all year, she was holding it together.”
Owens spent the first half of the season on the JV team before getting promoted to the varsity late in the regular season.
After the conference meet, Williams replaced high jumper Erin Svehla on the relay.
The relay became the highest finishing 800 relay in school history, topping the fifth place finishes at Class AA in 1996 and 2003.
Tarrant’s assistant coach, Tyrone Williams, was able to find a way to mix athletes from three different classes into a cohesive relay team.
“(Coach Williams) was phenomenal. I have such great coaches,” Tarrant said. “It was a total team effort with all the coaches this year. The female coaches at the dormitory kept the girls in line downstate.”
Te’Juanna Williams finished seventh in the 200 (25.08) to become the first OPRF girls athlete to place in that event. In 1975, Lauren Blanchard placed third in the 220-yard dash.
The late season success for the team might pay off down the road for the Huskies. Tarrant said he has received increased interest from girls around the school to join next year’s team. Tarrant knows OPRF can use all the help it can get to compete in the rugged West Suburban Silver. Conference champion Glenbard West was sixth in the state meet and Downers North, which finished fourth in the conference, tied for 15th at state.