CHARLESTON, Ill. — Emmi Scales has waited all season for the opportunity to test herself.
The St. Viator junior said she was energized by the chance to compete against the best in the 100 meters, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, all of which she dominated in the class state meet preliminaries. 2A at Eastern Illinois University. O’Brien Field Friday.
“I raced without any competition all season,” Scales said. “No one was pushing me”
Scales showed she was ready for the big leap in competition, making program history by winning the state title in all three events on Saturday.
She clocked a winning time of 12.32 seconds in the 100m and came back after a four-minute break due to the slippery schedule to capture the 100m hurdles in 14.01. Then she overcame a wet track to win the 300 hurdles in 42.81. The meeting had a weather delay of two hours.
Scales, who shared the honor of East Suburban Catholic Conference Track and Field Athlete of the Year with teammate Mary Grace Hegberg, said she was motivated by the level of competition.
“Coming here and coming back with people coming up behind me and pushing me, I’m glad I was able to come out on top in all three,” Scales said. “I have worked very hard for the past eight months.”
Scales scored 30 points to help the Lions finish fourth in the 2A team standings with 44 points. Hegberg, a senior, was third in the 1,600 (4:49.50) and 3,200 (10:14.58).
“Emmi has been amazing all weekend,” said St. Viator coach Bill Stanczak. “She ran very well and competed so hard. We knew after last year she was going to come back strong and probably very well in the state. She is a motivated athlete and she ran very well. She had a dominating performance.
Competing in club and high school, Scales said the track occupied his daily schedule.
But it wasn’t always her best sport, she says. She started cheerleading at the age of 8. Her college in Roselle did not have an athletics team, but she joined a club athletics team when she was 12.
She quickly realized that the world of club track was very demanding.
“The club track is very competitive,” Scales said. “I’ve been going to national competitions since I was quite young, so I’m used to the pressure of competition. It helped me get on the path to school.
“But it was cheerleading for a long time first. Since I was very young, it was always joy and dancing. The track came out of nowhere. But I like both and I’m pretty good at both.I participated in state competitions for St. Viateur and club cheers when I was younger.
Scales said competing in both pushed his body to the limit.
“Track and cheerleading are two completely different things and create two different kinds of muscle memory, especially for hurdlers,” she said. “It was a really big disadvantage with the muscle memory. … It bothered me a bit. It was really bad for my back and my hips. I went to physical therapy and the chiropractor a lot to sort things out .
Scales said she started limiting her cheerleading time to focus more on indoor and outdoor tracks. Hurdles are her specialty and she also participates in relays and sprints. But she said she still plans to make the occasional appearance at Friday night football games to show off her cheerleading skills.
“Cheerleading kind of died out for me, but I still do side activities in the fall for fun,” she said. “I’m a pinball machine and I love tumbling backflips. I used to do the winter season, which is competitive. I won’t do it again because I was in a lot of pain.
Scales said her family taught her to embrace different sports and value competition. His mother, Anna, was a successful track athlete in high school. His brother, PJ, is a first-year catcher at Johns Hopkins.
“We’re a sporty family,” Scales said, “with my dad playing basketball and a bit of track (too). … I learned to stay focused thanks to my mother. PJ taught me to go out and go hard for everything.
Scales was forced to curtail her events during the outdoor season last year after suffering a leg injury.
She did not compete in the hurdles at the state, but she finished eighth in the 200 and 13th in the 100.
St. Viator track assistant Mike Olayos said he noticed Scales’ disappointment last June.
“She wanted to do better in the state last year, and that led her to a revenge tour to prove herself,” Olayos said.
Olayos, a retired coach with nearly 45 years of experience in New York and Florida, said he was impressed with Scales during early winter practices.
“At one of the very first indoor hallway practices, we were doing about 80 in a long hallway, and she just looked strong,” Olayos said. “I thought, ‘Ooh, this is going to be a good year.’ She looked faster and stronger.In hurdling, those two things are essential.
“She looked like she skipped a few steps. In the first two indoor races she led the pack – looked good and was technically good. I had the good fortune to train a lot of top hurdlers in Florida. You could see that Emmi was going to do something special.
Stanczak said Scales was a highly driven athlete, so he knew she was planning to make a splash this season.
“Last year at State was tough for her,” he said. “She is a hedge specialist. You knew then that she was coming back stronger and hungrier.
Scales was ready to go all out in the foreplay at Friday’s state meeting.
She posted the best times in her three events, setting the stage for a hat-trick on the track.
“I couldn’t wait for the final because I couldn’t run the hurdles last year because I was injured,” Scales said.
She finished first in each final, although she was pushed over the first 60 meters of the 100 hurdles by Brianna Dixon of Rantoul.
“She just had a dominating performance, right out of the gates and blocks on Saturday,” Olayos said of Scales. “It’s going to be tough to beat in his senior season. She put on quite a show. You could hear the ripple through the crowd.
“You’re hesitant to say the sky’s the limit for her, but I know she’s busy setting goals for next year.”
Stanczak said Scales shares many of the traits that made former St. Viator star Elizabeth Drab an all-state runner.
“Emmi has a relentless work ethic,” he said. “She is lucky to have wonderful parents who will help her achieve her dreams. What can she do next year now? I think she set the bar high.
“She’s looking to go to a Division I school. She’s totally focused on what’s next and what else she can learn to get that extra half second of her time.” We saw last year what she could accomplish.
Shortly after picking up his third first-place medal on Saturday, Scales reflected on his future on the track. She is looking forward to “a few days off” before getting back into the club track summer routine.
“My number 1 goal is to go to Division I,” she said. “I think the track is really nice indoors, and that’s a big part of college athletics. But I think it’s more of an outdoor sport for me. Not being able to do it all year is frustrating, so I feel like I’m a little held back. So I would like to be in the South in the future. I am excited about the future.
Bobby Narang is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.