ERIE, Ill. — Erie/Prophetstown girls track and field coach Don Robinson made a mistake earlier in the season, running sisters Courtney and Rachel Cobert in the same races. The Coberts competed against each other in both the 200- and 400-meter races.
“Courtney would not let her younger sister beat her,” Robinson said. “She probably tossed her cookies just to keep her younger sister from beating her after those races. I haven’t really done that since.”
It’s better when the sisters run for the same cause — winning relays. That doesn’t cancel out their competitive spirits, though, Robinson said.
Along with fellow sibling duo Paige and Peyton Rus, the Coberts and the Panthers have their eyes on the medal stand entering this week’s Illinois Class 1A state meet. Three E/P relay teams (the 400, 800 and 1,600) enter the competition rated No. 1 in sectional times, each featuring at least one Cobert and one Rus. A fourth relay team — the 3,200 — also qualified.
Paige Rus qualified individually in the high jump and triple jump; sister Peyton qualified with the fourth-best long jump in Class 1A, as well as in the 200. Rachel Cobert also qualified in the triple jump, while her sister, Courtney, made the cut for the 100 meters. The latter will join sophomore Heather Strike in that event.
The Panthers have won every 1A meet they’ve competed in, which includes the state indoor competition earlier this year. With the Coberts and Ruses playing major roles, there appears to be sister telepathy at work in Erie.
“They’re close and they trust each other,” Robinson explained. “They all know something special can happen.”
Courtney Cobert said running with Rachel allowed her to be more critical than she usually would be of other teammates.
“I run the first leg and my sister runs the last leg,” Courtney said of E/P’s 800 team. “I always see her and she always sees me, so we can give each other tips.”
That same team — the 800 relay — set the school record this year in a Sterling meet. It’s no coincidence that a Rus or a Cobert make up each leg.
“Having that record has been a dream,” Paige Rus said. “To have that relay and get that school record as sisters is icing on the cake. I feel like it makes us push ourselves harder because it’s probably the last year I’ll be able to run with (Peyton).”
Cobert added that there’s comfort in knowing E/P is bringing a big team to the state meet in Charleston, Ill.
Targets on their backs
“If you’re number one, your mindset somewhat is, ‘Hey, all we have to do is show up,’ “ Robinson said during one of his team’s final practices Monday. “I don’t think that’s the case here.”
After the rankings came out, showing E/P as the leader in numerous events, Robinson reminded his athletes of the edge they competed with when they weren’t on top.
“At the beginning of the year, we were kind of unknowns,” he said. “Then, when they won the state indoor meet by half a point, I said, ‘You’re no longer unknowns.’ If we can have them aggressive and thinking about chasing goals, then I think our chances go up.”
The message to stay humble appears to have sunk in.
“We’ve been practicing hard because we know that others are practicing hard,” said Paige Rus, a senior who next year will compete at Monmouth College.) “We just have to run the fastest we can because anything can happen at state.”
Rus spoke from experience. During her freshman year, she was an alternate for E/P’s state relay teams.
“I just had to sit in the bleachers and be jealous of others,” she said. “I really tried to tell everyone this year, no matter if you’re going as a competitor or an alternate, to take it in and use it as motivation. I used my freshman year as motivation. Seeing everyone up there on the medal stand made me want to get up there as well.”
A lot has been special about this year for E/P. But regardless of individual goals, each athlete shares a common goal to succeed for Robinson in particular.
In his 36th year, Robinson submitted retirement papers for after the 2014-15 school year.
“We’re trying to finish this season strong for coach Robinson and give him what he deserves,” Paige Rus said. Her teammates echo those sentiments.
The Panthers have proven to have the speed and the jumps to put them as one of the Class 1A favorites for a team title starting as “unknowns” at the beginning of the season. Until the job is finished, Rus added, no one is taking those successes for granted.