The Belleville West Maroons came within an eyelash of winning their second Class 3A state title in four years during the 2012 season, finishing a mere 2 1/2 points behind Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville.
But there was no second-guessing by coach Paul James on that hot May afternoon in Charleston.
"We had the most girls in the finals, but we were way back as far as where we stood after the preliminaries,'' James said. "But in the finals on Saturday, we moved up and placed higher than what we had done in the preliminaries in every one of our events. Edwardsville just had a great day.
"I couldn't have asked any more. We just came up short. The good thing is that we've got almost everyone back. A year older and hopefully stronger, I would think we'd be better this season.''
Led by the brilliance of junior Claudette Day, sisters Jasmine and Imani Berry, sprinters Kristyon Tolliver and Tatyana Lewis and high jumper Kelsey Shannon, the Maroons should battle defending champion Edwardsville for the state title again this spring.
The 2013 outdoor season for area thinclads kicks into full swing Saturday at the Southwestern Illinois Relays at Edwardsville High School.
In the gifted Day, who placed sixth in the long jump and seventh in the 100-meter hurdles, and Shannon, fifth in the high jump, the Maroons have legitimate state title contenders.
Day also will be one of the best in the 300-meter hurdles and, along with junior Jasmine Berry, should give West the best pair of hurdlers on one team in the state.
Berry placed fifth in the 100-meter hurdles. Younger sister Imani Berry can also hurdle and will be used in the triple and long jump.
"Both Day and Jasmine are being heavily recruited and they're both only juniors,'' James said. "If we can keep them both healthy and have them peak at the right time, I like our chances to score big points in both hurdles and with Day in the long jump."
Senior Mashele Belk will be looked upon to fill the void left by the graduation of Sam Voegtle in both the shot put and discus.
Freshman Sarah Branson is perhaps the Maroons best, along with junior Brittany Luster in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. But its in the sprints and relays where the Maroons may distance themselves -- especially locally.
Seniors Tolliver, Camelia Nicholson and Asia Cochran all earned medals at state last year in the relays. Tolliver will also run in the 100- and 200-meter dashes along with sophomore Tatyana Lewis, who was a state qualifier a year ago in the 200 meters.
Cochran may not be ready to run until late April as she recovers from an injury suffered during the basketball season.
The sophomore class has four potential Division I track and field athletes in Imani Berry, Abrea Hopson, Lewis and Ni'Jia McNamee.
McNamee, who transferred from East St. Louis, can run anything from the 100 to 400 meters.
"What people don't realize is that the bulk of our points last year came from our freshman and sophomore classes,'' James said. "Edwardsville is going to be great once again. With (Emmonnie) Henderson, they're going to score 20 points at the state meet right away (shot put and discus). That means all they have to do from there is find 25 to 30 more points, and they will do that.
"That means we need to score from 45-50 and that still might not be enough. If we can get back to state and bring home another trophy, that would be great.''
Belleville West boys look solid
After four straight finishes in the top 10 at the Class 3A state track meet, nobody is talking much about the Maroons heading into the 2013 season.
"We lost a lot from the year before and we still managed to place sixth in the state last season. That tells me a lot right there about the type of kids we have," coach Patton Segraves said. "They have bought into the system and have worked hard to help achieve a lot of success the past four years.
"This season, Edwardsville and O'Fallon have a chance to bring home a state trophy. They are both that strong. Nobody is talking about us and that's fine. We'll be a work in progress. But I like what I see.
West will be led by a strong group of sprinters. Senior Tevin Suggs is a four-time state medal winner and will run the 100 and 200 meters and will also be in the 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter relay mix.
Senior Jamion Nash placed eighth in the triple jump at the Class 3A state meet a year ago and has already broken the school record this season with a jump of 46 feet 11 inches indoors. Senior D.J. Owens is also a potential state placewinner in the triple jump. He has gone 45 feet 10 inches.
Senior Kerry Holmes should be one of the best in the long jump after leaping 22 feet last year and will also compete in the 100 and 200 meters and all three sprint relays.
They are just part of a strong senior class.
"We have a great senior class. These kids have been part of teams who have been very successful and they want to keep the tradition going,'' Segraves said. "They are working very hard and have a great attitude.''
Senior Miercoles Bell was a state qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles and has the best time in the state indoors in the 60-meter hurdles this year at 8.1 seconds. Senior Terron Johnson is also a potential state medal winner in the shot put.
Seniors Pierre Gee and Marquis Cherry will lead the way in the discus, while sophomore Rickey Nelson will be the Maroons No. 2 guy in the shot put.
West has a bunch of talented sophomores in the sprints -- including Romello Hatter, Aaron Jackson and Dominic Davis. Freshman DeShon Buchanan looks good and will be on the relay teams.
Juniors Evan Alcorn, Chris Jackson, Josh Frievogel and seniors Nick Simmonds and James Cole,are currently the Maroons' best in the 800- to 3,200-meter events.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2626 or email@example.com