ALTON — With the Southwestern Conference title on the line, O'Fallon sophomore Tami Cardenas and the Panthers 1,600-meter relay ran the race of their young lives Wednesday at West Middle School.
Trailing defending Class 3A state champion Edwardsville by four points heading into the 1,600 relay, Cardenas ran a remarkable final leg to give the Panthers the win and their third SWC championship in the past four years.
Entering the event with the state's best time at 3 minutes, 57 seconds, O'Fallon bettered that by more than a full second, finishing in 3:55.54.
O'Fallon won the SWC title in both 2009 and 2010. Belleville West won it a year ago.
"Regardless of whether we won the title or not, the effort the girls gave tonight was just unbelievable. With the exception of three events, we won every other event on the track tonight. I can't ask anything more than that,'' O'Fallon coach Neal James said. "Tami (Cardenas) won the 800 meters, but I don't think she was that pleased with her time (2:24). But she came back and ran a spectacular final leg (in the 1,600 relay).
"(Chyah) McIntosh won the 400 meters, then comes back an hour later and runs a 400-meter split in the 4x400 meter relay that was faster than her winning time in the 400. Top to bottom tonight, it was a team effort. Everything we needed to happen, we did. It was a great effort."
O'Fallon finished with 167 points, while Edwardsville was second with 166. West (96 points), East St. Louis (81) and Belleville East (73) rounded out the top five teams.
Edwardsville was led by the senior Emmonnie Henderson. One of the best in the nation in both the shot put and the discus, she tied the second-best throw in state history in winning the shot put with an effort of 49-feet, 10 1/2-inches.
Four-time state champion Kelsey Card of Carlinville owns the record with a throw of 49-11 1/2, set in 2011.
Henderson also won the discus with a throw of 158-2. Teammate Aaliyah Covington was second in both events.
But on this night the Tigers came up a point short.
"I'm very passionate about this sport and we've worked very hard this year to get to this point. To come out here and fall one point short, it just very hard to take,'' Tigers coach MiKala Thompkins said. "I can't fault our effort. The girls gave it their best effort.''
Cardenas won the 800 while McIntosh won the 400 for O'Fallon, which also got wins on the track from Sam Lapp in the 1,600, Sydney Neal in the 3,200 and Denesha Swift in the 100.
Edwardsville took home titles in the pole vault, where Kennedy Roderick won by clearing 11-3.
Third-place West got wins from Claudette Day in the long jump and the 100 hurdles.
Markita Rush of East St. Louis captured the 300 hurdles while Granite City senior Natalie O'Keefe won the high jump by clearing a personal-best 5-8.
Belleville East senior Aniecia Brewster won the 200, while Collinsville senior Kayla Marshall won the triple jump.
O'Fallon also won the 400, 800 and 3,200 relays.