BELLEVILLE — The days of always being a contender but never a champion are now in the past for the O'Fallon Panthers.
Alex Riba won the 1,600- and 3,200- meter titles while Patrick Perrier (800) and Chris Wiggins (100) also were among the winners for the Panthers, who captured their first Southwestern Conference boys track and field title Wednesday with a 17 1/2-point win over Edwardsville at Belleville East High School.
Competing in their 13th meet since joining the SWC in 2000, the Panthers not only received four individual titles from their top trio, but also got a win from Pat Riley in the pole vault and utilzed their depth to cover the rest as the O'Fallon thinclads finished with 152 points.
"We knew what we were going to get from our stars. The difference in the meet was our depth,'' O'Fallon coach Ron Koch said. "I told the kids before the meet that we had to nickel-and-dime the field.
"We scored in every event tonight. That was the difference in the meet."
Edwardsville, getting wins from Julian Harvey in the long jump and high jump, finished second with 134 1/2 points. Belleville West placed third with 125 1/2. East St. Louis (120 points) and Collinsville (54) rounded out the top five teams.
A perennial conference title contender while competing in the Mississippi Valley Conference and South Seven Conference, where it won a combined 28 league titles, the Panthers had finished second in the SWC on several occasions before they finally got over the hump Wednesday.
"I can remember at least six times when we've been second. I'll be honest about it. This is one I really wanted for our kids and the program," Koch said. "We think this is the best track and field conference in the state, so to be able to win it means a lot. I'm a Belleville East graduate, so winning it here means a lot to me."
Riba, who ran the 1,600 in a meet-record time of 4 minutes and 10 seconds at the Collinsville Invitational on Saturday, ran a 4:21.6 on Wednesday. His winning time in the 3,200 was 9:33.
Perrier, one of the state's top junior distance runners, ran a time of 1:54.1 to take the 800.
Second at the Class 3A state meet a year ago, Edwardsville, led by Harvey, also enjoyed a good day. Harvey won the high jump with a leap of 6-feet-4-inches and the long jump with an effort of 22-8 1/2.
Harvey also took second in the triple jump behind West's Jamion Nash.
"Julian had a great day. He knew what he had to do in his events for the team and he went out and did it. Unfortunately, we fell short in some other events. I was pleased with the effort,'' Tigers coach Chad Lakatos said. "O'Fallon has a very strong team. They've always had strong individuals in certain events. This year they've got depth across the board. That's the difference."
West got some strong efforts in the sprint relays. The Maroons, led by a winning time of 3:18.62 in the 1,600 relay, also won the 400 and 800 relays.
Nash won the triple jump with an effort of 47-2 inches, while Tevin Suggs (200) and Josh Freivogel (400) also won titles for the Maroons.
"We had a great night, especially in the relays. To run 3:18 in the 1,600 meter relay is outstanding. And we did it without Tevin (Suggs),'' West coach Patton Segraves said. "It gives us an option and lets him run the 200 meters at sectional. I was also pleased with Josh Freivogel in the 400 and Jamion (Nash) in the triple jump. It was a good night."
Fourth-place East St. Louis got a pair of wins from Marcus Greer who won the 110 hurdles (14.5) and 300 hurdles (38.2). The Flyers also won the 3,200 relay.
Collinsville got wins from Martinus Mitchell in the shot put and Harry Uyehara in the discus.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com