With the Illinois High School Association girls' sectional track and field meets just a week away, metro-east area athletes head into the home stretch of the 2014 campaign looking for one final regular season challenge.
And in girls track and field in Illinois, it doesn't get more challenging than the Southwestern Conference.
Many of the top track athletes in the state will battle for individual and team honors on Wednesday at O'Fallon High School at the Southwestern Conference meet. The event begins at 4 p.m.
County champions East St. Louis (St. Clair) and Edwardsville (Madison) headline the field, which also includes perennial state powers Belleville East, Belleville West and O'Fallon.
Collinsville, Granite City and Alton round out what could be the premier conference girls meet in Illinois.
"In the jumps and the sprints, I don't think there is any question it's the best conference around. If you look at the top times in the state, we've got athletes in the top three or four in every event,'' O'Fallon coach Neil James said. "The good news is that the weather is supposed to be very warm and the jumpers and sprinters will love it. The distance kids may not be very happy though. I look for some outstanding times if the weather is good."
Among the top thinclads competing will be Jasmine Berry, of Belleville West, and Kristen Dowell, of Edwardsville, in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. Both are among the top five times in the state.
Dowell has signed with Nebraska while Berry is headed to the University of Illinois. Dowell will battle with Alton junior LaJarvia Brown in the triple jump and should be among the top athletes in the long jump.
Kelsey Shannon, of Belleville West, is one of the best in the high jump, while O'Fallon features a deep and talented squad which is good in several events.
Add in talented Belleville East and a young and improving East St. Louis squad and the SWC meet could be one of the best in a long time.''
Other conference titles are also up for grabs this week. Here is a look at each one.
The Cahokia Conference will hold its girls and boys meet at Freeburg High School beginning at 3 p.m.
Freeburg is a heavy favorite in the girls division while Columbia may provide the host school with a challenge in the boys competition.
Freeburg coach J.R. Brentlinger said he hopes his team will compete well.
"We feel we will have a good chance to compete in both the boys' and girls' competitions. The competition is always tough within our conference. All of the schools within our conference have great athletes and programs,'' Brentlinger said. "If we can compete in each event, we will be very happy. We are expecting good weather, so it should be very competitive and hopefully lots of great performances and personal records."
Mississippi Valley Conference
Defending Mississippi Valley Conference champion Triad will put its title on the line when it battles five league rivals for the girls' league championship at Mascoutah High School on Thursday.
Field events begin at 4 p.m. with the running events set for 5 p.m.
Triad coach Brian Weiss said thinks Highland is the team to beat.
"Highland looks to be the favorite as they are very strong in the field events and distance events. We are the defending champions, but it is Highland's meet to lose," Weiss said. "We are going to fight hard though, and we will compete. May is the championship season in track and field and special things happen in May. We might just do something special."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle@bnd.com or call him at 239-2661.