Facing a major challenge to their three-year title reign, the Cahokia Comanches responded like champions during the preliminary round of the Class 2A state track and field meet on Friday at O'Brien Stadium in Charleston.
Sophomore Jamari Ward took a commanding lead in the long jump and triple jump competitions and the Comanches posted the fastest time in all four relays to lead the way for local athletes at Eastern Illinois University.
Although he's ranked among the nation's best in both events, Ward had just an average day, for him, reaching 22-feet, 10 1/2-inches in the long jump and 47-8 3/4 in the triple jump.
Teammate Jalon Monigan is a distant second in the triple jump at 45-3 1/4.
Rantoul junior George Washington had the second best long jump at 22-3 1/2.
Cahokia senior Gary Hickman posted the best time in the 110-meter hurdles -- 14.37 seconds -- and along with teammate Korrion Session qualified for the finals of the 300 hurdles, for Cahokia which will have 13 entries in 10 events when the final day of competition begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
That number is second to (Maple Park) Kaneland, which qualified 15 entries in 12 events.
Mascoutah will be represented in the finals by Murphy Affolder, who qualified fourth in the 1,600 with a time of 4:23.8. Younger brother Noah Affolder posted the ninth-best time at 4:25.8, to also reach the finals.
Noah Affolder also will be in the 3,200 final, along with Triad senior Ben Richter.
Mascoutah's Barry Richardson is sixth in the long jump after an effort of 21-3.
The Knights also will have Adam Nelson in the finals of the 100. A sophomore, Nelson had the seventh-best time at 11.01.
Triad also qualified 11th in the 3,200 relay.
Cahokia is bidding to become the first school to win both the boys and girls state team titles in the same year since East St. Louis turned the trick in 2008.
In Class 3A, Edwardsville senior Craig James turned in the best time in the 110 hurdles and has the fifth fastest time in the 300 hurdles, as the Tigers put themselves in the trophy hunt with a strong performance in prelims.
James posted a time of 14.16 seconds in the 110 hurdles and along with teammate Isaiah Michl reached the finals of the 300 hurdles.
Michl has the third best time in the 300 hurdles at 38.24. James is fifth at 38.64.
James also will run on a Tigers' 400 relay, which posted the best time of the day at 41.52. Edwardsville is seeded sixth in the 800 relay.
Junior Fontez Davis is seventh in the long jump at 22-1 3/4 inches. Tigers teammate Wes Schoenthal qualified for the finals in the 800.
Also qualifying first in their events were O'Fallon's Patrick Perrier in the 1,600 and Collinsville's Martinus Mitchell in the shot put.
Mitchell, owner of the Kahoks school record, got off a throw of 61-0 3/4 in prelims.
Perrier, the Class 3A state cross country champion, put himself in position to complete the 'triple crown' when he posted a sparkling time of 4:14.1 in the 1,600.
Perrier also one of the favorites in the 3,200, which has no preliminary round.
O'Fallon teammate Dan Ryan is in the finals of the discus with the 11th-best throw of 155-1.
Belleville West assured themselves three medals, reaching the finals of the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays.
East St. Louis posted the top time in the 1,600 relay, clockin in at 3:17.01. Sophomore Roosevelt Davis, who was part of that relay, posted the third-best time in the 400 meters, with a 48.38.
Granite City's Quinten Jackson cleared 6-4 to reach the finals of the high jump.