CHARLESTON — Three-time defending Class 2A state champion Cahokia entered O'Brien Stadium on Saturday knowing it faced a major challenge if it was to extend its reign of domination for another year.
On a warm spring afternoon, the Comanches met that challenge.
Senior Gary Hickman won the 110-meter hurdles, sophomore Ja'Mari Ward won the triple jump and the Comanches captured the 400 and 1,600 relays, as they survived a major challenge from (Maple Park) Kaneland to win its fourth straight state title.
After scoring a record 99 1/2 points last year, the Comanches finished with 90 this year, six more than Kaneland.
The Comanches, competing with sophomore sensation Ward hobbling on an injured ankle, and with Kaneland's talented squad breathing down their backs all day finished with a rush.
Nursing a slim lead heading into the 300 hurdles, the Comanches maintained that advantage when Hickman placed second and junior Korrian Session placed fifth.
Needing to finish third or better in the meet-ending 1,600 relay, the Comanches put on the perfect finishing touch --running a Class 2A record time of 3 minutes, 17.66 seconds.
Running the anchor leg, sophomore Tyran Lyons broke into a wide smile 10 meters from the finish line as the celebration began.
"I knew we had won it,'' Lyons said while catching his breath. "To win four in a row is huge.''
The win also gives Cahokia its second title in two weeks. One week ago at O'Brien Stadium, the Comanches' girls team won its first state title.
"It just goes to show what kind of kids we have at Cahokia,'' Comanches Athletic Director and girls track coach Roscoe Dowell said.
The win is also the sixth in the last eight years for the Comanches, who under coach Leroy Millsap have become one of the top track programs in the nation.
But on this day the Comanches were pushed by Kaneland and they responded like champions.
"They're all special, but this one means a little more because we were challenged by a very strong Kaneland squad. I knew it be a real battle and it was. I didn't care if we won by one point, just as long we came through. We did,'' Millsap said. "The seniors were huge today with Gary (Hickman), Jalon Monigan and Marlin Brady coming through. The 1,600 meter relay was big for us too.''
There also has a tense moment when Ward, the nation's premier sophomore in the long jump and triple jump, landed awkwardly on his left ankle on his first attempt in the long jump.
The leader after a preliminary jump of 22-feet, 10 1/2-inches on Friday, Ward passed on his next attempt and lost the title when Kaneland's Ben Barnes jumped 23-5 on his final try.
"I wasn't concerned with losing the event, I was concerned about his health,'' Millsap said. "I knew no one would catch him in the triple jump (a jump of 47-8 3/4) and if they did, it would be Jalon (Monigan). We had a tough decision to move around the 800-meter relay team because of the injury, but it worked out well.''
Ward and Monigan finished 1-2 in the triple jump, giving the Comanches' 18 points.
Cahokia also got big points from its second-place finish in the 800 relay and a third in the 3,200 relay.
Korrion Session added a pair of fifth-place finishes in the hurdles, while Hickman, winding up an impressive high school career, was first in the 110 hurdles and second in the 300 hurdles.
Hickman put the Comanches title into perspective.
"Four titles in four years. There aren't many people who can say they won a state championship all four years of their high school careers. It means a lot. We made history,'' Hickman said. "We worked hard. But we had a lot of fun too."
Mascoutah placed 11th in the team competition with 19 points. The Indians got a fifth-place effort from Barry Richardson in the long jump and third-place finishes from brothers Murphy Affolder (1,600) and Noah Affolder (3,200).
Triad was fifth in the 400 relay and Adam Nelson was ninth in the 100. Highland was ninth in the 3,200 relay.
In Class 1A it was a good day for the Madison Trojans, who finished 11th with 19 points. Senior Darrian Crawford was fourth in the triple jump, Andre McGill placed third in the 100 with a time of 10.92 and the Trojans placed fourth in the 800 relay.
For Wesclin, Ronnie Drummond placed fifth in the 300 hurdles, while Justin Goff placed ninth in the 100.