The Highland High School boys track and field team had its best showing of the season and it came at the best time.
The Bulldogs advanced seven athletes in four events through Thursday’s IHSA Springfield Lanphier Sectional and they have punched their tickets to the IHSA Class 2A Boys State Track and Field Meet to be held May 26-27 on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
The state-qualifying finishes posted by Highland’s seven athletes in four events led the Bulldogs to a third-place finish in the 16-team sectional. Host Springfield Lanphier ran away with the team title after racking up a winning team score of 141.50 points.
Rounding out the top five — which were a wide distance behind Lanphier but were more competitive with one another — were Decatur MacArthur (57), Highland (55), Jerseyville (48) and Rochester (46).
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“First off, it was a great team effort,” Highland coach Bob Vance said. “When we go to a post-season meet we set five goals to strive for. Have fun, set personal records, medal (top six at a sectional), qualify to state, and set school records. We didn’t get any school records, but we reached the other four goals and I’m proud of the effort our boys put forth. We finished third, missing second place by just two points. The last three years, we have finished second twice and now third in the sectional.”
Seniors Tyler Higgins (200-meter dash) and Jacob Plocher (3,200) led the charge for the Bulldogs as sectional champions.
Competing in just his second outdoor meet after injuring his hamstring in early March in an indoor meet in Champaign, Higgins did not let that slow him down as he bolted to his third straight sectional crown in the 200-meter dash after stopping the fully automatic timing (FAT) clock at a speedy time of 22.16 seconds. Higgins narrowly edged out Springfield Lanphier senior Jairus Jackson by 0.01 of a second.
“It was exactly two months ago when Tyler pulled his hamstring at a race in Champaign, and we weren’t sure if he was going to be ready to go,” Vance said. “Before the 200, we talked about what he needed to do, and I could tell he was ready. This time, because we could use a time he recorded indoors before he got hurt, he was in the fast heat. He didn’t get a great start, but you could see his competitive nature come out as he switched gears and blazed to a fast finish. He has posted the third-fastest time from the 2A sectionals.
“Tyler has had a great career and has rewritten our sprint records. I’m glad he is getting an opportunity for one more chance to get back up on the (podium) finish stand at Charleston. We get another week to build up his legs for another championship run.”
Plocher qualified in the 3,200 for the second year in a row after posting a winning eight-lap time of 10:.22, which easily beat the runner-up time of 10:26.06 laid down by Greenville’s Collin Kessinger, who will join Plocher at the state meet.
“This year he set the pace from the start and really controlled the race,” Vance said. “He went out fast and when other guys tried to stay with him they struggled as the race continued. The time was not his best, but it was a great race plan and it was awesome for him to be a sectional champion. If you’ve driven around Highland the last couple of years you likely have seen Jacob running at one time or another. Nobody has worked harder to accomplish what Jacob has done.”
Additional state qualifiers
Also qualifying for Highland by placing second in their respective events were the 4 x 100 team and junior Sebastian Wolf in the pole vault.
The 4 x 100 team consists of all juniors (in order they ran in), Mason Geiger, Wolf, Ivan Orozco and Noah Schmitt and the quartet posted the second fastest time of 43.55 seconds, which was only 0.29 of a second behind Springfield Panphier’s victorious time of 43.26.
“We were seeded fourth going into the 4 by 1, but we knew that if our handoffs were good we would have a shot at a state trip,” Vance said. “We got a great leadoff leg from Mason Geiger (11.1 seconds), and when he passed the baton to Seby (Wolf), we were right with the eventual sectional champions, Springfield Lanphier. Seby (11.3) runs the straight, and we normally like to have him pass off late to Ivan Orozco. Their exchange was solid, and Ivan flew through the curve in 10 seconds. The fourth junior of the unit, Chase DeProw (11.1) fought off a strong challenge from the anchor from Decatur MacArthur to seal the deal.”
HHS’ 4 x 100 team knocked off a second and a half in the last two weeks. Vance said it is all because of the hard work the group has put in to improve their handoffs.
“They have a goal to break the sprint relay school records (set in 2015 by Brendan Sands, Logan Geiger, Gage Geiger, and Sam Teipe) before they are through and they have a good chance to pull it off if they continue to stay focused.”
In the pole vault, Wolf matched his personal record after clearing the bar at 11 feet, 7 inches.
“Seby Wolf had a tough battle in the pole vault,” Vance said. “We had a pretty good idea it was going to be a battle for second place, and Seby cleared 11-7 on his first attempt, while Hunter Robinson of Greenville missed his first attempt but eventually made the height. When they both missed at 12-1, we knew Seby was in. We need to get him over that 12-foot barrier. He’ll have a tough challenge at state, but the experience will be priceless.”
Vance said big thanks go out to volunteer coach Ted Cipicchio, who has made a difference with a bunch of Highland’s vaulters.
“He has helped Bryce Kirsch (SIJHAA state champion) and others at the middle school level, Reese Tackett go to state for our girls team, and several of our boys including Seby,” Vance said. “Freshman Austin Roach had a personal best of 10-7, which was good for fifth place. Roach has improved by over 2 feet in the last couple of weeks, and he just missed clearing 11-1.”
At the IHSA Class 2A Mascoutah Sectional, Triad qualified three athletes for state, led by sophomore sectional champion in the 100-meter dash with a wining time of 11.18 seconds. The other pair of Knights to make the cut were sophomore Jadon Elliott, who placed second place in the pole vault (14-7), and senior Will Zehnder, who took sixth in the triple jump (43-7.25).
Higgins actually won all three heat races he was in Thursday. In the 100, he ran in the slow section because Highland had no time for him this year, due to his hamstring injury. He ran a respectable time of 11.38 seconds to place fifth overall, but Vance said he would have loved to see Higgins go head-to-head with the fastest sprinters.
Vance said Higgins also looked even better in the 400, but once again there was a faster heat that pushed his 52.02-second time back to fourth place overall.
Vance said the biggest disappointment came in the 4 x 200, where the first three members of the 4 x 100 relay and anchor junior Noah Schmitt came up just short, but still got third place with a team time of 1:33.02.
“We had a respectable time, but a bad exchange cost us some valuable time that probably would have allowed this quartet to qualify as well,” he said. “Going in, we thought the better chance was in the 4 by 2, but you never know what might happen in the sprint relays.”
Sophomore Sam LaPorta garnered medals in both throwing events, taking fifth in the shot with a heave of 43 feet 11 inches and attaining sixth in the discus with a throw of 140 feet, 2 inches, a season best, which was only 4 feet off of the state qualifying mark in the discus.
“He will have a good chance to make it to state in both events next year,” Vance said.
Highland’s 4 x 800 relay team of Gabe Sherrill (2:15), Isaac Jones (2:14), Brendan Schrage (2:12) and Wes McMillen (2:08) gave a great effort and earned a fifth-place medal with an overall time of 8:5081.
“I was extremely happy for senior Brendan Schrage, who had his best split ever in his last high school race,” Vance said.