Highland sophomore Tyler Higgins’ first trip to the state track meet this past weekend was not only a memorable one, but it also shined with some historic gold.
Higgins became the first-ever Highland Bulldog boy to be crowned an individual state champion when he captured gold in the 400-meter dash on Saturday at the IHSA Class 2A Boys State Track and Field Meet at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
Higgins, who sat out the majority of his freshman season due to a hip injury, blazed to the finish line in a time of 48.29 seconds to smoke the eight other runners in the field. In the second half of the race, Higgins powered by Peoria Notre Dame senior David Shadid (48.83) and ended up besting the runner-up finisher to the stripe by more than a half a second.
“I got out good, and the race was about the way I expected it to be. I’m usually better in the last half of the race, and that’s when I made my move again today,” said Higgins, who also eclipsed his own school-record time from earlier this season. “This is what I’ve worked for all year. It feels great to be a state champion.”
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The sophomore sensation posted the top preliminary time in the event on Friday at 49.25. But when it mattered the most, he bettered that time by nearly a full second after he came from behind with a strong finish to capture the state title and join 2014 HHS graduate Lena Giger as the school’s only track and field state champions.
Giger recorded three individual state championships in a row in the shot put for the Lady Bulldogs track team from 2012-2014 and is now competing in the shot put and hammer throw at the Stanford University.
In addition to the 400 school record, Higgins holds Highland school records in both the 100 and 200.
“Tyler is pretty special,” said Highland coach Bob Vance. “He had never run a 400 before this year, so he’s been learning what to do with each race. I just told him to make sure he did enough in the first half of the race to do what he wanted to do in the second half. Higgins normally runs the first half of the 400 comfortably, before turning it on in the second half of the race. That formula worked for him again today.”
Higgins’ victory was good for 10 team points to lead the Bulldogs to their best team finish in school history, with 19 points, which was good enough for a tie for 11th place with Freeport and Geneseo.
Higgins was one of nine medalists for the Bulldogs as two relay teams — 4 x 800 and 4 x 100 — also took home medals from the state finals in Charleston.
Relay teams medal
Starting the day off strong for Highland was the 4 x 800 relay team which garnered the fourth-place medals with a season-best time of 8:03.19. The quartet consisted of seniors Trevor White, Grant Riggs and Ben Menke as well as junior Brode Portell.
“It feels rewarding to know that after four years as of working at it, we finally put Highland on the map as a team,” said Riggs, who along with White have been state qualifiers in the event all four years. “I think we’ve laid the foundation, and I hope these can guys next year can continue to build on it.”
In Friday’s prelims, the Bulldogs’ original foursome included junior mainstay Hayden Smart instead of Portell. The team barely qualified for Saturday’s state finals after clocking an uncharacteristic time of 8:13.
“It turns out we weren’t feeling 100 percent on Friday, and Hayden Smart, who has been on the relay team all year, could not answer the bell on Saturday,” Vance said. “Hayden could have been selfish and tried to run again, but he made a mature decision to opt out of running because of his health.”
Vance said that, due in large part to Smart’s selfless act, the Bulldogs had four able-bodied runners to finish the highest of any relay in school history.
In the state finals, White led off with a 1:58.7 leg and was followed by Riggs with a 1:59.3 time to put the Bulldogs in strong position in the relay. It was the fourth straight year for White and Riggs to qualify for the state track meet in the 4 x 800.
“Those two guys have been mainstays on our track team for four years, and we are going to miss them,” Vance said. “(They are) four-time state qualifiers and two-time medalists, and now they are going to run together in college at McKendree.”
Menke (2:04.5) and Portell (2:00.7) ran the final two legs of the relay, keeping the Bulldogs solidly in fourth place behind state champion Cahokia, second place Johnsburg, and third place Metamora.
“We knew coming into the weekend we had to bring our A-game,” Menke said. “Unfortunately, Hayden Smart got sick last night, and without him, we wouldn’t have been running on Saturday. We all worked hard this season from coach Vance pushing us, and it’s nice all that hard work paid off and we all couldn’t be happier.”
Vance said Menke and Portell did an awesome job.
“They were both out for track for the first time and really were important to our success this year. All these guys are quality young men and I am proud of them,” he said.
Another strong performance came from the sprint quartet of seniors Brendan Sands, Logan Geiger, Gage Geiger and junior Sam Teipe which earned seventh-place medalis in the 4 x 100 relay.
“These guys have worked hard all year, and, in fact, the three seniors have put in four years to get the chance to run at state,” Vance said. “They have rewritten the school record book in the two sprint relays and have set the bar high for the guys coming after them. They were disappointed that they didn’t qualify in the 4 x 200 relay on Friday, but they didn’t let the setback keep them from their goal of medaling at state.”
Also competing on Saturday in the state finals was Trevor White in the 800. In his last high school race, the Highland senior broke two minutes again with a respectable time of 1:59, but he finished in 11th place.
“We asked Trevor to do a lot all season, and he gave his all for this team,” Vance said.
Vance said he and the Bulldogs had high hopes with qualifiers in nine events at the state meet, but were slightly off their best on Friday and were only able to advance in four of the nine.
“We weren’t off by much but it was enough to keep us from qualifying,” the HHS coach said. “It wasn’t for lack of trying and it doesn’t diminish all that we have accomplished this year. People don’t realize how hard it is to qualify to Saturday at this meet. There are so many good athletes that you have to be at your best to just have a chance. We set the bar high and we still came away with the best finish ever for a Bulldog track team.”
Also in Class 2A, Triad junior Adam Nelson finished sixth in the 100 (11.07) and the Knights’ 4 x 100 relay team of senior Josiah Pottorff, senior Dan Hilling, junior Clayton Nickerson and Nelson placed sixth in the 4 x 100 relay (43.00).
In Class 1A, Wesclin senior Justin Goff took fourth in the 100 (10.95) and seventh in the 200 (22.597).