A new era in Cahokia High School boys track and field is about to begin.
For the first time in four years this spring, Comanches coach Leroy Millsap won’t be able count on Ja’Mari Ward for 20 to 35 points a meet before even stepping off the bus. And he won’t have the versatile Anthony McRoberts in the jumps or Tyran Lyons in the 400-meter races and relays to provide points in multiple events.
Cahokia enters the 2017 season having won six straight Class 2A state championships but without a dominant individual athlete and perhaps lacking a leader capable of rallying the team.
But the talent is still there.
“This team could be better then last year’s team when we didn’t have Ja’Mari (Ward),” Millsap said. “We’re younger than we’ve been in a few years. We have some kids who have been here like Chris (Stanley), Marquis (Murray) and Keondre Wells. They know what it takes to get to the next level.
“What we don’t have is the number of individual event athletes that we’ve had in the past. The plan is to try and win it (the state) title again. That’s the goal.”
Ward, who missed the last month of the 2016 season with an ankle injury, is now competing at the University of Missouri, while both McRoberts (Illinois State) and Lyons (Arkansas-Pine Bluffs) have already made their marks as freshmen during the indoor season.
With that trio gone, the burden burden will fall to Stanley and Murray. Both ran on multiple relay teams as the Comanches won all four relays in route to their sixth straight state title last May.
The Comanches will rely heavily on relays where three athletes return in each of the four events.
Murray, Wells, Brandon Roberson and Damonta Taylor should be among the best 400- and 800-meter relay teams in the state while Roberson, Wells, Stanley and Taylor will be mainstays in the 1,600-meter relay.
Stanley, Gabriel Guffey, Kerry Williams and Devin Dowell will be four of the athletes who will compete in the 3,200-meter relay.
“We’re going to build around our relays and in certain individual events. Chris Stanley is certainly an athlete we think can contend for a state championship in the 800 meters and we’ve got athletes in the field events we certainly think can score at the state meet,” Millsap said. “We’ve got athletes at this school who we feel would be able to help us. The thing is that they are walking the halls or they are playing video games.”
Murray and Roberson will lead the way for Cahokia in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints while Stanley has the best Class 2A indoor time in the state at 1:57 seconds in the 800 meters.
Murray is currently ranked second in the state in the long jump with a leap of 21 feet, 11 nnches, while sophomore Andre Ward is ranked second in Class 2A in the triple jump at just shy of 45 feet.
“We have some work to do in the field events. But if the kids come in, do their work and progress as I think we can — I think we can get there,” Millsap said. “Kids like (Marquis) Murray who has been here for four years and has been a multiple state champion each year, he’s one of those athletes we hope will step up into a leadership role this year. We really need someone to do that for us.”