After a pair of near misses in two of the past three years, the Edwardsville Tigers finally won the one title which had alluded them the longest and the one they wanted the most Saturday at O’Brien Stadium.
Second in the Class 3A state meet in 2012 and 2014, the Tigers won their first boys state track and field championship.
Senior Fontez Davis won the long jump and Edwardsville earned medals in nine other events, finishing with 55 points and scoring an 18-point win over both Evanston and Naperville Neaqua Valley at the storm-plagued state finals at Eastern Illinois University.
“To come here and get second as freshmen and then to come so close last year, we were determined to do everything we could win it this year as seniors,’’ Tigers senior Wes Schoenthal said after finishing second in the 800 meters. “It’s what we’ve worked for all year and if we are able to get it, I can’t think of a better way for the seniors to end our careers.’’
On a day which saw 49 metro-east entries medal and 12 win state titles, the Tigers helped lead the way.
Displaying their overall depth, the Tigers were superb in all areas.
The state championship is the third for Tigers coach Chad Lakatos, who led Herrin High School to back-to-back state championshps in Class A in 2007 and 2008.
But for Lakatos, this one is special.
“This one means a lot. Coming into a new school you are never sure if the kids are going to buy into what you want them to do. I’m just very forutnate to work with great coaches, great kids and a very supportive group of people at Edwardsville High School,’’ Lakatos said. “We had 10 entries heading into the finals and so I liked our position coming into today.
“It was a total-team effort. We scored in the relays, field events and on the track with some great performances from several of our athletes. I couldn’t be any prouder of a group of athletes.’’
Davis, whose winning leap of 23-feet, 6-inches came in the preliminaries, led the way, while sophomore AJ Epenesa was second in the discus and ninth in the shot put.
Also placing second was Travis Anderson in the 110-meter hurdles and Isaiah Michl was third in the 300 hurdles
Other individual medal winners for Edwardsville were Justin White, who was ninth in the high jump. The Tigers also placed seventh in the 800 and 1,600 relays and were fourth in the 400 relay.
Always in contention for a top 10 finish, Belleville West proved to be one of the major surprises of the weekend.
The Maroons finished in a tie for sixth place with 25 points.
Leading the way was Ricky Nelson. One of the top three-sport athletes in Southern Illinois and headed for Barton Junior College in Kansas, where he will compete in track and field, Nelson provivded one of the most dramatic moments of the three-day meet when, in third place in the discus heading into his final attempt, he bettered his best throw of just over 176 feet by nearly 17 feet with a winning toss of 192-feet, 2-inches.
Nelson then watched as Edwardsville sophomore AJ Epenesa’s final throw came up just short of his mark. Epenesa’s throw was 191-7.
“What did I do differently on the last throw? I slowed down and just concentrated,’’ Nelson said. “I knew it was good when I let it go. I’m having a little trouble believing that I actually won the state championship. It’s a nice way to end it.’’
Nelson is just the second individual state champion from West, joining Tom Stock who won the shot put in 1970.
“Unbelievable. For Ricky to step up and throw a personal best by that much on his last attempt, it’s just amazing,’’ an emotional West coach Patton Segraves said. “You are talking about one of the top three sport athletes in school history. What a way for him to end his high school career.’’
Nelson took sixth in the shot put, while teammate Deshon Buchanan was seventh in the 200. The Maroons also came within a whisker of winning the 400 relay, finishing second behind Evanston.
“And that was with a runner who was filling in for an athlete who injured his hamstring,’’ Segraves said. “ What an effort by those kids. I’m just so proud of all these athletes. They really stepped up and performed well here this weekend.’’
Widely recognized as one of the top hurdlers in the state, Belleville East junior William Session won his first state championship as he nipped Edwardsville’s Travis Anderson for the championship in the 110 hurdles.
Getting a great start out the blocks, Session led from start to finish as he captured the Lancers’ second hurdles state championship in two weeks.
Miya Dorsey won the 300 hurdles at last week’s girls state finals.
“What does it mean to be a state championship. It means that all the work I’ve done to get to this point is paying off,’’ Session said. “I’ve has some injuries this season, but to win the state title ... it’s wortth it.’’
East St. Louis had one of the day’s biggest challenges in the final event — the 1,600 relay. With meet officially hurrying to finish the competition with a light drizzle falling and the the skies growing darker by the second, the Flyers jumped out a lead and never looked back as it finished in 3:15.24.
Flyers junior Roosevelt Davis was third in the 400, while O’Fallon senior DeMontez McCray picked up O’Fallon’s lone medal with a fifth-place finish in the 400..
The Collinsville Kahoks also left O’Brien Stadium with some hardware, placing ninth in the 800 relay.
Madison’s Andre McGill, who entered the state finals with two state medals to his credit, took the 200 in Class 1A to becpme the Trojans’ first state champion since Jessie Leonard won the long jump and Ian Smith took home the 400 meters at the 1988 Class A state finals.
McGill nearly had two state titles.
Leading for most of the 100, McGill was caught at the wire by Staunton senior Marcus Sitko and placed second.
In the 200 , the Trojans senior took no chances. Taking the lead from the outset, McGill finished with a time of 21.73.
“I got out of the blocks good in the 100, but I just didn’t hear the guy (Sitko) coming behind me. In the 200, I got out good again and once I came around the curve with the lead I felt good about winning,’’ McGill; said. “To be able to win a state title in my last high school race, man ... it doesn’t get any better. I’ve worked long and hard for this.’’
Also winning a pair of medals was Wesclin senior Justin Goff. The Warriors standout placed fourth in the 100 and was seventh in the 200.
Althoff sophomore Jaylen Bester placed fourth in the long jump with a leap of 21-10. Sparta was sixth in the 3,200 relay.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.