When all seemed lost on Friday, the Cahokia Comanches showed the heart and and determination of a champion — again — at the Granite City Invitational Track and Field Meet.
Destined for a second place finish behind defending Class 3A state champion Edwardsville, the Comanches won both the frosh-soph and varsity 4x400 meter relays to score a 5 1/2 point win before a large crowd at Granite City High School.
Limited to a pair of relays because of a tight groin, Cahokia senior Ja’Mari Ward ran a solid leadoff leg in the 4x400 meter relay and the Comanches ran away from the field as they erased a Tigers lead and scored the victory.
Edwardsville, which like Cahokia, was without several key individuals, placed seventh in the varsity 4x400.
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“Am I surprised we won the meet? yes. But I’m very happy with how the younger kids performed tonight,’’ Cahokia coach Leroy Millsap said. “We found some freshmen that we’re going to be able to run in the relays. That’s what I’m happiest about.
“For us, it’s all about getting ready and getting healthy for the last two meets of the season — which are the sectional and state meets. And if the freshmen ran like they did tonight, I think you’ll see a few of them on the relay teams and we’ll run our experienced kids in the open events. I like what I saw.”
Rebounding from a second place finish at the Norm Armstrong/Belleville West Invitational last week, the Comanches finished the meet with 102 1/2 points. Edwardsville, which got another record from junior A.J. Epenesa in the discus, was second with 97 points, followed by Marion with 76 points.
Cahokia did not win an individual event. But the Comanches won the 800, and 3,200 meter relays. Cahokia placed seventh in the 4x100 meter relay, which was won by Belleville West.
Epenesa leads Edwardsville
While Millsap was surprised and elated by what he saw from his young group of sprinters, Edwardsville coach Chad Lakatos also had plenty to be happy about despite the second place finish. The defending Class 3A state champions got a record-smashing throw of 193 feet, 9 inches from Epenesa in the discus and a win from sophomore Frankie Romano in the 800 meters.
Epenesa, who was chosen as the top athlete in the meet in the field events, broke the former record in the discus by 25 feet.
Still, to come so close to winning the meet, then falling short wasn’t the kind of ending Lakatos was hoping for on Friday.
“We knew Cahokia was going to run some fast kids in the 1,600 meter relay and we tried to do the same. It just didn’t end the way we wanted,’’ Lakatos said. “I know Cahokia ran Ward in just two relays tonight and had some other kids out but we also had some athletes who did not compete.
“Of course you want to win but when you finish second to Cahokia by 5 1/2 points, its nothing you have have to have to be down about. They are a great team.’’
And Lakatos was anything but down by the performance of Epenesa, who broke his third record in as many meets on Friday.
“We talk all the time about what A.J. does. But what I really like, was that he came back in the shot put with a throw of 54 feet, 6 inches and, along with Desmond Chappel, gave us a two-three finish there,’’ Lakatos said. “Desmond also threw the shot well for us tonight.’’
Running before his hometown fans, Granite City junior Will O’Keefe showed a great kick in the final 200 meters and won the 1,600 meter title in a time of 4 minutes, 25 seconds.
Although off his personal best of 4:19, O’Keefe fought off the fatigue coming down the stretch to post the victory.
“I love the atmosphere here. It’s great. But I have to admit, my legs were heavy in the last 200 meters,’’ O’Keefe said. “I never like disappointing people with the way I run or how I finish. Disappointing people, here, on my home track, isn’t an option.’’
Other winning performances
Marion junior Darryl Sullivan also had an outstanding performance in the field. The premier athlete in the state in the high jump, Sullivan went 6 feet, 10 inches to win the event on Friday. He also won the long jump.
Collinsville got wins from Daniel Brown in the pole vault, Bailey Crone in the triple jump and Zach Hammel-Brown in the 300 meter low hurdles. Waterloo senior Greysan Moehrs won the 110 meter hurdles, while Belleville West senior Deshon Buchanan won the 100 meter title