Big hits, kicks and jumps
The 2019 track and field season was one of steady improvement and growth for the Highland boys track team.
Led by a predominately sophomore and junior-laden roster, the Bulldogs had solid efforts each week of the season.
“I thought this was a group that really worked hard and we made a lot of improvement as the season progressed,” said Highland track coach Bob Vance. “We had a number of close calls and performed really well in some relays like the Warrior Relays in Granite City, and also, we won the Roxana Relays, so we showed the true depth of our team in that meet.”
In the Class 2A Sectional meet at Springfield Lanphier on May 17, the Bulldogs finished in fourth place with 52 points just ahead of Springfield Southeast and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
While the team score was solid, the Bulldogs narrowly missed out on qualifying several individuals to the state meet, as junior hurdler Brylee Portell was the lone state qualifier with a second place finish in the 300-meter hurdles.
“Brylee was our top finisher with his second place finish in the hurdles,” Vance said. “We had six third-place finishes, which was good, but it frustrating because we knew we had to be first or second in order to qualify for state and the weather this spring made it really hard to hit qualifying times and the weather just wasn’t conducive for great performances. The kids did give great efforts. We had 10 personal bests (performances).”
Portell went on to the Class 2A state meet in Charleston the weekend of May 24 and competed there.
In the preliminary races, Portell gave it his best effort and ended up 23rd in the prelims with a 43.68.
That was as far as Portell got in the event but Vance had no issues with his performance.
“He ran it in the 43’s which a little slower than what he ran it in the sectional, but not that much so it wasn’t like he went there and laid an egg. It (his performance) was about like it was at sectional,” Vance said.
Other top performers during the season for HHS included sophomore pole vaulter Bryce Kirsch, who set the school record in the event this spring with a height of 13 feet, 3 inches.
The relay running crew of sophomore Josh Loeh, junior Nick Hanratty, sophomore Easton Rosen, freshman James Beard, and Andrew Capell, along with long and triple jumper Connor Sands also excelled during the season.
“Those distance runners in addition to Brylee Portell, who does the hurdles in addition to the 4x800 relay, and the guys on that relay, those guys just keep getting better and better and we think they will have a good chance to qualify for state next year,” Vance said.
Vance believes the team will have several more individuals who can make the cut for the state meet next year, which will require old-fashioned hard work and laser-like focus to achieve that goal.
“We’re getting closer and closer and I believe that next year and the year after that we’ve got some kids who can make some noise if they just keep improving,” Vance said. “I think everybody on the team just has to keep working to get better.”