Highland senior sprinter Tyler Higgins is on a mission to reclaim the championship mettle he flashed two seasons ago when his meteoric sophomore season culminated in him being crowned the Class 2A state champion in the 400-meter dash with a school-record time of 48.29 seconds.
During his junior year, he broke the school records in the 100 (10.81) and the 200 (21.97) dashes, and went on to repeat as a triple crown winner at the Springfield Lanphier Sectional after sweeping all three of the sport’s fastest races there two years in a row.
But after suffering through some nagging injuries, Higgins had a disappointing finish to the season. He did not qualify for the finals in any of the three races at the 2A state meet in Charleston.
“Tyler will be the first to tell you that he was not happy with how the season ended for him at state last year,” Highland veteran coach Bob Vance said. “I think it left a bad taste in his mouth and he would like to be able to go out with a bang his senior season.”
This spring, Higgins has gotten off to fast start — literally and figuratively — as he has already posted a speedy indoor time of 7.01 seconds in the 60-meter dash, which was the fastest in the event at the Triad Knights Indoor Invitational Feb. 18 at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. It also is one of the best times in the state overall in the early going.
Then, last Friday at the Jacksonville Class 2A/3A Indoor Invitational at Illinois College, Higgins won the 200-meter dash with a speedy time of 22.63. Higgins ranks high among the state’s elite in all three sprint races: the 60, 200 and 400.
Higgins said his goal for his final year of high school are to stay healthy, avoid injuries, win more races for the team, set new records, and bring home another green sign that reads, “Tyler Higgins-State Champion” for a Highland highway.
“Anyone who is expecting a Tyler Higgins similar to last year is in for a big surprise, because I’m much stronger, faster, and far more determined to win now than I ever was in past seasons,” Higgins said.
One big question that has nagged Higgins in the past, and hopefully will not hinder him this season, is his health.
“Even since he was a freshman, keeping him healthy always has been the key,” Vance said. “And when he’s healthy, he is as good as anybody, but he’s also susceptible to injury. He is such a powerful runner.”
Because of Higgins’ powerful style of running, which makes him susceptible to injury, Vance has to be careful and monitor closely how many events Higgins competes in and how much he practices.
Plocher to lead distance crew again
Senior Jacob Plocher will once again show the way in the distance events. He qualified for state last year in the 3,200 (2 miles) and also had a productive cross country campaign this past fall.
Plocher has already posted a faster time than he did all last year when he was clocked at 10:09 in the 3,200 to finish third out of 19 harriers in his first competition of 2017 at Principia College.
“Jacob had a good season last year,” Vance said. “He qualified for state and his training has been awesome. He had a good cross country season and his training through the winter has been really good. He has taken advantage of the weather, and he’s already ran 10 seconds faster than he ran all of last year his first time out. So, we’ve got some high hopes for him and he has high hopes for himself.”
Last Friday at Jacksonville, Plocher ran to a solid seventh-place finish out of 40 harriers in the 1,600 with a solid time of 4:51.59.
Mississippi Valley Conference
With Higgins and Plocher leading the way, Highland hopes to stack up very competitively in the tough Mississippi Valley Conference.
“We think Mascoutah might be pretty competitive in our conference this year, and Triad is always competitive, but they might be a little down,” Vance said. “Waterloo won it last year, and Mascoutah was right there, so we think they will be tough teams to beat. We just try to be competitive, and we look at the meets as we go through the season and try to keep ourselves on pace towards what we want to get to. We know what it takes — how fast we need to run, how far we’ve got to jump and and throw. We just keep working to get closer to where we want to be.”
Highland will serve as the host for the MVC Championships on Wednesday, May 10.
“We are hosting conference, and we’ve got a few other home meets this year, and the track is completed and fixed, so we are excited about that,” Vance said.
Other key seniors
Bryce Sexton will be a key member of two key relay teams, the 4 x 800 and 4 x 400. He finished sixth out of 37 runners in his first open indoor 800 of the season at Principia College.
Highland lost two really quality middle-distance runners last year to graduation in Brode Portell and Hayden Smart. Portell placed fourth in the state in the open 400, and Smart had been a staple on the 4 x 800 all four years.
“Those are two pretty big pairs of shoes to fill, but we think we can do that, and we like to be competitive in the relays,” Vance said.
Grant Thole should also be a strong senior leader and contributor to the relays.
Brendan Schrage and his cousin, Brock Schrage, will most likely compete in the middle- to long-distance events, and Shane Yetter will also be a distance runner.
Jacob White will throw the discus.
The core of the sprint relay teams will most likely come from third-year team members, Mason Geiger, Ivan Orozco, Chase DeProw, Sebastian Wolf and Noah Schmitt.
Orozco and Geiger will also serve as the team’s long jumpers.
Kyle Lane could also see time in the sprints. He also threw the shot put.
Gabe Sherrill and Gavin Ware will serve as middle- to long-distance runners and have showed some promise after both had a good cross country season last fall.
Wolf and Deakon Thornton will handle the bulk of the pole vaulting responsibilities for the Bulldogs this spring. Wolf cleared 11 feet a year ago, and Thornton has already set a personal record at Principia College.
In the sophomore class, it is best to start with Sam LaPorta, who packs a wealth of all-around athleticism in his 6-foot-3 frame. As a freshman, he proved to be adept at throwing the discus, triple jumping and hurdling. LaPorta will probably throw some shot put this spring as well.
“We keep testing him to find out where he can help the team the most. He’s pretty versatile, and it’s always nice to have a guy like that,” Vance said.
Other sophomores who could be a factor are Isaac Jones and newcomer Wesley McMillen in the middle distance events, Jacob Maas and Reese May in the sprints, and Brayton Moss in the shot put.
Freshman team members who could make an impression are Jack Beiermann, Nick Hanratty and Brylee Portell in middle- to long-distance races, Eli Kehrer in the shot put, Austin Roach in the triple jump, Connor Sands in the long jump/triple jump/sprints, Josh Schmitt in the sprints, and Kain Thornton in the pole vault and sprints.