Highland: Sports

Highland small in numbers, big on hard work, fun

Highland thrower Polly Czar qualified for the IHSA Class 2A Girls State Track and Field Meet in Charleston last year in the discus last year and she hopes to place this season as a senior.
Highland thrower Polly Czar qualified for the IHSA Class 2A Girls State Track and Field Meet in Charleston last year in the discus last year and she hopes to place this season as a senior. dfussner@bnd.com

Highland High School girls track and field coach Erin Cotto has a small team in terms of numbers, but she has a lot of excitement for her squad as the outdoor season is scheduled to start on Thursday, March 16 with a home dual meet against Granite City.

“I always enjoy starting a new season. I miss the girls we lose after they graduate but it is exciting to see fresh faces as well,” Cotto said. “We have a small amount of athletes this year but the group I have is very dedicated. The team we have works hard but likes to have a lot of fun. It can get boring working out on the track at times so we like to add in interesting elements to our workouts. They are always up for the challenges I bring to them everyday.”

With only fielding 18 total athletes, there will be challenges to compete near the top of leaderboards at meets in terms of team scoring.

“With a small and limited number of athletes, we will struggle in team scoring in our bigger meets,” Cotto said. “However this year, our focus is on individual scoring of athletes in events. I’d rather focus more on the athletes’ places and times in these meets than the overall team score.”

Cotto said one of the best things about track is everyone is able to see their improvements through new personal records in all of the events that they do.

“Any time an athlete can compete better than they did the previous time, that is an accomplishment. It shows their hard work and dedication to their event,” she said.

What are some of your goals for the team? My team goals this year are to get out as many athletes as possible for postseason racing.

But it will not be easy as Highland has a tough Class 2A sectional this season at Springfield Lanphier. One key testament to that is that perennial state powerhouse Cahokia will be joining the Bulldogs there.

Key seniors

Strong athletes returning to the fold are seniors Sarah Beth Wiegman and Polly Czar,

Wiegman returns to lead a stout middle- to long-distance crew after helping two 4 x 800 relay teams (2014, 2016) medal at the 2A state meet. Last year, Wiegman teamed up with junior Rece Portell, then-senior Allison Zobrist and then-freshman Kate Marti to help the 4 x 800 team garner the best relay finish at state in program history after collecting fourth-place medals with a time of 9:44.59.

Wiegman should also be a force to be reckoned with in the open 800 and 1,600 as well.

“Our middle distance crew is strong again this year,” Cotto said. “Sarah Beth put in a good amount of mileage over the winter. I look forward to seeing what she can do this year in the 1,600 and 800. Sarah Beth looks strong in the 1,600 and I’d like to see our 4 x 800 team make another state run.”

Czar qualified for the state meet last year in the shot put with a mark of 36 feet, 2 inches and worked hard in the offseason with the goal to make a return trip to Charleston to put the finishing touches on her prep career.

At the Jacksonville Class 2A/3A Indoor Invitational at Illinois College on March 3, Czar placed seventh out of 44 throwers.

Another important senior is Ariel Smock, who leads the sprint crew and will also triple jump for the Bulldogs this season.

Solid juniors

Portell and junior classmate Alyssa Freimann also qualified for the 2A state meet as individuals last spring. In addition to her running a key leg of the fourth-best 4 x 800 team in 2A, Portell earned a berth to state in the 800 with a time of 2:25.43. Freimann made the cut to the state meet in the 400 with a one-lap time of 1:02.24.

Portell and Freimann both joined the team this past week after Portell just finished up another successful basketball season and Freimann recently wrapped up her winter swim season.

“I look forward to working with these two on the quarter (mile or 400) and the half (mile or 800),” Cotto said of Portell and Freimann. “Rece is working for another qualification in the 800 and we should see some impressive times from both ladies this season.”

Additionally, junior thrower Abby Beyer came close to joining Czar at state in the shot put last year as a sophomore.

“Both Czar and Beyer have been working with coach (Dave) Giger every day in the weight room and out in the ring.”

Dave Giger is the father of Lena Giger, who was a three-time 2A state champion (2012-14) in the shot put at Highland. Now, Lena Giger is a junior thrower at Stanford University, where she already holds school records.

More strong help

Two underclassmen who will provide pivotal help when they are available from the soccer team are sophomore Kate Marti and freshman Sam Hengehold.

Marti was a member of the 4 x 800 team that set a school record with their fourth-place finish last year. She will compete with the track team every chance her soccer schedule allows it. Marti will add in a strong 800 time and will be a tough competitor in the 400 as well.

Like Marti, Hengehold’s first priority is soccer, but she will also compete with the track team at every possible opportunity. Hengehold, who had a successful first cross country campaign last fall and also has been training throughout the offseason, will add talent and depth to Highland’s long- and middle-distance crew.

In addition, McKenzie Meyer will join Czar and Beyer to add depth in the throwing events.