The Highland High School boys track and field team lost its outdoor season opener to the visiting Granite City Warriors, 80-64. However, the Bulldogs posted some impressive individual results on a frigid Thursday at HHS.
With the cold weather conditions, Highland coach Bob Vance understandably elected to sit out senior Tyler Higgins, one of the state’s elite sprinters.
The Bulldogs still scored first-place finishes in seven of the 18 overall events. Perhaps, no athlete made a bigger first impression on the season than Highland sophomore thrower Sam LaPorta. While competing in the shot put in high school for the first time ever, LaPorta admitted that he liked the discus better. However, he made his introduction to the event a winning one as he was crowned the champion with a meet-best throw of 41 feet, 11.25 inches.
LaPorta also took third place in the discus with a heave of 107-6.
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“Sam LaPorta is an amazing athlete,” Vance said. “I’m not sure there is anything he can’t do. I know that he competed in the shot put in junior high, but to hit nearly 42 feet his first time out after not throwing the shot last year is remarkable. If he is willing to work at it, he has a chance to be a state qualifier in both the shot put and discus this year.”
Also winning an individual title for Highland were junior Sebastian Wolf in the pole vault (11-0), senior Grant Thole in the 100-meter dash (12.2), and sophomore Jacob Maas in the 200 (26.7).
In addition, the Bulldogs won three of the four relay races: the 4 x 100, 4 x 200 and 4 x 800.
Highland’s 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams were made up of all juniors: Mason Geiger, Wolf, Noah Schmitt and Ivan Orozco.
In the 4 x 100, Geiger (12.0), Wolf (11.2), Schmitt (12.1) and Orozco (11.0) won the race with a team-time of 46.3, while in the 4 x 200, Geiger (25.1), Wolf (24.9), Schmitt (24.3) and Orozco (24.2) posted a winning time of 1:38.5.
The Bulldogs’ 4 x 800 quartet of senior Bryce Sexton (2:10.9), senior Jacob Plocher (2:12.2), sophomore Ben Wille (2:21.0) and freshman Wes McMillen (2:24.4) captured first place with a combined time of 9:08.5.
Also placing in the top three in an individual event for Highland were: Plocher, second place in the 400 (1:01.7); Geiger, second place in the long jump (17-5); freshman Austin Roach, second place in the 110 hurdles (18.7) and third place in the 300 hurdles (54.1); freshman Connor Sands, second place in the triple jump (38-0) and third in the long jump (16-3); junior Gavin Ware, second place in the 1,600 (5:26.0); junior Noah Schmitt, second place in the 300 hurdles (50.5); junior Gabe Sherrill, third place in the 800 (2:27.5) and third place in the 1,600 (5:26.9); freshman Brylee Portell, third place in the 3,200 (11:25.3); freshman Blake McCaw, third place in the 200 (28.5); and junior Deakon Thornton, third place in the pole vault (9-0).
Gene Armer Invitational
On Saturday, Highland went on to compete at the huge indoor meet, the Gene Armer Invitational, which is held annually at the huge University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Armory.
Higgins and Plocher each scored an impressive top-three finish.
In the 60-meter dash, Higgins won the preliminaries out of 29 sprinters with a winning time of 7.00 seconds, which edged out Lenell Navarre of Chicago Marist’s runner-up time by 0.4 of a second. But in the finals, Higgins tweaked his hamstring and had to settle for second place with a time of 7.08, which was 0.2 behind Navarre’s winning time of 7.06.
“He won his prelim in 7-flat and was blowing the field away in the finals when something happened to his hamstring,” Vance said. “He still finished second in 7.08, but would have been sub-7 for sure.”
Vance said he didn’t think it was a serious hamstring injury but would know more this week after meeting and working with HHS athletic trainer Erin Hoepfner.
Plocher took third place in the 3,200 in 10:06, but was hoping to break 10.
“Jacob Plocher has really worked hard to become the competitive runner he has become,” Vance said. “He still has an outside chance to make (this weekend’s) Illinois Top Times Meet. We’ll know by late Monday.”
Wolf earned seventh place in the pole vault after clearing the bar at 10-feet even.