The Highland High School boys track and field team is strong in numbers with total count of athletes out this spring topping 40, including a strong throng of seniors.
“We’ve got good numbers, and we are pretty well represented in the classes with a good group of seniors that have been out for four years, and when you have that, that’s when you have a strong team,” said Highland coach Bob Vance, whose team is scheduled to open the outdoor season at 4 p.m. today at home with its annual dual meet against Granite City.
Vance can’t hide his excitement about his large collection of speedy sprinters as well as his talented middle-distance runners.
“Our sprinters are the strongest we’ve ever had,” the veteran coach said. “The strength of the team is our sprinters and middle-distance runners.”
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Some key sprinters are Vance’s two senior nephews, Logan and Gage Geiger, as well as sophomore Tyler Higgins and senior Brendan Sands.
Logan Geiger is also a top-notch long jumper while Sands is also a quality triple jumper.
Highland returns three of its middle-distance runners who helped the 4 x 800 relay team garner the ninth-place medal at the Class 2A state meet. The trio of seniors Trevor White and Grant Riggs and junior Hayden Smart also helped the 4 x 400 post a new school-record time.
Riggs is also a very good high jumper.
Vance said the No. 1 goal is always to have the kids improve upon their times or distances throughout the season.
“We are always trying to get better at what we’re doing,” he said. “We can’t control how fast anybody else is or what anybody else does in their event, all we can do is control what we do, so we try to become the best that we can be. My job is to get the best out of each kid.”
After the boys showing improvement in their events, Vance said other goals are to perform well at invitationals and to cap off the regular season by scoring well in the Mississippi Valley Conference meet, which this year will be held May 13 at Waterloo.
“We haven’t won the conference meet in a long time, so this might be a group that has an opportunity to do that,” he said.
Ultimately, Vance wants as many of his athletes as possible to advance through the sectional (May22-23 at Springfield Southeast High) to qualify for the state competition.
“If you win a sectional plaque, that’s icing on the cake, but to me, it is more about getting as many of our relay teams and individuals to state as we possibly can,” he said. “That’s the Mecca. You want to be able to get to go to Charleston that last weekend of May and see how you stack up against everybody else in our class. That’s what it’s all about. We want to be more than Highland good, we want to be state good.
“If we keep healthy and injury-free, the kids will keep working hard and they are setting the goals. They know what they want to accomplish and they’re not going to rest on their laurels. They want to become the best that they can be.”
So far so good, as the Bulldogs stacked up very well against the competition in their first two indoor meets.
At their first indoor meet, Highland placed in 11 of 14 events, including scoring nine top-three finishes, en route to winning the 18-team Jacksonville Invitational, which was held March 6 at Illinois College in Jacksonville.
“We thought we were going to do pretty good,” said Vance, whose team took four first-place finishes, two second places and three thirds en route to clinching the team title. “We peak performed very well up and down the lineup. We placed in 11 out of 14 events and scored double in the sprints.”
Highland scored 90 points to easily best runner-up Chatham Glenwood (66.5) and the rest of the field: Triad (61.5), Springfield (49.5). Pontiac (47.5), Sacred Heart-Griffin (46), Springfield Southeast (28), Quincy (19.5), Mt. Zion (19.5), Limestone (19), Alton (18), Freeburg (17), Jacksonville (15), Jerseyville (14), Rochester (14), Canton (12), Taylorville (9) and Decatur MacArthur (7).
Scoring the four first-place finishes for the Bulldogs were Higgins, Logan Geiger, Sands and the 4 x 400-meter relay team.
Higgins was the fastest in the 200-meter dash with a hasty time of 23.11 seconds, which was ranked him sixth in the state in Class 2A at the time.
Geiger and Sands gave the Bulldogs a sweep of the horizontal jumps. Geiger was the champion in the long jump with a personal-record leap of 21 feet, 0.25 inches, while Sands recorded the No. 1 distance in the triple jump at 42-0.25.
Highland also claimed first in the 4 x 400. The triumphant team consisted of Smart (53.0), Riggs (53.2), White (53.8) and senior Ben Menke (55.3) with a combined winning time of 3:35.29, which edged the runner-up time by 0.19 of a second and was ranked second in the state in 2A at the time.
In the finals of the 60 dash, Logan Geiger had a great start en route to clocking a speedy 7.10-second time, which was 0.01 of a second shy of winner Adam Nelson of Triad, who narrowly out-leaned Geiger at the finish line with a winning time of 7.09. Geiger’s time ranked sixth.
Riggs scored two second-place finishes, with one coming in the 800 with a two-lap time of 2:01.79, which was ranked second in 2A at the time; and he also matched his best-ever height in the high jump after clearing the bar at 6-2. He actually finished at the same height as the victor but took more attempts.
Recording the two third-place finishes were junior Austin Bush in the shot put with a mark of 45-1 and the 4 x 200 relay team of Sands (23.4), Logan Geiger (24.0), senior Gage Geiger (24.1) and junior Sam Teipe (24.8) with a team time of 1:39.59.
Other Highland athletes who placed in the top-eight in an event were: Riggs, fourth in the 400 (53.93); Sands, fifth in the 200 (24.00); the 4 x 800 team of Smart (2:13.9), Menke (2:12.4), sophomore Bryce Sexton (2:17.5) and sophomore Evan Capelle (2:21.1), sixth with an overall time of 9:04.87; and Higgins, seventh in the 60 (7.39).
Then at the second indoor meet this past Saturday at the Jerseyville Invitational at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., team scores were not kept but the Bulldogs still racked up five first-place finishes.
This time, Logan Geiger was the first to the finishing stripe in the 60 dash as he blazed to an even faster time of 7.05 seconds.
Also chalking up wins for Highland were Higgins in the open 400 (52.92), Sands in the triple jump (40-2), the 4 x 200 relay team of Sands (24.2), Logan Geiger (23.2), Gage Geiger (24.2) and Teipe (24.2) with a victorious team time of 1:35.79; and the 4 x 800 relay team of White (2:04.43), Smart (2:06.89), Menke (2:13.40) and Riggs (2:08.75) with a triumphant team time of 8:33.46.
Nailing down second-place finishes for the Bulldogs wee Logan Geiger in the long jump (20-4); Riggs in the 400 (53.50), and the 4 x 400 relay team of Riggs (54.69), Smart (54.14), Gage Geiger (54.67) and Menke (56.68) with a group time of 3:40.18.
Highland athletes securing other top-eight finishes were: White, third in the 1,600 (4:45.12; Sands, third in the 200 (24.38) and sixth in the 60 (7.37); Teipe, sixth in the longj jump (18-8); junior Austin Bush, eighth in the shot put (41-8.5); and sophomore Evan Capelle, eighth in the high jump (5-6).