Highland High School boys track and field coach Bob Vance decided to rest of his regulars, so the team score took a hit in the standings. But the Bulldogs more than measured up in two relays, capturing captured county championships with their meet-opening 4 x 800 and their meet-closing 4 x 400 teams at the Madison County Championships on Tuesday of last week at Collinsville High School.
In the 4 x 800, the team posted a winning team time of 8:18.29, but that only tells part of the story.
Senior Trevor White led off and put the team in great position in the lead with a 1:59.4 first leg. Fellow senior Grant Riggs kept them in good position with a 2:05.3 second split.
Then, with junior mainstay Hayden Smart under the weather and not competing, and senior first-year member Ben Menke offering to run the 3,200, it was time for Highland’s two newcomers to the varsity event — junior Brode Portell and sophomore Bryce Sexton — to step up under fire.
Sexton ran a PR 2:08.5 third leg to give the baton to anchor runner Brode Portell, a junior, right on the heels of the Edwardsville anchor.
Despite this being his first season running high school track, Portell delivered like a veteran to put an exclamation point on the event with a pulse-racing finish to bring home the first-place medals.
Just after starting the second lap, the Bulldog junior surged by the Tiger runner and held him off by nearly a full second, stopping the clock with a PR fixed automated time (FAT) of 2:05.1.
“It was a PR for Brode and a season PR for Bryce Sextion, and they both competed very well,” Vance said. “I think both Trevor and Grant were a little tired. It is nice that Trevor can still run a 1:59 with nice even splits. And he had no one pushing after the first lap; he took control of it, and did it himself. Brode was pushed, and it was about a five-second or more improvement for him and about a five-second improvement for Bryce.”
Highland took the title in the 4 x 400 title with a victorious team time of 3:28.05, which beat Edwardville’s team (3:30.01) to the stripe by nearly two full seconds.
Comprising the triumphant 4 x 400 team were sophomre Tyler Higgins (50.2) and seniors Brendan Sands (53.8), White (51.8) and Riggs (52.3).
“We were about a second and half off the 4 x 400 mark, but we won an exciting race,” Vance said. “I thought our middle-distance guys had a superb day. We won both the 4 x 800 and the 4 x 400, plus Brode Portell and Ben Menke had personal bests in the (open) 400.”
The two winning relays accounted for more than half of Highland team’s score of 37 points, which finished last in the six-team large schools division of the county meet.
Edwardsville won the boys’ division for the seventh year in a row with a domineering team score of 205, which was 70 points better than runner-up Collinsville (135).
Rounding out the field way back were: Triad (60), Granite City (60), Alton (57) and Highland (37).
“We had a lot of personal bests tonight,” Vance said of the bright spot of the meet. “The score doesn’t look good, but I thought we looked tired on Friday, so I tried to rest guys some today. It gave us a chance to get some other guys into the meet, and it was nice for them to compete and improve.”
Also scoring as individuals for the Bulldogs were: Portell, fourth place in the 400 (PR of 53.30); freshman Sebastain Wolf, fifth in the pole vault (PR of 10-0); Menke, fifth in the 400 (PR of 54.86) and sixth in the 3,200 (10:53.71); Higgins, fifth in the 100 (11.19); and junior Austin Bush, sixth in the shot put (42-04).
In addition, Highland’s 4 x 400 relay team of Sands (11.5), senior Logan Geiger (11.0), senior Gage Geiger (10.1) and junior Sam Teipe (11.2) finished fourth (43.86).
Other Bulldogs who recorded personal bests at the county meet were: junior Ziven Soyka with a PR time of 18.3 in the 110 high hurdles (seventh place), junior Brayden Menke with a PR throw of 32-05 in the shot put, senior Matt Bartels with a PR time of 12.06 in the 100. Noah Schmitt with a PR mark of 34-08 in the triple jump and senior Zach Chapman with a PR throw of 132-3.50 in the discus.
Vance said the biggest disappointment was the mixup in the 4 x 200 relay, which got disqualified during the final exchange.
“We were off to a great start and it looked like we would break the school record there, but Gage (Geiger) and Sam (Teipe) had some trouble with their exchange. We have to work more on the baton exchanges in both sprint relays. We need to fine tune it so that hit the times we want for the end of the season.”
One of the biggest shockers of the day was Triad junior Michael Fritz winning the title in the 110 hurdles with the fastest time of 15.57. He entered the race seeded third.
“I was feeling pretty good all day,” Fritz said. “Now, I’m doing great. I was looking forward to this race and I felt I was really ready. I got to the first hurdle before anybody. That was key for me. I just kept running hard and held on.”
Fritz’s victory in the 110 hurdles helped fuel the Knights to a tie for third place in the team standings.
“That was his PR by (almost) half a second,” Triad coach Brian Weiss said. “He ran a great race.”
Edwardsville sophomore AJ Epenesa set a Madison County meet discus record with a heave of 180-11, breaking the old mark set by Steve Birger of Collinsville (178-1.5) in 1969.
Epenesa also finished second in the shot put (51-01) to Tiger teammate junior Desmond Chappel (51-02.5).
Edwardsville’s Wes Schoenthal also broke a long-time record with his time of 1:55.79 in the 800. It bested the old record set by former Edwardsville coach Tim Flamer (1:56.19) in 1985. Schoenthal also won the 1,600 in 4:26.80.
Other county winners for the Tigers included senior Sam Griffin in the pole vault (13-0), senior Fontez Davis in the long jump 22-08.50 and the 100 (11.01) and junior Tariq Minor in the triple jump (44-00.5).
In addition, senior Suleman Bazai took the 400 in 50.99, sophomore Travis Anderson came close to a meet record with his 39.88 in the 300 hurdles, while Brydon Scott-Groves captured the 3,200 in 9:43.16.
The rest of the county event championships were all captured by the following Collinsville athletes: junior Bailey Crone in the high jump (6-0), sophomore Trevore Sanders in the 200 (22.10), and the Kahoks’ 4 x 200 (1:29.49) and 4 x 100 (43.11) relay teams.