The strength of this year's Highland High School boys track and field team should be the sprinters.
"We sent a relay team to state in the 4 x 1(00), and we just missed in the 4 x 2(00), and we all five guys back that were involved with that, and they're all seniors," said Highland coach Bob Vance, who is in his 12th year with the program, 10th as the head coach. "Their goal is to get back to state and they want to try and break the school record in those sprint relays. If anybody else can come along and take one of their spots, we will give them an opportunity. We think we have a real strength there."
That sprint corps for the Bulldogs includes Seby Wolf, Mason Geiger, Ivan Orozco, Chase DeProw and Noah Schmitt.
Vance said it will be tougher for the group to make state again, because perennial state power East St. Louis will be competing in Class 2A. The Flyers will join Highland in the sectional that is now listed at Lincoln, but Vance believes will be moved to Springfield. Springfield Lanphier. Triad will also be in the same sectional.
"East St. Louis is probably going to be the odds-on favorite to win state this year," Vance said. "From what I have seen already, they are going to be as strong as anybody, and maybe as strong as the Cahokia teams have been in the past. They look that good early on. And remember, they won the 3A state title the year before last. And Lanphier has won the sectional, and they usually are pretty tough."
To qualify for state in any event, an athlete has to either finish among the top two finishers in their respective event or hit the qualifying standard (time, distance or height) in that event.
"Hopefully, we can make the time. I think we made the time last year, or we were really close to it, so that's definitely possible," Vance said.
The 4 x 200 relay team has looked good in the early going in indoor meets.
Wolf has also posted strong indoor individual finishes, highlighted by winning the 200-meter dash out of 42 sprinters at the Jerseyville Winter Thaw Saturday at Principia College. He has also been very competitive in the 60-meter dash. He placed fourth out of 42 competitors Saturday with a time of 7.31 seconds.
Other sprinters on the team are seniors Cameron Donahue, Kyle Lane and Deakon Thornton, juniors Blake Barth and Jacob Maas, sophomores Connor Sands, Kaleb Blunt, Cole Kuzma, Ethan Leftwich, Blake McCaw, Kane Thornton, freshmen Brennon Austin, Jeffrey Blunt, Parker Fensterman, Jack Geiger and Connor Miller.
Vance said Donahue is one of the hardest working guys on the team and was picked by the team to be the captain, while Barth was a two-time state qualifier in sprint relays at Vandalia.
The distance crew features senior Gabe Sherrill, junior Isaac Winter, sophomores Nick Hanratty, Brylee Portell, Jack Beiermann, Owen Kobbeman and Peyton Strong, and freshmen Easton Rosen, Josh Loeh, Cole Goodall and Bryce Kirsch.
"The two freshmen middle-distance distance runners, Easton Rosen and Josh Loeh, have looked really good, and we are excited about them," Vance said. "They really solidify our distance crew, and we are really excited about what they can do."
In addition to the 4 x 100, Wolf also qualified for state last year in the pole vault.
Lane returns to bring experience back as a thrower. Junior Mitchell Focht will be a thrower and has looked good in the shot put in the early going.
Other throwers are Winter, sophomores Trevor Zobrist and Evan Clarkin, and the freshman Fensterman.
Sophomore Austin Roach will be a hurdler and pole vaulter.
Kirsch and Goodall will join Wolf, Roach and Deakon Thornton in the pole vault.
Kirsch has already cleared 11 feet, which Vance said matches any freshman vaulter he has ever coached at Highland
Handling the jumps for the Bulldogs will be Sands, McCaw, Kuzma and Leftwich.
Challengers for the conference
The Mississippi Valley Conference should be competitive, but Vance said Mascoutah is the favorite to repeat as champions, because the Indians' depth and speed will be tough to beat.
"I expect Mascoutah is going to be really tough," Vance said. "Their relay teams are already looking really strong, and they tend to have a lot of kids come out. If our numbers are in the 30s, they're likely to be up in the 80s or 90s. I think the rest of us will be chasing them. Triad always has some quality people. They have a really good pole vaulter, and they've got some sprinters. They get their football players to come out (for track), and I expect them to be competitive. I always feel that Jerseyville is always competitive. Waterloo has been strong the past couple of years. But I think we are all chasing Mascoutah."
Vance said the goal for his team is to simply keep getting better.
"Our goals is always to get as good as we can get," he said. "Each meet, we want to get better, and we want to be the best versions of ourselves by the end of the season so that we have the opportunity to get through the sectional and get to state."