The Highland High School boys track and field team had a busy week with three meets in four days, capped off by two big meets in as many days over the weekend.
First, on Wednesday, March 28, the Bulldogs battled through cold and damp conditions with a less-than-full squad to earn a third-place finish at a very competitive five-squad home meet.
Next, on Friday, Highland placed fourth out of six teams in the Blue Division at the O'Fallon Relays.
Finally, on Saturday, the Bulldogs had their best showing of the week with a fourth-place finish out of 14 squads at the Greenville Invitational.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
"We schedule these two meets back to back to prepare our kids for the rigors of the state meet," Highland veteran coach Bob Vance said. "State qualifiers have to run on Friday at state to qualify for Saturday and then have to race again on Saturday to earn their state medals. It is a very difficult process, because the qualifying day takes so much out of you, both physically and emotionally. We wanted the boys to have an understanding of how tough it is to come back from one day to the next, and I thought they handled it pretty well under very difficult conditions on Saturday."
Highland competed well in earning fourth place out of 14 teams in rainy conditions on Saturday.
Pleasant Plains won the team title with 131 points. Plains was followed in the top five by Carlinville (81.5), Mattoon (75), Highland (61) and Columbia (60).
Rounding out the field of 14 squads were Rochester (57), Olympia (48), Greenville (43), Wesclin (43), Breese Central (39), Vandalia (35), Jerseyville (18), Pana (9) and Hillsboro (4).
"The conditions on Saturday were not very conducive to outstanding performances, but in spite of the cold and wind and rain, I thought our kids handled the situation pretty well," Vance said. "I know they were pretty tired when it was over, but it should have been a good kind of tired, because they really competed well."
No Bulldog had a better day than senior Seby Wolf. After competing in four races on Friday at O'Fallon, Wolf bounced back on Saturday at Greenville to capture gold in the outdoor sport's two fastest races, the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. Wolf sprinted to the finish stripe first in the 100 in a winning time of 11.66 seconds. He beat the field in the 200 after stopping the stop watch at 23.71 seconds..
"Obviously, Seby Wolf had a great day," Vance said. "To win both the 100 and 200 after putting in four races on Friday was outstanding. And Mason Geiger was right there with him, taking fourth in the 100 (11.85) and second in the 200 (23.98). We asked them to score some points for us, and they came through with 33 in those two events."
Wolf and Geiger also teamed up with fellow seniors Ivan Orozco and Noah Schmitt to take third in the 4 x 100 relay with a team time of 44.99.
"Our exchanges were not as clean on Saturday, but we were still in the 44s," Vance said.
Also having a stellar day was sophomore distance runner Nick Hanratty.
After recording a personal best in his 800 relay split on Friday and following that with another solid 800 and 1,600 in relays at O'Fallon, Hanratty came back on Saturday to record personal bests in both the 3,200 (10:33) and 1,600 (4:52) to place third in both events.
"I think he learned a lot about himself this weekend," Vance said. "Both races involved different strategies, and he was up to the challenge in both."
Vance said it was also nice to see freshman Easton Rosen get an outdoor best in the 1,600 (4:54) to nab fifth place.
Highland's other scoring event at Greenville was a reconfigured 4 x 200 relay, which placed third with a team time of 1:38.15.
"Because we used Mason (Geiger) and Seby (Wolf) in all the open sprint races, we pulled them from the 4 x200 relay," Vance said. "Noah Schmitt moved from anchor leg to leadoff, and we inserted veteran (senior) Chase DeProw in the second spot. Ivan (Orozco) stayed in his usual third spot, and sophomore Kain Thornton moved in to run the anchor leg. We didn't get to spend too much time on the handoffs, but the boys gave a great effort and finished with a solid time of 1:38.15 to take third."
Masocutah racked up a point total of 192 to win the team title of the Blue Division. The Indians were followed by Mount Vernon (144), Freeburg (125), Highland (97), Salem (83) and Althoff (21).
"It was probably the best day we've had all spring, and the boys took advantage of the weather and the competition," Vance said. "We had a solid day on the track. We struggled in the field events. But, to be honest, because of the weather, we have not had a lot of opportunity to work on the skills needed to improve in the technical areas necessary to be successful in the field events. On the track was a different story."
Highland's day started out with a great performance from the freshmen and sophomore distance runners, taking first place in their division with the team's best time of the year to date in the 4 x 800 relay at 8:49.94. The first three guys all had personal bests: Nick Hanratty (2:08.5), Josh Loeh (2:10.5) and Brylee Portell (2:14.9).
"(Freshman) Easton Rosen was very aggressive during his leg, trying to catch the O'Fallon anchor (Gold Division champs) and probably running his best 400 ever. However, he struggled during his second lap and finished with a 2:16.1," Vance said. "These guys are working hard and it's paying off."
The Bulldogs' varsity sprint relay teams of Geiger, Wolf, Orozco and Schmitt made a statement as well, finishing second to only Mascoutah in both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200.
Highland ran 44.3 in the 4 x 100 and opsted a 1:34.46 in the 4 x 200.
"Those are outstanding times for this early in the season, especially considering the weather we've had," Vance said. "Both times were faster that what the state-qualifying and school-record-holding teams did in this meet three years ago."
The Bulldogs also took second place in the high hurdle shuttle (1:18.09), again behind only Mascoutah (1:11.57). That unit consisted of sophomores Austin Roach, Brylee Portell and Peyton Strong, and the senior Schmitt.
"We were able to practice going over two hurdles in the gym, so we were a little leery as to whether a couple of the guys would be able to make a full flight on 10 hurdles, but they came through when they had to," Vance said.
Wolf galloped to a second-place finish in the 100 with a time of 11.58, and Geiger was right behind him in third at 11.73.
"We asked those two guys to carry the load for us, and they did a great job," Vance said.
The Highland freshmen/sophomore 4 x 100 relay team of Connor Sands, Connor Miller, Thornton and Ethan Leftwich finished third.
"We had a couple guys missing due to the Easter break, but these guys did a great job," Vance said.
Also running well was senior Gabe Sherrill, who broke 11 minutes for the first time — 10:59.75 — to place fifth in the 3,200.
"Gabe's been struggling to regain his form from cross country and it looks like he may have found his niche in the 3,200," Vance said.
HHS finishes third out of five teams
The Breese Central Cougars captured the team title after nipping the Columbia Eagles, 97-90. Not too far behind was Highland with 77 team points, which overtook the Wesclin Warriors (67) for third place. The East Alton-Wood River Oilers rounded out the meet in a distant fifth place with 39 points.
"I think everyone was happy that we were able to get the meet in," Vance said. "I know the conditions were far from perfect, but competing against other teams brought out the best in everyone."
Geiger was the star of the day for the Bulldogs and perhaps of the entire meet as he captured the Triple Crown of sprinting by sweeping to first place in all three of the sports fastest races — 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash.
Geiger flashed to the finish line first in the 100 in 11.6 seconds, took the title in the 200 in 23.6 seconds and won the 400 in 54.9 seconds.
"Mason Geiger had an outstanding day," Vance said. "He won the 100, 200, and 400 against quality competition. He had personal bests in all three races and came from behind to win all three. He really showed some character out there, kept his form and ran down some good competition. He normally runs relays, but we were missing several guys due to previous commitments, so we decided to try and see what he could do by himself. He rose to the occasion and had a banner day."
Freshman Easton Rosen scored the other event championship for Highland after winning the 1,600-meter run with a personal-record four-lap time of 5:01.9.
Securing second-place finishes for the Bulldogs were:
- sophomore Nick Hanratty in the 3,200 with an PR eight-lap time of 10:40.1,
- sophomore Brylee Portell in the 300 intermediate hurdles (PR time of 46.5), and
- sophomore Kain Thornton in the pole vault after clearing the bar at a PR height of 10 feet, 6 inches.
Also placing in the top five for the Bulldogs were:
- sophomore Connor Sands, third place in the triple jump (36-11);
- freshman Bryce Kirsch, third place in the pole vault (10-0);
- sophomore Austin Roach, third place in the 100 high hurdles (18.0) and fifth place in the triple jump (35-10);
- the 4 x 800 relay team of Rosen, Hanratty, senior Gabe Sherrill and Jack Beiermann, third place (9:20.3);
- Hanratty, fourth place in the 800 (2:11.8);
- senior Gabe Sherrill, fourth place in the 1,600 (5:15.9);
- the 4 x 100 relay team of Cole Kuzma, Sands, Thornton and Ethan Leftwich, fourth place (4:47.9);
- the 4 x 200 relay team of Kuzma, Leftwich, Evan Clarkin and Thornton, fourth place (1:45.2); and
- Geiger, fifth place in the long jump (17-4).