The Highland High School girls track and field team persevered through strong wind gusts and sinking temperatures to capture first place in four events and score a strong fourth-place finish out of 13 competing squads at the Mascoutah Girls Track Invitational on April 18 at Mascoutah High School.
Host Mascoutah won its own invite after edging out runner-up Nashville, 103 to 96. Mount Vernon took third with 88 team points, followed closely by Highland at 83 points, while Freeburg rounded out the top five teams at 75.5.
Placing 6-13 were Breese Central (58), Waterloo (55), Lebanon (29), Columbia (26), New Athens (21.5), Civic Memorial (18), Mater Dei 17) and Dupo (16).
"I am really proud of the girls. They had to endure 40 mph wind gusts and dropping temps, and they competed hard at Mascoutah," said Highland coach Doug Bradley. "The girls are really making progress. They are learning how good they can be and figuring out how to compete for points in every event. We are young and still have some gaps in our lineup, but we are finding ways to rise to the occasion. I'm really happy with how we've dealt with the elements and any adversity that we've faced. The last two races were so much fun. "
The last two races of the meet Bradley was referring to were the freshman/sophomore 4 x 400-meter and the varsity 4 x 400-meter relay races, which were both won by Highland.
But earlier in the meet before those two relay wins, the Bulldogs got individual event victories from sophomore Samantha Hengehold in the 3,200-meter run and freshman Taylor Kesner in the shot put.
Hengehold easily outlasted her competitors in the wind to post a solid eight-lap time of 12:35, which was 11 seconds ahead of Kailee Chau's (Mascoutah) runner-up time of 12:46.
"Hengehold ran a really smart race in the wind to win the 3,200," Bradley said.
Kesner was just as dominant in the shot put with a winning throw of 36 feet, 5 inches, which was 3 feet, 8 inches beyond Annalese Gill's (Dupo) second-place mark of 32-9.
"Kesner was once again a notch above her competitors in the shot put," Bradley said.
To close out the meet, Highland's freshman/sophomore 4 x 400 team of all freshmen — Olivia Wilke, Paige Schaible, Lexie Korte and Bella LaPorta — scored the first of what would be back-to-back victories on the scoreboard for the Lady Bulldogs with a winning time of 4:42.02 in a wind storm.
"This meet has a fresh/soph 4 x 400, and we put four freshmen in there and knew we would be tough to beat," Bradley boasted. "Wilke got us the lead on the first leg, and that was all she wrote. Schaible ran the second leg like a pro, and Korte absolutely destroyed her competitors. When LaPorta got the baton, the race was for second place as she left no doubt who was in charge."
Then to show off its depth and talent in the event, Highland's varsity 4 x 400 team of senior Alyssa Freimann, Hengehold, junior Megan Griesbaum and senior Rece Portell put an exclamation point on the meet with a triumphant time of 4:36.58, which was more than three seconds faster than second-place Freeburg (4:39.66) and Mascoutah (4:39.95).
"Then our varsity team stepped on the track, and Freimann put us right up with the leaders, and Hengehold slid from the cut line into second place and then made a huge move into the wind to get the baton to Griesbaum just after Waterloo," Bradley said. "Griesbaum was running only her second 400 of the year, and she gave a great effort but saw two more teams pass her before she was able to hand off to Portell. Portell gobbled up three teams to win going away. She looked like the fastest girl I had seen on the track all night."
Portell said had some extra motivation after receiving some inspiring words from her parents.
"Alyssa ran a really strong first leg. She kept us in position, and Sam and Megan both helped me, too," Portell said. "Before the race, we said we were going to medal, so that was our goal. When I received the baton in third, I knew I needed to keep that spot for three other girls to receive a medal, too. I’m not really sure what it was, but I felt myself get this attitude that nobody was going to beat me, and after that, I just kept running. It was like chasing people down is what is meant for me to do. It helped down the stretch when, literally, my entire team was cheering for me. So while my leg may have been awesome and fun, the three runners before me definitely helped set up that exiting finish."
After having unseasonably cool temperatures for the first month of this spring, Portell said that she is definitely looking forward to warmer weather and faster times.
Bradley said the 4 x 200 relay team of underclassmen all ran flawlessly to nab second place with a joint time of 1:57.25. The quartet consisted of sophomore Reese Tackett and the freshmen trio of Wilke, LaPorta and Kesner.
Also placing among the top eight for Highland at the Mascoutah invite were:
- the 4 x 800 relay team of Freimann, freshman Grace Meyer, Schaible and Robles, third place (11:20.28);
- Meyer, fourth place in the 1,600 (6:03.15);
- the 4 x 100 relay team of Portell, Griesbaum, Wilke and Korte, fourth place (55.33);
- junior Abby Beyer, fifth place in the shot put (31-11) and seventh place in the discus (86-5);
- Wilke, sixth place in the triple jump (31-2.50);
- Portell, seventh place in the 800 (2:54.92);
- LaPorta, seventh place in the triple jump (30-8.25); and
- freshman Julia Loeh, seventh place in the 3,200 (13:48.09).
At the Titan Invitational Friday at Chatham Glenwood High Schoool, Highland earned three second-place finishes, led by Kesner in the shot put with a best mark of 34-10.
The Bulldogs also got strong second-place efforts from two relays, the 4 x 200 and 4 x 400.
The 4 x 200 quartet of Freimann, Korte, Wilke and Portell teamed up to post the second-best time of the day at 1:52.83, while the 4 x 400 foursome of Wilke, Korte, Freimann and Portell joined forces to cross the finish line with a team time of 4:21.16.
Also placing for Highland at the Titan invite were:
- Beyer, third place in the discus (97-8);
- Griesbaum, tied for third place in the pole vault (7-0);
- Meyer, fourth place in the 3,200 (12:19.86); and
- the 4 x 800 relay team of Hengehold, Portell, Freimann and Schaible, sixth place (10:55.97).