The Highland High School girls track and field team used determination and hard work to accomplish its goal with a strong second-place showing at the Mississippi Valley Conference held Thursday at Highland High School.
Highland racked up an impressive final team score of 120 team points, which was second only Triad's meet-winning total of 185, but easily covered the rest of the conference field: Waterloo (83), Mascoutah (79), Jerseyville (61) and Civic Memorial (30).
"I am a pretty proud coach of these fabulous girls tonight," Highland coach Doug Bradley said. "They set a goal and used hard work, grit, and talent to accomplish it. They didn’t win the MVC title, but they made a statement and blazed a trail for next year’s team to follow."
Highland is scheduled to compete at Wednesday's IHSA Class 2A Springfield Lanphier Sectional.
Highland had two athletes crowned conference champions, and both were a bit of surprise, especially since they were garnered by freshmen.
First up, freshman Grace Meyer admitted that she didn't expect to win the 3,200-meter run. That was understandable, since she entered the race as the No. 5 seed. But she was easily able to stay right on the heels of top-seeded Ella King, a junior from Waterloo, throughout the race. Then, with about 200 meters remaining in the 2-mile race, Meyer had a lot more kick left than King did. She powered by her and went on to pull away by six seconds with a MVC-winning time of 12:03.
"I didn't expect (to be a conference champ), but it feels very nice," Meyer said. "At the beginning of the season, it seemed like nothing was happening. ... And in the last week or two, it has just kind of clicked and has gotten a lot easier for me. At the very beginning, I just wanted to stay with the pack, and I thought, eventually, they would keep going and it would get harder and harder, and I would eventually fall behind. But some of the girls slowed down. I didn't think I was going to go for Ella at first, but then I decided to, and I just made myself stay with her. And, in the end, I was able to get by her. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. It was actually the easiest 32(00) I have ever done."
Coach Bradley said he could have went home happy after watching and Meyer's stunning victory.
"Congratulations to Grace Meyer, who ran with confidence, intelligence and heart to win the MVC Championship," he said. "The wind was awful, and she played it perfectly to run a 12:03."
The Bulldogs' second victory was also a stunner as freshman Chloe Marti was first to the finish line to win the 100-meter high hurdles after the first-place runner from Triad stumbled over a hurdle late in the race. Marti posted a winning time of 18.61 seconds, which shaded Triad senior Megan Kulage's runner-up time of 0.28 of a second.
"We were neck-and-neck the whole time, but the Triad girl fell right in front of me, and I don't feel bad for winning, but I feel bad for her falling," Marti said. "I was seeded third, so I went into it expecting it to go either really well, or really bad, but it went really well."
Bradley said Marti was relentless, and after two falls earlier in the season and a pledge to never run the 100 hurdles again, she's a conference champion.
Seniors help show the way
Highland seniors Rece Portell and Alyssa Freimann helped pave the way for Highland's second-place team finish. Portell garnered four second-place medals, while Freimann nabbed two second-place medals and one third place.
Portell raced her way to second place in the sport's two fastest races, the 100-meter dash (13.18 seconds) and 200-meter dash (27.38).
Portell and Freimann teamed up with two others to earn second place in both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays.
Portell and Freimann joined forces with sophomore Reese Tackett and freshman Olivia Wilke to out-lean Mascoutah by 0.02 of a second at the finish line with the second fastest time of 52.83 seconds.
In the 4 x 200, Portell and Freimann hooked up with Tackett and freshman Lexie Korte to take second in the 4 x 200 after the quartet posted a time of 1:52.88.
Freimann also helped the 4 x 400 quartet get third place to wrap up the conference meet. She was joined by the freshmen trio of Korte, Bella LaPorta and Paige Schaible and the quartet posted a team time of 4:30.26.
"It definitely has flown by, and I couldn’t be happier to run this last season with Alyssa (Freimann)," Portell said. "It was a little sad running at home for the last time, but there are other things to come. Honestly, the team this year is what’s made track fun. Scoring well at big meets has really put a strong ending on my track career. On nights like tonight, it’s just nice to see everybody supporting each other, as we all truly want our teammates to do well. As far as my performances go for tonight, I was very happy."
Wilke, a freshman, also scored well with Portell in the open 100 and 200 after finishing third in the 100 (13.55) and fourth in the 200 (28.03).
Highland fared very well in the field events, led by the throwing events, where freshman Taylor Kesner and junior Abby Beyer both placed among the top four competitors in both the shot put and discus.
In the shot put, Kesner wound up second with a throw of 35 feet, 2.25 inches, and Beyer was fourth at 32-5.75.
The duo's finishing positions were reversed in the discus, where it was Beyer second with a personal-record fling of 103-1 and Kesner fourth with a PR of her own at 99-9.
The Bulldogs also scored twice in both the pole vault and triple jump.
In the pole vault, junior Megan Griesbaum finished third after clearing the bar at 8-0, while Tackett was fifth at a height of 7-0.
In the triple jump, Wilke leaped to fourth place with a mark of 31-1.25, and LaPorta was right behind in fifth place at 30-2.