Highland junior standout sprinter Tyler Higgins won the Triple Crown of sprinting — 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes — for the second year in a row to power the Bulldogs to a second-place finish for the second straight season Friday at the IHSA Springfield Lanphier Boys Track and Field Sectional.
Senior Brode Portell (400) and junior Jacob Plocher (3,200) also qualified for this weekend’s IHSA Class 2A Boys Track and Field State Finals at Eastern Illinois University after finishing second in the their respective event.
“I am really proud of the boys’ efforts,” Highland coach Bob Vance said. “To finish second in the sectional for the second year in a row is quite an accomplishment. We had a lot of personal bests which is what you want at this time of the year. I’m very happy for our state qualifiers, sad for those who just missed, and excited about the future with the performances of the young guys.”
Higgins repeats Triple Crown performance
Higgins, who is the defending IHSA Class 2A state champion in the 400, was crowned the sectional champion in the 100, 200 and 400.
Higgins captured the 400 with an elite time of 49.33 seconds, which was the second fastest time out of all the state qualifiers in the event from the 11 separate 2A sectional sites.
Higgins galloped to the title in the 100 in 11.14 seconds while he zoomed first to the stripe in the 200 at 22.46 seconds.
“Tyler Higgins is a special athlete and as a coach, you are just humbled to have the chance to work with him,” Vance said. “When he is healthy, he can run sprints with anybody. Friday night he was healthy and he won all three. He’s ranked second in the 400 and has a good chance to defend his state title. He’s 15th in the 200 and 20th in the 100, but a lot of those times ahead of him were wind-aided. I think he wants to show the state that he is more than just a 400 runner.”
Portell and Plocher also qualify for state
Portell qualified after pacing Higgins for a second-place showing in the 400 after clocking a hasty personal-record time of 50.38.
“Brode’s time is tied for sixth in the state after the sectionals and he is excited about getting a chance to run it fresh,” Vance said. “We don’t think he has ever run a 400 without having an 800 before it so who knows how fast he will be able to go.”
Plocher made the cut by finishing second in the 3,200 after finishing the eight laps with a time of 10:20.97.
“Jacob Plocher works as hard as anyone on the team,” Vance said. “He had a goal to make it to state and he did it. His time is not up there with the best in the state, but to get the opportunity to run at state is fantastic and well deserved. The opportunity was there and Jacob took advantage of it. His transformation as an athlete has been fun to watch.”
Vance said he would hazard a guess that no one had three better races than Portell.
Vance moved Portell to anchor for the 4 x 800 relay team.
“And did he ever anchor it,” Vance said. “Despite strong efforts by his teammates Portell received the baton in fourth place well behind the top three teams. Brode blazed to a 54.5-second first lap and finished with a phenomenal 1:55.9, pulling us into third. Unfortunately our time came up .04 of a second above the qualifying standard and all was for naught.”
The 4 x 800 ran 9 seconds faster than it had all season and the time would have been good enough in previous years, but the IHSA adjusted the qualifying marks this year.
“We needed 8:11.20 and we ran 8:11.24; so close,” Vance said. “The kids gave all they had.”
Junior Bryce Sexton led off with a personal-best 2:02.7 and Hayden Smart had his best time this year at 2:03.3. Freshman Ben Wille was near his best at 2:09.3 and then Brode runs a 1:55.9.
“To come that close and not make it can be really tough on the boys, I know it was for me,” Vance said.
With one more race to go, Portell wanted to get a relay team to state and once again he did all he could personally do to make it happen. Running the second leg of the relay, Portell brought the Bulldogs from fourth to first with a 50.2-second relay split. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs could not hold that position and slipped to fourth and failed to qualify.
“A 1:55 (in the 800) and two 50s (in the 400s), that’s something I’ve never seen as a coach,” Vance said. “What an effort and what leadership by example. He is just fun to watch because he is so smooth that it doesn’t even look like he is running hard.”
Triad wins three sectional titles
At the Class 2A Carterville Sectional, Triad senior Adam Nelson captured championships in both the 100 (11.00) and 200 (22.64). Nelson also powered the Knights to the win in the 4 x 100 relay with a winning time of 42.68 seconds, which edged out Cahokia (42.91) by .23 of a second.
Additionally, Triad senior Clayton Nickerson also qualified for state. He finished third in the 110 high hurdles but his time of 15.10 seconds made the cut.