Highland High 2016 graduate Brode Portell blazed to the best two 400-meter dashes of his life on consecutive days and they could not have come at a better time or on a bigger stage than at the IHSA Class 2A Boys State Track and Field Finals Friday and Saturday at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
First in Friday’s prelims, Portell guaranteed himself a coveted state medal by posting his best ever time after stopping the clock with the fourth-best time out of 24 total sprinters in three heats at 49.69 seconds to advance among the top nine — all already had secured a medal — 400 sprinters in 2A to Saturday’s finals.
But Portell was hardly satisfied with just earning a medal, as he went out and backed it up with another sterling performance to nab the fourth-place medal with the second best time of his life at 49.97. The 2016 Highland graduate out-leaned two other competitors at the stripe, Tyran Lyons of Cahokia (49.99) and Chris Ferguson-Scott of Mascoutah (50.08) to stake his claim to fourth.
“I knew the race was going to be close with everyone running sub-50 to qualify and there was a strong wind in our face on the home stretch,” Portell said. “Knowing this, I wanted to save more for that last 100 meters. It was a good thing I did because three of us were in a line all the way to the finish line and I’m just happy I leaned. It is definitely rewarding medalling at state one last time. I did not expect this when I started running last year but it’s been a blast.”
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On Friday in the prelims, Portell said a factor in him running his fastest time ever in the 400 at 49.69 to shatter his previous record of 50.38 was due in large part to being the first time he had ever run the event without already having done an 800 earlier in the day.
But Portell said even a bigger factor may have been the top-tier competition level.
Five out of the nine that qualified for Saturday’s finals were in Portell’s heat, which was the last of the three overall heats. His heat included Aaron Harris of Lisle and Dearis Herron of Springfield Lanphier. Harris went on to be crowned the state champion with a winning time of 48.97 while Herron wound up with the third-place medal after shading Portell by just 0.20 of a second at 49.77.
“What a great way for Brode to finish up his high school track career!” Highland coach Bob Vance said. “In two short years, he medaled twice in track. I’m not surprised he broke 50. Nothing Brode does surprises me. He finally had a chance to run the 400 without having an 800 or some other race first. Being fresh, he showed what he is capable of. Imagine what he might have done if he ran track as a freshman or sophomore.”
Last year in his first year of high school track, Portell played a huge factor in the 4 x 800 relay team garnering the fourth-place medal. He was part of a school record in the 4 x 400 as well as a Madison County champion and Mississippi Valley Conference champion n the 800.
“He made the choice to run the open 400 at sectional instead of the 800,” Vance said. “He’s very unselfish. He wanted us to qualify a relay team or two and he did everything in his power to make it happen. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be. Believe me it was odd for us not to have a relay team at state after so many years where we have had at least one relay qualify.”
Also during his senior year, Portell qualified for the Class 2A Boys State Golf Tournament in the fall and was an All-Mississippi Valley Conference basketball player in the winter.
Triad’s Nelson wins state title in 100
Triad 2016 grad Adam Nelson, a DePaul University pledge, was crowned the 2A state champion in the 100-meter dash after flashing to the finish stripe with a winning time of 10.72, which beat out Harris of Lisle’s runner-up time (10.80) by 0.08 of a second.
Nelson also powered Triad’s 4 x 100 relay team to the fifth-place medal with a team time of 43.21 seconds. Nelson was joined by fellow seniors Clayton Nickerson, Eddie Sparks and Sawyer Lawson.
The weekend was not as kind to Highland’s other qualifiers. Junior Jacob Plocher finished 25th of 27 in the 3,200 with a time of 10:32.08.
“Jacob was happy to be here,” Vance said. “He improved this year by over one minute from his best time as a sophomore. The experience of being here was invaluable for him. If he makes similar improvements next year, he will be vying for a medal next May.”
Vance said fellow junior Tyler Higgins, who entered the weekend as the defending 2A state champion in the 400, had a nightmare of a day on Friday. After winning the three sprint races at the sectional, he could not find the same magic at state.
“Tyler was unable to find that extra gear he usually has at state,” Vance said. “It was really disappointing, but some days you have it and some days you don’t. Unfortunately, Tyler was unable to run the type of race he is used to running on Friday. He was close in the 100, but qualifying for Saturday is very difficult. You have to be on your game and Tyler just wasn’t able to run anywhere near his best. The good news is that he can come back next year and erase all the disappointment he had on Friday.”