The O’Fallon High girls and boys track teams were the first Panther spring sports squads to open the 2017 season during the past week. Coach Neil James’ state-ranked Lady Panthers competed in the SIUC Indoor just prior to Coach Ron Koch’s boys’ debuting in the Edwardsville Invitational last weekend.
The two OTHS squads start at different ends of the spectrum with the Lady Panthers loaded with returning talent while the Panther boys are in a rebuilding mode.
“Our team will be in the process of filling spots with unproven athletes in a lot of events,” Koch said. “The Southwestern Conference is by far the best track conference in the state and scoring in every event is difficult.”
One of the brightest stars in the O’Fallon arsenal will be senior Nathan Range, who competes in wheel chair track events and is the two-time defending state champion in three events. Rainge holds three state records and six state title in two years of competition and, according to Koch, is the favorite to defend his state championships in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter races.
The other proven state-caliber runner is senior Chris Conrad. The distance standout returns to the track oval this spring as one of the top 800 meter runners in the state. Conrad established his credentials in last year’s state meet when he finished third in the finals.
“Chris brings a great work ethic and competitive spirit to his races,” Koch said. “His times in the 800 and the 1600 show just how special a runner he is.”
Conrad will be flanked by fellow senior Joey Black, who was a standout runner for the Panther cross country team last fall. The senior tandem will be counted on to provide points for the Panthers in the distance races as well as members of the distance relay teams.
Other senior tracksters who return to form the nucleus of the 2017 squad include top sprinters Darryl Cobb and Duran Jones. Cobb qualified for state as a junior in the 200 meter as well as member of the Panthers’ 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams while Cobb is expected to be one of the top 400 meter sprinters in the SWC. Herm Rich (sprints), Malik Giddens (throws), Robert Gonzales (sprints) and Zion Ward (distance) will also provide points for the Panthers.
Top junior prospects are Ronnie Anthony (jumps), Garrett Blenkush (distance), Lucas Etheridge (sprints) and Hayden Ybarra (distance). Sophomores who appear on the rise include Dorian Brown (sprints), Quantrell Cobb (sprints/jumps), Isiah Craft (jumps), Kyle Dismukes (distance) and Will VanAlstine (distance).
“We may be short on experience in comparison to East St. Louis and Edwardsville, who finished first and second respectively in the state meet last year,” Koch said. “But we have some quality athletes with a lot of determination, so we are hoping for a successful season.”
Chris Conrad picked up this spring where he left off last, winning O’Fallon’s only blue ribbon in the Tiger Invitational. Conrad out-sprinted the field down the home stretch to win the 800 meter. Other top performers for the Panthers included Joey Black, who took second in the 1600 and Dorian Brown, a second place finisher in the 60 meter sprint.
The OTHS Lady Panthers were denied a first place finish in the SIU Carbondale Indoor but returned home with nine medals. Topping the list for the O’Fallon girls were three second-place medals in individual events and a fourth second in the 4 x 200 relay. The second-place efforts in individual competitions came from Brooke Witzel in the 3200, Mia Watson-Blake in the high jump and Tamya Houston. Adding to the OTHS team totals were Kersten Douglas (third in the 200), Tamya Houston (third in the 60), Amy Wagner (fourth in the shot put), Abby Carney (fourth in the high jump) and Watson-Blake (fourth in the 200).
Both O’Fallon High squads will be competing in dual and triangular meets during the up-coming week in preparation for the next major area competition — the SWIL meet on March 25.