One year after Ja'Mari Ward helped lead the Cahokia Comanches to a sixth-straight Class 2A state championship, the Edwardsville Tigers used the dynamic 1-2 punch of A.J. Epenesa and Travis Williams to nip Southwestern Conference rival East St. Louis to win the Class 3A state crown last May at O'Brien Stadium in Charleston, Illinois.
East St. Louis should be among the favorites to capture the state title and Cahokia could be back in the trophy hunt in Class 2A after a rare sub-par performance in the finals a year ago.
One thing is certain: Many of the top individual track and field athletes in the state are right here in the metro-east.
Here's a look at those who have the best chance at bringing back state titles this spring:
Jadon Elliott, Triad junior
Fifth in the Class 2A pole vault last season, Elliott is the latest in a long line of standouts in the event turned out by the Knights' program. With two of the top four vaulters returning this spring, Elliott could move up in the state standings and could clear 15 feet soon after going 14 at the state finals last spring.
Willie Johnson, sophomore, and Deonte Anderson, senior, East St. Louis
Second in the Class 3A state 400-meter final last May, Anderson will be one of the leaders on what should be the top boys track and field team in Southern Illinois. The Flyers, who also have a second elite 400-meter runner in sophomore Willie Johnson, are the defending state champions in the 1,600 meter relay. East St. Louis will also be a team to watch in the 400- and 800-meter relays where they have both Anderson and junior Anthony Bartley returning along with senior Jarrell Anderson. However, Anderson is coming off ACL surgery after missing the football season, and may need some time to round into top form.
Blake Neville, Edwardsville senior
One of the best in the state in the Class 3A pole vault, Neville missed a medal a year ago, clearing 13 feet, 6 inches at Charleston. Also, he is expected to be a leader on a Tigers team that was hit hard by graduation.
Charlie Parrish, Freeburg senior
With his athletic and academic future secure as a member of the Kansas State University cross country and track and field program, Parrish looks to put the finishing touch on a solid high school career with another top performance in either the 1,600- or 3,200-meter. A two-time all-state runner in cross country, Parrish cut nearly 25 seconds off his time from the previous season in the Class 2A 3,200-meter, finishing with a time of 9 minutes, 35 seconds to place seventh a year ago.
Dontez Pittman, Madison senior
Based on his performance of a year ago, Pittman should be among the top combination hurdlers in Class 1A. The Trojans standout was fifth in the 110-meter high hurdles and ninth in the 300-meter hurdles at the state finals last season.
Brandon Schnitker, Nashville senior
A gifted and versatile runner in both cross country and track and field, Schnitker has shown the ability to compete at his past two state meets. After placing second in the Class 1A 800-meter a year ago, Schnitker placed 19th and earned all state recognition in Class 1A state cross country meet in the fall.
Jermarrion Stewart, Collinsville sophomore
One of the top five freshman sprinters in the state a year ago, Stewart capped a remarkable season with a Class 3A sectional title in the 100-meter. He also went on to place fifth in the 400-meter, finishing with a time of 49.17 seconds. Stewart will be one of the top 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprinters in this state this spring.
Andra Ward, Cahokia senior
Ward was fourth in the Class 2A triple jump a year ago with a jump of 45 feet, 3 and 1/2 inches. The Comanches standout has already jumped over 47 feet indoors this season.