Decimated by injuries heading into the Class 2A postseason a year ago, the Cahokia Comanches were viewed by most as a longshot to successfully defending the state championship they had won in 2014.
But thanks to a remarkable performance by sophomore Mariya Hudson and junior Raynesha Lewis, the Comanches won it anyway.
Hudson and Lewis are back again as Cahokia goes for its three-peat in 2016. Only this time, Cahokia has reinforcements.
Healthier and armed with more depth than ever before, the Comanches head into the Class 2A Mascoutah Sectional on Friday looking to qualify in many events as possible for the state finals that are set for May 19-21 at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston.
“We had a lot of talent a year ago. It’s just that we had injury after injury. In that respect, it was a tough year. But it makes what we were able to accomplish by winning the state title even more special,” veteran Comanches coach Roscoe Dowell said. “For Mariya (Hudson) to win the 100, 200 and 400 meters and what she and Raynesha (Lewis) were able to accomplish was remarkable.
“Depth-wise this the most we’ve had in the past three years and we’re healthy. This is a pretty laid back group of kids and so far they’ve been immune to the pressure. How they react when they get off the bus on Friday? We’ll see.”
Action begins in the Mascoutah Sectional at 1 p.m. on Friday and includes local teams Columbia, Freeburg, Mascoutah, Triad and Waterloo.
Teams competing in the Class 2A event at Rochester are Civic Memorial, Central, Highland, Jerseyville, Roxana and Wood River.
But most of the attention will center around Mascoutah in addition to Cahokia, Mississippi Valley Conference champion Mascoutah along with Triad and Freeburg all have individuals who should advance to the state finals.
In all, the top two placewinners in each event along with any other teams or individuals who equal or better state meet standards will advance to the state finals.
Hudson will compete in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and will also run on the Comanches state-ranked 400 meter relay team. Lewis, the defending state champion in the long jump, will also run in the 100 meter hurdles and will triple jump and high jump.
The Comanches are also expected to do well in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles and Dowell is hopeful that Cahokia will qualify in all four of the relays.
The best of the rest
Mascoutah, which ended Triad’s streak of 10 straight championships in the rugged Mississippi Valley Conference, could also have a big day on Friday. The Indians are led by conference champions Cameron Barnes in the 200 meters, Sydney Brown in the 100 meters and DaJae Hudson in the 100 meters.
Triad will be led by the Richter sisters. Senior Allison Richter has been ranked in the top three in the shot put all season and is also highly ranked in the discus. Twin sister Abigail is a threat in the triple jump and also the 800 meters. The Knights also have a potential state placewinner in senior Gabby Arbus in the pole vault.
Freeburg, always strong in the distance events, should be one of the favorites in the 3,200 meters relay and also has one of the state’s best in the pole vault in sophomore Stephanie Jacobs.
Class 3A Rock Island Sectional
The four-time defending Southwestern Conference champion O’Fallon Panthers, led by an always strong group of distance runners and more sprinters then they’ve had in several years, will lead a group of eight Southwestern Conference schools who will battle at the Class 3A Rock Island Sectional beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday.
Led by SWC champions Tamya Houston (100 meters) and Kersten Douglass (200), the Panthers open the postseason hoping that this could be the year they contend for a top 10 or perhaps a top five place at the state finals.
O’Fallon is also strong in all the relays and led by sophomore Brooke Witzel and a host of other exceptional athletes in the 800-3,200 meter events, could earn some points there.
The only thing O’Fallon doesn’t have is the one dominant individual like a Mariya Hudson of Cahokia or LaJarvia Brown of Alton, two athletes who can score 30-35 points by themselves at the state finals.
“As you know state track is not about who has the best team but who has the great individual athlete. If it were a true team competition then we are as good as anybody,” O’Fallon coach Neil James said. “With our 4x1 and 4x2 relays this is the highest we have been going in. Our relays have done a great job of stepping up at state. This year we have a few individuals with a chance to qualify and place. More so than we have had in the past.
“Our team has had a great season and is really determined to finish strong.”
While O’Fallon hopes to qualify in as many events as possible at Rock Island High School, East St. Louis and Alton also have their sights set on a top 10 or better finish at the state finals next week.
Alton will be led by Brown. A Texas A & M recruit, Brown is a former state champion in the triple jump and long jump and is also a threat to place high in the 100 meter and 300 meter hurdles.
East St. Louis has a pair of state title contenders in the field events in Evangeline Harris in the shot put (41 feet, 11 inches) and Jasmine Poole in the discus. The Flyerettes also have a solid nucleus in the sprints and in the hurdle events and are always among the state’s elite in the sprint relays.
Edwardsville, which like East St. Louis is a former state champion, will be led by its SWC champions Gabriella Romano, who won the pole vault and Colleen Corkery in the 3,200 meters.
Belleville East will be led by ‘15 state meet placewinner Tamar Mosby in the high jump and its 800 and 1,600 meter relay teams. Belleville West will be led by sophomore Brittany Walker in the triple jump and its 400 and 800 meter relay teams.
Sparta, Carlinville host sectionals
The Class 1A Carlinville Sectional is set for 2 p.m. on Thursday, while most of the local Class 1A schools will compete at the Sparta Sectional which is set for 4 p.m. on Friday.
Local teams competing at Sparta include Althoff, Mater Dei, Dupo, Metro East Lutheran, Lebanon, Nashville, New Athens, Madison, O’Fallon First Baptist Academy, Okawville, Red Bud, Sparta, Wesclin and Gibault.
Lebanon junior Casey Berberich in the long jump, triple jump, 100 and 300 meter hurdles along with Red Bud senior Keri Burmester in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, are the area’s top hopes. Burmester placed in the top eight at state in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters a year ago.