For the first time in six years, the Cahokia Comanches will step on to the artificial surface at O’Brien Stadium in Charleston on Friday as a darkhorse for the Class 2A state track and field championship but still a threat.
The five-time defending state champion Comanches will be without one of the nation’s best in senior Ja’Mari Ward and they don’t have either the depth or the speed that has made them one of the top programs in state history this time around. But they do have tradition and are determined to make it six in a row.
“There are handful of teams who will be walking in here feeling they have a chance to win it. We’re one of those teams,” Cahokia coach Leroy Millsap said earlier this week. “Hillcrest, Chicago Morgan Park, Kaneland, (Springfield) Lanphier, Marion, they’ve all got a shot. It just depends on who has the best meet.”
What looks to be a balanced field will compete in the Class 2A preliminaries on Friday beginning at 8 a.m. and will be followed by the Class 3A preliminary round at noon. The Class 1A prelims are set for 10 a..m. on Thursday. Finals in all three classes are set top begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Ward, the nation’s best combination high school athlete in the long jump and triple jump, will not compete for the second straight meet after dislocating his left kneecap two weeks ago. He has been undergoing therapy treatments and despite the fact that there was no structural damage, the University of Missouri recruit will not compete in the best interest of his future, according to Millsap.
With Ward out of the lineup, the burden of scoring points shifts to various Cahokia thinclads like seniors Tyran Lyons and Anthony McRoberts, along with junior Chris Stanley and the 400, 800 and 1,600 meters teams. Lyons and Stanley are both capable of earning points in the 400 meters and will be keys on the relay teams, while McRoberts, who has the best Class 2A triple jump in the state at 47 feet, 5 inches, is also a title hopeful in the high jump where he has gone 6 feet 11 inches and the long jump, where he’s jumped 23 feet.
“In terms of competitiveness, he (McRoberts) is probably second on the team to Ja’Mari in kids that hate to lose. He’s got to have a big meet for us to do well and he knows it,” Millsap said. “I haven’t done the points. But if somebody would say we’re going to finish with 50 to 55 points, I’ll take that.”
Nelson, Higgins have high hopes
Highland junior Tyler Higgins will be out to defend his Class 2A state title in the 400 meters where he enters the state finals with the second best time at 49.3 seconds. Higgins, who is also entered in the 100 and 200 meters, had a winning time a year ago in the 400 meters of 48.2 seconds.
While Higgins is going for a second straight 400 meter state title, Mississippi Valley Conference rival Adam Nelson, of Triad, will be looking to become the first male athlete from Triad to win a state championship in track and field.
Nelson’s best hope is in the 100 meters but he is also is running in the 200 meters and will run on the Knights 400-meter relay team, which should also be in the top six. But there is nothing Knights coach Brian Weiss would like more than for Nelson to win the 100 meters.
“Adam is an excellent student athlete with a lot of talent and the best work ethic. He’s a gamer in big meet situations, so that tells me Adam has an excellent shot at being state champion in the 100 and placing high in the 200,” Weiss said. “It won't be easy, but the opportunity is there.”
Anderson, Epenesa favored for state titles
While Higgins, Nelson and McRoberts will be favored to compete for the state titles in Class 2A, Edwardsville’s chances of repeating in Class 3A rest heavily on the shoulders of juniors Travis Anderson in the 110 and 300 meter hurdles and the pure athleticism of junior AJ Epenesa in the discus and shot put.
If recent performances are any indication, both should be high on the medals platform on Saturday at O’Brien Stadium.
The state runner-up in the discus a year ago, Epenesa is the nation’s best in the discus with a pair of throws over 200 feet this season — including the No. 1 effort of 206 feet, 5 inches. His throw of 196 feet, 9 inches last week at the Collinsville Sectional is 20 feet longer than anyone else in the state. Epenesa also has the fifth best effort in the shot put at 58 feet, 3 inches, which is a school record.
“My goal is to win the discus and place as high as I can in the shot put,” Epenesa said. “I want to score as many points as possible to help my team.”
Anderson was also second a year ago — to Belleville East senior William Session — in the 110 meter hurdles. Heading into the preliminaries, Anderson has the top time of 13.9 seconds, while Session is the No. 2 seed at 14.1 seconds.
Anderson also has the top time in the 300 meter hurdles at 38 seconds. East St. Louis sophomore Delano Anderson has the No. 3 time at 38.2 seconds, while Session is fifth at 38.7.
“I feel like I’m at the top of my performances right now,” Anderson said at the Collinsville Sectional. “I’ve been right around the high 13’s for the 110 and been consistent at 38 seconds the last few meets in the 300. Colleges like that.”
Edwardsville is also highly ranked in the 400 meter relay.
East St. Louis is the top seed in the 400 and 1,600 meter relay and the second seed in the 800 meter relay. But the Flyers also have solid chances to make the finals in both hurdles races, 100, 200 and 400 meters and possibly in the 3,200 meter relay. Senior Roosevelt Davis is another top Flyers hopeful in the 200 meters.
Session, although battling an injured groin for must of the last month, looked strong in both the 110 and 300 meter hurdles last week, while teammate Amani Franklin is ranked third in the triple jump and had been consistent in jumping 47 to 48 feet for much of the season.
O’Fallon has the state’s best 800 meter runner in junior Chris Conrad who seemingly is running faster times each time he takes the track. Conrad’s time of 1 minute 51.99 seconds is nearly two seconds better then anyone else.
Belleville West set a school record last week in advancing 10 entries to the state finals. Although longshots to make the finals in most events, coach Patton Segraves does have a potential medal winner in senior Deshon Buchanan in the 200 meters.
Granite City is a medal hopeful in the 3,200 meter relay, while Collinsville’s top hope is Bailey Crone in the high jump.
Althoff junior Jaylen Bester is seeded in the top eight in both the 100 meters and long jump as he leads the way for local athletes in the Class 1A preliminary round. Wesclin also has a potential state champion in B lake Laird in the pole vault, while Sparta’s Will Monroe should be in the medal hunt in the discus.