Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
A panoramic view of the new track at Alton High School during the Alton Invitational for girls' track and field conducted on April 21.
There’s a new facility and a renewed spirit for the Alton High girls’ track team. The Redbirds are poised for a strong state finish this spring.
They intend to continue what they started last season. Alton finished eighth in the Class 3A IHSA finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. It marked the Redbirds’ top showing in their track history, dating to the 1970s, and it came after they placed fifth in the Southwestern Conference competition.
“I’m still thinking we can finish in the top three at state,” senior LaJarvia Brown said. “At the worst, we want to finish in the top five.”
That’s big-time thinking, but with the 5-foot-3, 120-pound Brown leading the way, anything is possible for the Redbirds. Brown is the finest athlete in their track history, which is steadily climbing.
She’s the two-time defending IHSA Class 3A triple jump champ and owns the state’s all-time best distance at 41-6.25 in that event. Brown accounted for 19 of the Redbirds’ 24.5 points at state in 2015.
Her talent seems limitless. Please note that Brown leaped 41-9 in the triple jump and 19-7 in the long jump during summer national and international competition. Brown’s skills carried her to New Mexico, Virginia and Cali, Colombia. Perhaps she will jump in the Olympic Games some day.
Yet there’s more to her than soaring jumps. The hurdles are emerging as her next-best event. She sports the state’s best time this season in the 300-meter low hurdles at 43.7. And coach Terry Mitchell figures to put the Texas A&M bound-dynamo in the 100-meter high hurdles during the key meets the remainder of the season.
So that’s four open events for her and the possibility of plenty of points at state. Two wins would be worth 20 points and three victories — not out of the question — would count for 30 points.
High jumper Katie Mans and throwers Jewel Wagner and Chayvon Buckingham also could complement Brown in the Redbirds’ state quest for their first team trophy.
Only the first three teams claim trophies; thus the Redbirds have ample work ahead. The Southwestern Conference Meet, set for May 4 in Edwardsville and the Class 3A sectional, scheduled for May 13 in Rock Island, are preludes to the state finals on May 20-21 at EIU’s O’Brien Stadium.
The unveiling of a new track at AHS — the Redbirds previously competed in Public School Stadium at West Elementary School — also has them chirping. All that’s needed are lights.
“I’m used to being at West,” Brown said of Jim Wigger Track, “but having a track at the high school is convenient. I like it because you don’t have to travel.”
Mitchell said, “West is still true to my heart, but it’s a fast track and nice stadium here. The big thing is we get to practice and have meets at the high school.”
AHS director of athletics Jeff Alderman added, “It’s awesome to have big events here. Lighting is a definite need and there’s the distinct possibility that lights are on the way. We hope to have them by next fall.”
The light shined on the Redbirds last month when they won the season-opening Michael Rodgers Meet in Berkeley, Mo. Alton also has snagged a second in the Jersey Relays, a runner-up spot in the Madison County Meet and a third in the Southwestern Illinois Relays at Edwardsville. Brown won four events at MadCo.
Those regular-season finishes are fine, but when it comes to track, it’s all about the closing competition, namely conference, sectional and state meets.
If you want a prime example of how things can shift dramatically the final three weeks of the season, refer to the 2012 Edwardsville Tigers.
They finished fourth in the SWC affair, then went on to win the Class 3A IHSA championship. Everything went right for the Tigers at state. They scored 51 points, or 2.5 more than SWC rival Belleville West.
A year later, Edwardsville scored 68.5 points but finished second to Frankfort Lincoln-Way East, which amassed 79 points.
The lesson learned is that if the state finals points are divided equitably among the top teams, it can create a free-for-all sprint to the finish line. The Redbirds should keep that in mind.
Once they get to Charleston, they need to log every point they can. In less than a month, the Birds will know if they can snare a trophy and hoist it.
“I’d love to finish in the top three teams at state,” Mitchell said. “We’ve never won a team trophy, and that’s the goal this season.”
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