CHARLESTON — The Edwardsville Tigers didn't quite have enough to defend their Class 3A state title Saturday at O'Brien Stadium in Charleston, but the dominance of southern Illinois gave them some satisfaction — that and their two individual champs.
Edwardsville finished in second place with 42 points, trailing only Southwestern Conference rival East St. Louis, which compiled 54 points to win it. It was the first state title for the Flyers since 2008, but the 11th state crown overall for the program.
Cahokia also won 2A for the sixth straight season. The Comanches collected 61 points to edge Geneseo (55) and continue their state dominance.
“It's obviously a different feeling (taking second), but we knew coming in East St. Louis was going to be very strong,” EHS head coach Chad Lakatos said. “Our kids fought this weekend. We were seeded at 42 (points) and we scored 42, so I couldn't be happier for our kids and what they accomplished and Travis (Anderson) and A.J. (Epenesa) obviously had a big weekend for us.”
Anderson and Epenesa combined to score 35 points for the Tigers. Epenesa was the state champion in the discus and runner-up in the shot put, while Anderson won the 110-meter high hurdles and went third in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles.
Epenesa's heave of 205 feet, 11 inches was the longest ever at the state meet and the second best throw overall in state history. Dan Block of Lake Park holds the all-time best from a sectional meet at 208-11.
Epenesa's state-winning throw carried over from Friday's preliminaries.
Second place in the 3A discus went to Sam Weisz of Yorkville at 180-8, or 25 feet less than Epenesa's historic toss.
“It's pretty amazing and I feel blessed,” Epenesa said. “I give all the glory to God, he's blessed me to be who I am today and he's given me abilities, so I try to take advantage of what I've got and I work hard every single day. All that hard work shows and I'm glad it showed today and yesterday when it mattered most. I came out with first place in discus, which we wanted, and I feel like I surprised a lot of people with second place in the shot put. It was a really tough year this year for shot put. With my last year's throw I wouldn't have even been in the finals, so I feel blessed this year to be able to accomplish so much more.”
The talented EHS junior threw 60-4.5 in the shot to nab second. Lockport sophomore John Meyer won it with a toss of 61-02. Those throws carried over from Friday, too.
Fellow Edwardsville junior Anderson found his glory on the track. His photo-finish victory over Belleville East's William Session in the 110 hurdles turned some heads. Anderson went 13.71, edging Session who finished in 13.72.
It was Session that came out on top in the 300 hurdles. He won in 37.46 seconds, while Roland Amarteifio of Evanston was second in 37.63 and Anderson was third in 38.04.
“All season we've been pushing, pushing each other,” Anderson said of he and Session. “We knew it was going to be firsts coming in. (In the 110s) it just came down to who could outrun who.”
Anderson was also a member of the sixth-place 400-meter relay team (42.14) for the Tigers. He ran the third leg. He was joined on the relay team by senior Seth Jacobs, junior DeVonte' Tincher and senior Tommy Giacobbe.
“No one really likes getting sixth, but the fact we were able to get points for the team, that's what matters,” Tincher said of the relay team. “We did our best, so I'm pretty satisfied with our place.”
Tincher also added points for EHS in the long jump. After entering Saturday with the 12th best jump out of preliminaries, Tincher leaped 22-3 to move up to seventh to gather three team points.
Edwardsville senior Desmond Chapple also competed on Saturday in the shot put, throwing 55-5.75. Unfortunately, Chapple didn't place for the Tigers.
Overall Lakatos was pleased with the effort. Edwardsville had less entries than it did on its state title team a year ago which accumulated 55 points. Under Lakatos, the Tigers now have three second-place finishes and the '15 state championship.
“Big points cover a lot of ground,” Lakatos said. “It would have been nice to have some four and five points here and there, but Tincher stepped up big for us. He was 12th coming in (long jump) and finished seventh, so those three points made a big difference between second and third.
“You talk about a team performance, we did have some areas where we were covered, but those big points really cover a lot of ground and we got beat by a great team from East St. Louis. I couldn't be happier for their program and they're going to be strong for the next couple of years.”
The Granite City Warriors competed with their 3A 4x8-meter relay team on Saturday, but unfortunately came away empty handed. The quartet consisted of junior Will O'Keefe, senior Ron Allen, freshman Andrew O'Keefe and senior Juwan Riggins.
They finished in 12th place with a time of 8:01.70.
In the 2A competition, Roxana sophomore Jordan Hawkins made his presence felt. Hawkins brought home fourth in the discus with a throw of 164-2. The throw carried over from Friday's preliminaries. Carbondale junior Sam Sikon won the discus title with a toss of 172-11, which he threw on Saturday.
It was the first boys' track state medal for the Shells since Matt Hartnett finished fifth in the triple jump in 2014. Prior to that they hadn't had a state placer since 1994. Hawkins secured only the ninth state medal in school history.
“I was very excited just to get up here,” Hawkins said of his first state experience. “I was actually a little nervous yesterday because I fouled on the first one and my second one went short and I didn't think I'd even make the finals. Then on my last one I heaved off a 164 and it felt awesome.
“I wanted to get top three, but I'm remembering as a sophomore it's just awesome to get up on the podium. I'm very happy.”
As for the southern Illinois success on the track, Lakatos believes the great recent accolades of the Tigers and Comanches have pushed the other teams to keep up. He thinks they've helped awaken the Flyers to return to the upper-echelon of programs in the state.
“The success they had over the past years and then really since I've been at Edwardsville they haven't really been a dominant force like they have this year,” Lakatos said of East Side. “It's the old East St. Louis team I used to read about. They had a great day and I questioned some of their lineup, but it came through for them, the two 400 guys and the two 200 guys, they were huge. Then they're relays and their hurdler.
“I think our success has bred success, not only in our school, but in the other conference schools as well.”