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Photo by Bill Roseberry
Edwardsville junior Travis Anderson leaps a hurdle during the 110-meter high hurdles at the state meet. Anderson won the state title in the 110s in 13.71 seconds.
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Photo by Bill Roseberry
A.J. Epenesa, a junior for the Tigers, heaves the discus on May 28 at the Class 3A state meet. His throw of 205-11 earned him the state title and marked the second-best throw in state history.
A.J. Epenesa and Travis Anderson are just juniors for the Edwardsville Tiger boys’ track and field program, but their presence has definitely been felt already.
Epenesa won a Class 3A discus state championship and finished second in the shot put on May 28 at the state meet in Charleston. Anderson corralled the title in the 110-meter high hurdles, finished third in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and ran the third leg of the sixth-place 400-meter relay quartet at state.
The dynamic duo’s performances helped lead the Tigers to a second-place finish at state, accumulating 42 points. They finished runner-up to champion and Southwestern Conference rival East St. Louis, which scored 54 points. Epenesa and Anderson were a part of 39 of EHS’ team points.
“An incredible mark for A.J., for him to hit that in prelims and not have stress coming into the finals was huge,” Edwardsville head coach Chad Lakatos said. “More impressive for A.J. is all three throws (in prelims) were over 200 (feet). I just thought that was great for him, and then his 60-foot throw (shot put). The last couple of weeks he had a two-foot PR in sectionals and another two-foot PR coming to state and set another school record. I couldn’t be happier for him; he’s a great kid.
“Then Travis, he was lights out (in prelims). Coming in with the No. 1 time in the 110s and 300s and he had a great three leg (in prelims) and (the finals) as well. He looked great in the 110 hurdles (in the finals). He was a little tired in the 300, but he still fought off and got a third-place finish for us.”
Epenesa’s state-winning throw of 205 feet, 11 inches was the best throw ever at the state meet and second best toss in state history. Then toss in his 60-4.5 heave in the shot put; it all made for a pretty phenomenal weekend for the super junior. Both of his throws carried over from the prelims.
He admitted the success in the throws hinges on his mental approach.
“It’s staying calm, cool and collected,” Epenesa said. “We just try and come in relaxed and that’s when my best throws come, when I’m relaxed and not all energetic.”
Edwardsville throws coach Matt Martin, who also coaches Epenesa as a talented football standout in the fall, was impressed with his performances at state but knows there is better yet to come.
“It’s the best throw at the state track meet, but it’s not even his best throw so I was a little disappointed that he didn’t PR,” Martin said jokingly. Epenesa threw the disc 206-5 on April 23 at the Winston Brown Invitational on his home grounds. “He PRed in shot and we just knew that was a matter of time. The more reps he gets, the better he’s going to get. I was just hoping it would happen here and it did. He still has a lot of room to grow. As far as discus, I don’t think we could ask for a better effort. Three throws over 200 (in prelims) was consistent and all down the middle.
“He said to me afterward, ‘You didn’t even talk to me once during disc.’ I said, ‘What was I going to say to you?’ I acquaint it to when a guy is in the seventh and he’s got a no-hitter going, I don’t want to be the guy to screw him up. When you feel it, let them be and that’s what we did.”
As for Anderson, who dealt with injury during the first half of the season, his quick progression back was impressive. He ran 13.71 seconds in the 110 hurdles to finish first, while he went 38.04 in the 300s for third. He helped the 4x1 turn in a time of 42.14.
“Aw man, it’s surreal,” Anderson said. “Coming off the injury, I was out six weeks, to being at state and winning the 110s, third in the 300s, sixth in the 4x1; it’s just surreal.”
After helping lead the Tigers to their first-ever state championship in boys’ track in 2015, Anderson was well aware of the target on the team’s back to get back to that level in ‘16. With less entries at state, Anderson understood the pressures on him and Epenesa to perform well at state. They didn’t quite get that elusive state title again, but garnering the program’s third second-place finish in the last five years wasn’t too shabby.
“This year, since we didn’t have as many entries, there was a lot of pressure on my back,” Anderson said. “Coming in, I knew East St. Louis was going to be a big threat to earning a state victory because they had a lot of guys in a lot of events. I knew today was going to be big for us, I had to score a lot of points and A.J. had to score a lot of points. We knew we had to score in everything to have a chance to win and that’s what we had to come out here and do.”
It was a different feeling obviously, finishing runner-up instead of winning, but Lakatos was proud of the effort of his entire team at state, which only featured a pair of seniors in the state lineup. Seniors Seth Jacobs and Tommy Giacobbe were the first and fourth legs of the 4x1 quartet.
DeVonte’ Tincher, another junior, ran the second leg of the 4x1 and finished seventh in the long jump (22-3) to compile Edwardsville’s other three team points.
“It’s obviously a different feeling, but we knew coming in East St. Louis was going to be very strong,” Lakatos said. “Our kids fought this weekend. We were seated 42 and we scored 42, so I couldn’t be happier for our kids and what they accomplished and Travis and A.J. obviously had a big weekend for us.”
As for Epenesa’s future in the throws, he knows it’s all about setting goals and the next step is surpassing Lake Park’s Dan Block, who owns the best state throw of 208-11, set in an ‘09 sectional.
“I passed his throw for the state meet record, so that was pretty exciting,” Epenesa said. “My ultimate goal was to beat 208-11, that’s the state record overall, so my goal is at least 209 and I’ve got all of next year to work on that. We’re just going to keep working hard and keep improving.
“I feel that goals are a big part of athletics. You have to have goals to keep you moving and that’s your motivation to keep going further. There’s the state goal and then there’s the national throw (237-6), which is a lot further, so we’re not really worried about that right now.”
Whatever happens, the future looks bright for the Tigers’ track and field program.
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