EDWARDSVILLE — The Tiger Relays are a good barometer for how the Southwestern Conference girls' track and field teams are dialed in on the season.
The weather is warming up and the field is chock full of high caliber competition, especially out of the SWC.
The O'Fallon Panthers escaped with bragging rights, scoring 103.5 points to win the team title. O'Fallon was followed by East St. Louis (99.25), Hazelwood Central (72.5), Cahokia (72.5), Edwardsville (71), Alton (62), Quincy (58), Centralia (44), Belleville East (36.25), Collinsville (18), Belleville West (12), Madison (6) and Althoff (5).
“I thought we competed real well,” Alton head coach Terry Mitchell said. “Like I told the girls, this is the first preview for sectionals. Everybody you see here out of conference is going to be at the sectional meet. We find out where we're at today and what we need to do to get closer.”
EHS head coach MiKala Thompkins was pleased with where the Tigers were on Wednesday at the Winston Brown Track and Field Complex, too.
“With our competition and where we are right now, times are fast, distances are far and heights are high,” Thompkins said. “We've got great competition that's pushing us to be even better. I think we're going to see a lot of qualifications for state at sectionals just because of the constant competition we're competing against. To have this at every single meet only makes us work even harder and I'm definitely pleased today.”
To say Alton star trackster LaJarvia Brown likes the Tiger Relays might be an understatement. Brown won three individual events Wednesday and was part of the 400-meter relay team that finished fourth.
A year ago Brown set the all-time IHSA record in the triple jump with a distance of 41 feet, 6.25 inches. On Wednesday she turned in the best time in the state this season in the 300-meter hurdles, clocked at 43.76 seconds. Brown also won the triple jump (40-2) and the long jump (19-3).
“I didn't jump what I wanted to in the triple jump, but I still like the meet because I usually do really good here every year,” Brown said. “I'm glad to break some records here and leave my name in the record book.”
Her performance in the hurdles impressed Mitchell, considering her technique was off during the event.
“She had been best in the state already at 45 seconds,” Mitchell said. “And she went over the first six hurdles (today) with the wrong leg, but she competed. She ran and that's what we told her, you've got to run against the old man clock and when you run against the old man clock it's hard to win, but she competed and she'll keep getting better.”
Brown said the weather getting warmer helps. She could tell the difference during her first leap in the long jump.
“It's definitely starting to kick in,” she said. “I realized that when I went 19-3 in my first jump in the long jump. Coach Mitchell said it's the point of the season where I want to get my best jump first and be done and that's kind of what I did in the long jump.”
Knowing it's her final year has her buckling down and taking an all-business mentality — at least for the most part.
“It's strictly business,” Brown said. “But I'm having fun at the same time. We all have a goal in mind, but I'm just trying to have fun while I'm doing it.”
While the experience showed for the senior Brown, Edwardsville freshman distance runner Payton Flowers was competing in the first 3,200-meter run of her career with equally successful results.
Flowers turned in a time of 12:03.25 to win the 3,200, showing a burst of speed at the end to push past O'Fallon's Hannah Nabb on the final bend to nab the victory.
“I knew I could have a kick, but I didn't know I'd be able to have it in the two mile,” a wide-eyed Flowers said. “This is my first time running the two mile and I'm actually pretty impressed with myself. I'm just as shocked as probably everybody else. I just felt like me team really relied on me and I knew if I tried really hard I could go and get her.”
Thompkins was stoked to see Flowers' win. Confidence can be tough for a freshman, but a big win can prove that they belong at this level.
“One thing we see with freshmen is their inexperience and it was really cool to see her get out there and surprise herself,” Thompkins said. “We know what she's capable of, but for an athlete to see and feel their potential it was exciting. That was just what we needed for her to gain that confidence.”
The Tigers also won the 4,000-meter distance medley in 12:56.06, setting a new school record. The relay team consisted of Danielle Bohannon, Victoria Vegher, Lorie Cashdollar and Maddie Miller.
EHS also set a new school record in the 800-meter sprint medley relay, breaking a mark that had stood for 10 years. The time of 1:48.89 was good for second. The quartet consisted of: Olivia Watson, Rachel Kubicek, Tatiana Perry and Cashdollar.
Alton's Alexis James set a personal record in the discus Wednesday with a heave of 117-7, which was good for a sixth place finish.
Mitchell is now ready to turn his attention to the Alton Invitational on Thursday, April 21 at the new AHS track. It will shift away from all of the relay events to more open events, something Mitchell thinks will benefit the Redbirds. It will be the first major varsity event conducted on the new track.
“The teams to really look at in our house are going to be Hazelwood Central, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Cahokia and us,” Mitchell said. “It should be a good five, or six team race for our meet and it could be interesting because a lot of teams are going to offset what other teams do well. I think next Thursday is going to be a heck of a track meet.”