EDWARDSVILLE — LaJarvia Brown of Alton and A.J. Epenesa of Edwardsville brought their own stylish brands of sizzle to the Southwestern Illinois Relays.
Brown won three events, including two jumps, while Epenesa proved untouchable in the throws Saturday at the Winston Brown Track and Field Complex.
East St. Louis (120 points) shaded Edwardsville (113.5 points) for the boys’ team title and O’Fallon (101 points) outscored runner-up East St. Louis (87) and third-place finisher Alton (84.5 points) on the girls’ side.
“I like this team and I would love to finish in the top three teams at state,” AHS girls’ coach Terry Mitchell said. The Redbirds placed eighth in the Class 3A IHSA competition last season as Brown led the way.
The 5-foot-3, 120-pound senior, bound for Texas A&M, excelled again at EHS in the 13-school competition. She finished first in the long jump (18 feet, 7 inches), the triple jump (40-0.5) and the 300-meter low hurdles (45.02) seconds.
All three were meet records. She busted her own meet marks in the triple jump (39-2.5) and low hurdles (45.38), and broke Belleville West’s Claudette Day’s top distance in the long jump (18-4.25).
She also ran the anchor leg in the Birds’ 4x100-meter relay squad that took fifth.
“I’m tired,” Brown said, offering a smile after her eventful afternoon. “It was a pretty good day, but I wish I would have done better in the jumps.”
The two-time defending state triple jump champ is eager for an explosive finish to an exemplary prep career.
“I’m happy, but not satisfied,” Brown said. “I don’t want to peak too early.”
Redbirds’ coach Terry Mitchell said he’s considering having Brown participate in four open events once the team gets deep into the season.
“I think I will be fine doing that,” Brown said.
Teammate Jewel Wagner snared first in the shot (38-1) and Chayvon Buckingham bagged a third (37-7.5). Katie Mans of AHS wound up second in the high jump (5-2). O’Fallon’s Tamar Mosby (5-4) won it.
“Jewel is really coming around,” Mitchell said. “When she steps in the ring now, she believes she can win – and that’s 90 percent of it.”
Mitchell noted, “If we are going to do well at state we need people to step up and we have the girls that can do that.”
Edwardsville’s guys, the defending Class 3A state champs, pushed East St. Louis to the limit. The Tigers held a half-point lead going into the final event, but the Flyers won the 4x400-meter relay and the team title.
“I’m pleased with our performance,” Tigers’ coach Chad Lakatos said. “We knew that East St. Louis would be good this season because they return a lot of guys. But I was really impressed with our guys in the field events and pleased overall. We can build on today.”
Junior thrower A.J. Epenesa, who is headed to the University of Iowa for football, dominated the throws. He won the discus with a meet-record heave of 185-3 and was first in the shot at 53-5, a personal best.
“Our goal is for A.J. to be more consistent and he looked good today,” Lakatos said. He was state runner-up in the discus and ninth in shot put at state last year.
Epenesa added, “It’s going well and I’m happy with my performance today in our first outdoor meet. Obviously, I want to improve this season and come back at the start of it where I left off last season.
His goals include throwing the shot 57 feet and the discus 200 feet. And of course, having the Tigers repeat their state success.
“The goal is to go into the season and win the biggest championship you can,” he said. “Eventually, we want to win state, but we all have to do our part.”
Alton scored 54 points to finish sixth in the 12-team field. Zach Llewellyn spurred the Redbirds by placing second in both the discus (150-10) and the shot (51-10) Arie Macias took third in the 1,600-meters (4:34.37), Jonathan Bumpers came in third in the triple jump (42-1.5) and the Redbirds’ 4x400-meter relay team was third (3:30.64).
“Zack is getting stronger and stronger with each meet,” first-year AHS coach Jeff White said. “It seems like he has turned a page.”
The Redbirds, who play host to the Alton Relays on Wednesday at their new track at AHS, are a work in progress, White said. He’s already witnessing development.
“We mixed in some freshmen and sophomores to this meet because we are still trying to find some guys in a relays meet,” White said. “I like what I’m seeing from us in the field events.”
Granite City won the distance medley, with Will O’Keefe, Andrew O’Keefe, Juwan Riggins and Ron Allen turning in a top time of 10:50.56. The Warriors scored 35 points and finished seventh.
“It was a tough race, but it’s nice to get a win. It was a good day for us,” said freshman Andrew O’Keefe. “I think we will be the strongest in the middle distance races.”
Coach Tom Miller added, “We will have more team depth and we are going to be better this season. I think we will have a good year.”
Miller is also coaching the Granite City girls’ team that scored four points. “We didn’t have some of them here today because they were in the Top Times indoor meet,” he said. “We should be pretty good in the sprints.”
Gabriella Romano’s victory in the pole vault (9-0) paced the Edwardsville girls, fifth with 73 points. Jessie Chappel was runner-up in the shot (114-3) and the Tigers finished second in three relay events.