Win or lose a state finals this weekend inside of O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, Cahokia has etched their name as one of the immortal track and field programs in IHSA history. The championship legacy led by head coach Leroy Millsap has scanned nearly two decades and multiple state championships. Among the titles are eight gold medals which includes a record six straight. Could the Comanches win their seventh straight title on Saturday? We don't know. The team has been #1 in the Milesplit Illinois Power Rankings all season long. That's on paper. Now the quest of a real championship will now begin on the track!
Multiple state champion Sam Sikon seeks another gold medal
The field events will tell all-
Cahokia has won many of their titles before hitting the track. We all remember a guy named Ja'mari Ward correct? In case you forgot, he is a living legend and one of the IHSA immortals who holds state all-time records in the long jump and triple jump. He led the record breaking team 2015 team that scored 119 points with two wins including an all time record 25-0.25 in the long jump.
This year's edition will have some power of its own leading off with a vastly improved senior Marquis Murray in the long jump. Murray leads all qualifiers with a 23-1.50 personal best. Although he has finally realized his full potential according this his coaches, he will still face a stiff challenge from Rodrick McMiller (Sr., Chicago Perspectives) who is a 23-footer in his own respect. It will not be a cake walk to make the final with a full slate of jumpers in the 22-foot range.
Cahokia newcomer triple jumper sophomore Andra Ward (no relation to Ja'mari) has apparently taken his name sake and jumped away with it. The new Ward has come into the state meet with a 47-1 career best good for IL#7. Experience matters and since it does expect IL#5 Myles Aldridge (Sr., Normal University) to take full advantage of the situation. Aldridge leads the sectional and class with a 47-6.50 mark. Aldridge placed 7th in the state last year.
Sam Sikon (Sr., Carbondale) will be the man to watch regardless of events this weekend. Sikon has been a mainstay of shot put and discus throw. The first event will be the shot were he ranks #2 state wide and 14th in the country with a 65-0.25. Sikon's is looking to surpass 67-feet this weekend and paste his name among the all time greats in the state. Look for Sikon to compete against Lockport junior John Meyer the state leader and US#5 in a virtual race to #1. Sikon will face a tougher challenge in the discus despite leading all sectional round leaders.
PV: An emerging field awaits this event. Danny Walker (Sr., Kaneland) has been vaulting well all season and leads the sectional leaders at 15-3. Watch for freshman Tyler Carrel (Urbana) to step up in his introductory season. He comes from a strong blood line of pole vaulting. His older brother Brandon won state in 2011. The father Bryan was a standout vaulter at Indiana State University and makes pole vault poles for a living.
HJ: A fleet of jumpers at 6-8 will lead things led by Karl Wright (So., Springfield Lanphier), Ethan Poston (Jr., Metamora), and Nicholas Jackson (Sr., Champaign Central) are the favorites. We may see someone leap for 6-10 or better on Saturday.
Check the distance arena show and prove says editor Ray Lewis-
Teams to Watch: Normal (University), Mahomet (M.-Seymour), Geneseo, Erie, Metamora, Cahokia (H.S.), LaSalle (L.-Peru), Sycamore (H.S.), Byron
Skinny: Cahokia is the 2-time defending championship here, but this may be the year that their stronghold on all of the relays at the 2A level weakens a little bit. Jared Shuckman (Jr.) and Zach Wolford (Sr.) have helped Normal University become a 4x800 power in 2A and enter as the state leaders and possibly favorites especially if Jack Franklin (who is entered in the 3200) elects to run the relay. The indomitable depth of cross country champ Mahomet-Seymour makes the Bulldogs a favorite as well, and a low podium finish in 2016 will be a motivator for Riley Fortune (Jr.), Ben Craw (Sr.) and company. Nick Swartzendruber (Jr.) has led Geneseo into sub-8:00 territory as well, and relative underdog Erie is actually the meet's top seed, so if the Chris Stanley (Sr.) and the Comanches are to win this relay they have their work cut out for them. The 2A 4x800 field is much deeper and quicker this year so expect a good one here.
Athletes to Watch: Brayden Hamblen (Sr., Rock Falls), Brian Butcher (Sr., Mahomet (M.-Seymour)), Jack Franklin (Sr., Normal (University)), Matt Richtman (Jr., Maple Park (Kaneland))
Skinny: Hamblen is one of the strongest distance favorites in the 2A 3200 this year. The 1A XC champ ran 9:12 at Arcadia and had an 'off-race' at DNP where his 9:22 still would be the #1 IL 2A mark in the event. There are a small handful of runners who might have other ideas, including Mahomet's Brian Butcher, a member of the tight pack during cross country but one of the top 3200 runners in 2A this year. Jack Franklin also has the 3200 chops to win (his PB is 9:22) and has been quietly one of the most consistently good runners ever in 2A. Finally, a very talented Matthew Richtman from Kaneland continues his elongated breakout year as a junior in the 3200 before beginning what will likely be his senior year as favorite to win the 2017 2A XC title. Richtman has run 9:31. Finally, keep an eye out for freshman stud Adam Gilbreath-Glaub (Fr., Metamora), whose 9:29 makes him one of the ten fastest freshman in this event in the country (and third in the state of Illinois).
Athletes to watch: Jared Schuckman (Jr., Normal (University)), Jake Gillum (Sr., Metamora), Jacob Gebhardt (Jr., Sterling (H.S.)), Brayden Hamblen (Sr., Rock Falls), Gabe Pommier (Sr., Mahomet (M.-Seymour)), Matthew Richtman (Jr., Maple Park (Kaneland))
Skinny: Jared Shuckman has been the breakout man of the year in the 2A 1600. His victory at the Macomb sectional over Jake Gillum makes Schuckman the #1 seed in this event and the IL #3 1600 runner. He and Gillum has similar pedigrees-success from the 800 up to the 3 mile-which means the mid-Illinois rivalry may also find its way to the top 2 spots on the podium. The 2A #3 runner, Jacob Gebhardt, finished 10th in last year's final and has improved immensely, taking 8 second off his 1600 from last year with his 4:14.51 at Palatine this year. Brayden Hamblen is also entered in the 1600, and although he typically isn't a frequenter in the Mile like he has been in the 3200 during his career, his 4:17.64 at Sterling in April and his 3rd place sectional performance on the back end of the double suggest he has double aspirations for state as well. Mahomet senior Gabe Pommier and Richtman are the other two sub-4:20 runners in 2A this year.
Athletes to Watch: Jake Gillum (Sr., Metamora), Chris Stanley (Sr., Cahokia (H.S.)), Josh Cable (Jr., Rochester), Drew Wilkerson (Sr., Freeburg), Brendon Sebastian (Sr., LaSalle (L.-Peru), Ben Craw (Sr., Mahomet (M.-Seymour), Blake Jones (Jr., Lincoln), Mitchell Kremer (Jr., Mattoon), Nick Oakley (Jr., Charleston), Falcon Mack (Jr., Park Forest (Rich East)), Nick Swartzendruber (Jr., Geneseo).
Skinny: Gillum and longtime star Chris Stanley are the frontunners in this race-1:54.04 and 1:54.95 are their season bests respectively, both run earlier in May. Both will likely be coming back from relays or other events (possibly the 1600 prelims for Gillum) so this may help open the door for Rochester junior Josh Cable, who has been an underclassman sensation up to this point but has not yet had the state-level success that his potential has suggested may come (5th in 2A 800 2015, 7th in 2016). The top returners from 2016 are Drew Wilkerson (Sr., Freeburg, 5th) and Brendon Sebastian (Sr., LaSalle-Peru, 6th), both of whom who have run 1:56 low. After the top 4 or 5 runners, this field is extremely open and the lower level 800 races in Illinois have been known to be remarkably unpredictable, so athletes to watch list for this event is relatively large.
Can Deion McShane sweep the hurdles again this year?
And finally the sprint game-
4x100: Hillcrest leads all sectional qualifiers with a 42.43. In the process they beat area rival Rich Central by a slim amount 42.48. They all will have to contend with Cahokia the class leader at 42.14. Let's see if anyone can break 42 seconds in the prelim round. If not it can wait until Saturday. Chicago Morgan Park is also a dangerous team with a stacked group led by senior Juwan Denton.
4x200: Peoria, Morgan Park, and Cahokia are the teams to beat. The sectional performances were not very fast as 1:29.96 leads the sectional field. Even the class leading 1:29.18 by Cahokia should see massive lowering by the end of the weekend.
4x400: No team in 2A has been as dominant as Cahokia here. As a matter of fact Cahokia has led all of Illinois several times by season's end. The 3:19.70 may not stand up with Waterloo lurking.
110HH: It would be a deep one come Saturday. It will be survive and advance for defending champion junior Deion McShane. He ran 14.26 at sectionals to easily advance to Charleston. A rising surprise here is Theo Phipps (Sr., Chicago St. Rita). Phipps has been bubbling just under the surprise for the past few past seasons in the long jump. But he has run well indoors and now outdoors. Another 14.41 should get him into the finals. Bret Dannis (Jr., Peru St. Bede) moves in from 1A and will be very dangerous. There is talk of dethroning McShane and breaking 14.00. We will see. Now the talk of the season is this kid Solomon Wilson-Walls (Jr., Tinley Park) who dropped a jaw cracking but suspicious 13.74 in April. There has not been any video or evidence of the performance. Some say it may be tainted. Wilson-Walls will have an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.
100: Ron Reed (Jr., Decatur McArthur) was the king of indoors but has been OK outside in limited contests. What is it going to take to overcome a speed demon like Rodrick McMiller? McMiller is back after a great sectional performance where he ran 10.66 to lead all qualifiers. Former Dixon standout junior Nyrel Sullivan is now at Sterling and he comes in at #2 from the sectional round. It will take 10.95 to make it to Saturday.
300H: McShane is a two time state champion and will be the favorite despite Dannis' presence. Reed Vanderheyden (Sr., Geneseo) will be the best challenge for McShane. Friendships aside McShane is going for blood first and friendship second.
400: Not many people know VanHarvey Vance (Jr., Rich Central). He is the sectional leader at 49.54. The class leader is out for revenge after finishing last place in the 2016 state final. Tristan Blair (Sr., Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin) is back after battling injuries.
200: McMiller is the guy to beat hands down. 21.69 is legit. Can Deion McShane who ventures here compete with McMiller? Tyler Higgins (Sr., Highland) gives one more look at making a final and state title. The former 400 state champ moves down this time.