The final dagger in the 125th State Final was ESL's signature event, the #showstopper
Charleston- Under the backdrop of a day, that on the surface appeared picture perfect for a state championship. O'Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, the sun was mixed with part gusty winds and humidity that fans and athletes go through pleasure and pain.
E. St. Louis Senior has a long and proud history of track and field that not only extends in the state, but revelers around the nation are aware of the Flyers deep seeds in the sport's annals. The fallout from last year's conference melee that put the kibosh on the 2018 post-season almost caused an emotional junior star Willie Johnson to hang up his spikes. "I almost quit the sport that I love so much," he said at the time. Johnson used AAU summer track to refuel his sorrow and anger. And the final result was a national age group title in the 400m.
The Flyers have been laser-like focused during the entire 2019 calendar from the New Balance Nationals Indoors where they won several emerging elite titles, up through the regular and IHSA post-season. When things got tight mid-way through the championship, the crew from the Eastside did not panic. Instead, they went into turbo mode and scored 25 points on the strength of the 4x200 relay taking third- Johnson's 400m win (47.65) and junior Marcus Lampley (48.17) tagging along was strong. The freight train did not stop with junior Jamariantte Burgess who was all smiles after a second place finish in the 300H (37.82). He was every emotionally spent from the 110HH where he crashed and ultimately placed last.
The points kept coming for the eastsiders in the 200 with Lampley trading places with a second (21.58) and Johnson 5th (21.77). The title would be theirs with one event remaining. That event, of course, is the 4x400 in which it could be renamed the "EAST SIDE HIGH 4x400." Eureka gave a valiant effort to stay close but once the stick got into Johnson's hands, it would be over. The state's top quarter-mile appeared to wait and toy with anchor sophomore Micah Senior, putting his foot on the accelerator on the homestretch to win in another state-best 3:18.13.
The final tallies were all smiles for East St. Louis Senior who scored 84 points to Marengo's 42. Mahomet-Seymour took home the third place trophy with 40.5 points.
Finnigan Schirmer is in a league of his own-
Coming into this season, everyone knew if Marengo junior Finnigan Schirmer could at least hold serve in his four events or place no longer than second in the 110HH, 100, 300H, and 200, the potential to win a state trophy would be there. There were also rumblings of double relay points to prevent a one-man wrecking army. In Schirmer's first race of the day, it was a bit closer than expected as Steve Harris (Jr., Cahokia) came within a few inches of defeating Schirmer. Despite that close race and several others crashing hurdles and falling to the wayside, Schirmer prevailed in 14.22 (+2.5).
The 100 is always the true test of speed and luck. It's the "crapshoot" event because the probability to fail is high. Fortunately, the short turnaround and solid start out of the blocks did not hurt Schirmer. He actually blew away a tough field with a time of 10.62 (+1.1). Leondre Pollard (Sr., Thornridge) who came in the final with the fastest mark from the prelims placed second in 10.78. Pollard would later avenge himself in the 200m.
The third event of the day was perhaps Schirmer's best event, the 300 Intermediate Hurdles. Many fans were looking for the first sub-37:00 clocking here. However, windy conditions and a fatigued field may have been the culprit. Schirmer's strong start prevented anyone from upsetting him in 37.71.
The last event of the day would see a completely spent Schirmer line up in the blocks one last time in the 200. At this point, he would need to finish in the top five in order to provide his team with a trophy. His teammate senior Aaron Shepard placed fourth in the high jump (6-6) and earned six vital points. Pollard win in 21.55 and Schirmer held on to fourth with a time of 21.67 to pick up another six points. All in all, it was a mammoth day for one of the state's top track athletes.
The best of the rest-
Hunter Hendershot (Jr., Mahomet-Seymour) may have solidified himself as the guy to watch for 2020 in the shot put. If not, he will be a premier choice for both throws (shot put and discus throw). Hendershot won the shot with a throw of 62-1.25, which was four feet better than the nearest competitor and the top overall performance from a merged perspective. A few hours later, the official ledger saw another personal best in the discus throw 182-4, second best in the state.
No offense but no one in the state outside of Eureka saw freshman Trevor Heffren as the person to beat in the high jump. Well, he slew two giants in big favorite and state leader senior Zach Pluff of Freeburg and later newcomer Terrence Hargrove of E. St. Louis Sr. Heffren, who comes from a family lineage of jumping, said he felt no pressure once the bar was raised to 6-9. The 2018 IESA state champion cleared it and became not only the state champ but also the top freshman in the country.
Mathias Powell had already proved that he is one of the elite distance runners in the state of Illinois as his 3200m personal best 9:03.51 suggests. Hot and windy conditions prevented anyone and especially the Mahomet-Seymour senior from setting a record pace. He was content on a tactical affair that netted a win. It was a win in 9:24.15 and over three seconds ahead of friend fellow senior Garrett Dixon of Monticello.
Riley Wells (Sr., Rockford Christian) once again thrilled the crowd in the 800m with a last-second kick to win his signature race in 1:56.02.
Daniel Chen (Sr., IMSA) played possum in the 1600m when he fell out of contention midway through the race. But the classification leader had more gas in the tank and on the bell lap he rose to the occasion and chased down Elias Bergman (Jr., IVC) to win in 4:20.91.
Chandlar Ifft (Sr., Prairie Central) keeps the family name in the consciousness. Ifft did not disappoint with a winning pole vault clearance of 16-0. He did attempt 16-4 for good measure.
Ryan Curington (Sr., Chicago De La Salle) gets the job done with his first state title in the long jump. Curington hit on a 23-0.75 effort.