SPARTA — It had been seven years since the Herrin Tigers had been on top of the SIRR Ohio Division and 10 years since Nashville had won the Mississippi Division boys track and field championship, but both won going away on Thursday with the Tigers winning by a 58 point margin and the Hornets by 33.5.
Herrin won only five events, but finished second in nine events and third in seven events to provide the margin of victory over 14-time champion Harrisburg. Murphysboro — last year's champion — finished third, 68 points back of the Tigers.
"It feels good," said Herrin coach Andrew Anderson. "It’s been the first since 2011 because we have a big group of guys who have worked hard for this. We took a dip in the track program for a little bit, so it’s taken a while for us to build it back up. Colton Towle, along with Michael Oliver, Drew Ringle and our distance crew, really stepped up."
The junior Oliver provided two of those first place medals, winning his third straight title in the 3200-meter run by 8.81 seconds and successfully defending his title in the 1600-meter run by 7.36 seconds over Blake Niesporek from Murphysboro.
"Since I had the mile with some good competition in it later, the plan with the two mile was to go out and run smooth and do what it took to win, and it all worked out pretty well," Oliver said. "We had the lightning break and that threw me off a little bit in the mile, having to rest for 30 minutes after already finishing warming up. But I recovered well enough to run a good race."
Also winning an individual title for the Tigers was Gage Wells in the shot put by 6-02 feet over Zach Gibbs from Harrisburg. The Tigers also took first place in the 4x200 and 4x800 relays.
"Gage Wells has been doing what he’s been doing all year," Anderson said. "He got one of the best throws — if not the best throw — in shot put in this part of the state. Our vaulters did great and our relays, in fact, everybody collectively came together and did great."
Nashville cut it a little closer, taking first in just three events and second in seven others, to hold off defending champion Du Quoin.
"It really came on with the 4x200 because we realized it was one our weakest points, so we stuck in two of our distance guys and they got us second place for eight points and that was so unexpected, so at that point things were turning our way," said Nashville coach Thomas Taylor. "We shuffled kids around to give us the best chance to pick up points and got second in the 4x800 and the 4x400, and all up and down the lineup, the kids did exactly as I asked, and they performed."
Brandon Schnitker won the 3200-meter run by 4.57 seconds over Gabe Stephens from Carterville. In the field events, Daymeon Baugh edged Dasani Edward of Du Quoin by 3.5 inches to win the triple jump, and Tabor Kozuszek edged Noah Conner from Pinckneyville to win the high jump by clearing 5-09.
Harrisburg’s Niko Neal was the Ohio runner of the meet, winning four titles in the 110-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles, the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.
The senior opened by successfully defending his title in the 110 hurdles by .81 seconds over Robert Anthony from Herrin. He then won the 100-meter dash for the first time by .17 seconds over Dezmond Clark from Murphysboro.
"It feels good," Neal said. "I’m happy about the 100-meters, especially, because it’s a hard event ... because you have to bring the speed and talent together in that race. I had never really ran that race before because I’m more of a depth-type runner, the 200’s, 400s and the hurdles. 110 is about the shortest I go."
Neal made it three for three when he successfully defended his title in the 300 hurdles by .20 seconds, again over Anthony. He capped off his final conference meet by successfully defending his title in the 200 by .10 seconds over Jackson Yates of Herrin.
"Every time I run the 300 I love it more and more, because it’s a real competitive race, getting your footsteps right and having enough endurance to finish," Neal said.
Carterville senior Austin Knight continued his dominance of the Mississippi 1600-meter run, despite the handicap of having to sit 30 minutes and have only five minutes to warm up after lightning was detected.
Knight won his fourth mile title by 9.21 seconds over Garrett Johnson from Pinckneyville. Earlier, Knight had won his first 800-meter run title by edging out Grant Batteau from Pinckneyville by .85 seconds.
Murphysboro’s Jaron Gaston won his third straight Ohio Division triple jump title with a leap of 39-10 besting Blake Pierce from Herrin by 18 inches. Gaston was also the anchor of the winning 4x100 relay team.
"I started triple jumping my freshman year, but it was my sophomore year I really got better at it and won it by beating one our seniors and I really don’t know how I did it," Gaston said.
Also for the defending champion Red Devils, Blake Niesporek won the Ohio 800-meter run by 2.38 over Drew Ringle from Herrin and Logan Sullivan won the long jump by two inches over Joe Craig from Benton.
However, the Red Devils dropped out of contention for second place when their winning 4x200 relay team was disqualified for running beyond the exchange lane during one of the handoffs.
Also successfully defending titles were Kyle Robinson from Du Quoin in the Mississippi 110-meter hurdles and Harrisburg’s Cody Kavender in the Ohio pole vault.
Anna-Jonesboro’s Jaryt Tripp earned the title of the Mississippi Division’s fastest runner at the meet, winning the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash by .07 seconds over Westly Milam from Du Quoin.
The host team Sparta won the Mississippi 4x200 relay race with the foursome of Kiearis Monroe, Tony Williams, Kerry Harris and Ostyn Connors setting a personal best time of 1:34.80. The Bulldogs also won the 4x100 relay.