Lincoln-Way East prime to stop Edwardsville’s repeat

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A picture taken on the Eastern Illinois track after the 2011 state meet shows Aaliyah Brown holding the huge “IHSA State Runner-Up” trophy with an equally big smile on her face.

With the talent and scoring depth Lincoln-Way East will have Thursday through Saturday at O’Brien Field, the Griffins expect to be smiling about another trophy, hopefully the Class 3A state championship.

“We’re not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary,’’ East coach Caroline Gerritsen said. “We’re just asking them to do what they’ve done all year and run the times they’ve run all year. At state, obviously there’s more competition.

“They want to win. They want to break records. They’ve got their individual goals as well as the team goals.’’

Brown, a five-time state champion, will have plenty of help in her final high school meet as the Griffins try to outdo defending Class 3A champ Edwardsville.

East has 16 state qualifiers in 14 events led by the relays and sprints, while field event power Edwardsville has 14 entrants in nine events. Both teams have the top qualifier in three events. Edwardsville has eight entrants that rank among the top five, East has seven.

It could come down to the final race. East ranks second in the 1,600-meter relay (3 minutes, 57.52 seconds) to Belleville West (3:56.34) while Edwardsville has the fourth-best time (3:59.00).

Gerritsen estimates it will take 60 to 70 points, possibly more, to win the 3A title compared to Edwardsville’s 51 points a year ago.

“You’re not going to do that without having other people in other individual events,’’ she said. “That’s where it’s pretty key to have more depth.’’

The depth starts with junior sprinter Alexis Hyshaw, a Naperville North transfer who ranks third in the 100 (12.16 seconds) and 200 (25.14) behind Brown’s top sectional times of 11.83 and 24.57.

“That’s what it’s all about,’’ Hyshaw said of the Griffins’ scoring potential. “We’re trying to win the big title. We need everybody.’’

The 400 relay of Hyshaw, Brown’s sister, Asia, freshman Alexis Pierre-Antoine and Aaliyah Brown should get East off to a fast start on the track. Their 46.62 sectional time is 1.5 seconds faster than the closest challenger.

That foursome also had the second-best sectional time in the 800 relay (1:42.51).

The benefits from training alongside elite runners isn’t lost on junior Meghan Marias, who’s on the 1,600 relay.

“We have such a great opportunity, being able to run with these girls, having the top girls to look up to,’’ Marias said. “They motivate us.’’

Junior Dana O’Grady in the 400 and sophomore Julia Junkroski in the pole vault are expected to contribute in the finals. Junkroski in the high jump, Pierre-Antoine in the hurdles and freshman Alyssa Vogt in the 800 could add valuable points.

“There’s multiple people who’ll be scoring us points,’’ Junkroski said. “It’s going to be a fun time.’’

Kaley McLawhorn is a four-year member of the track and cross country teams who qualified in the 1,600.

Other Southland qualifiers include Homewood-Flossmoor’s Chardae Greenlee, who had the second-best sectional triple jump (38 feet, 2 inches).

The 400 relays from H-F (48.54) and Bloom (48.66) and H-F’s 800 relay (1:43.32) should be able to score points.

Rich Central’s Aliyah Harmon, second in the state long jump last year (19-2½), qualified with an 18-3¼ sectional jump.

But most eyes will be on East’s bid for a state title.

“In 2011, the juniors now were freshmen,’’ Gerritsen said. “They’ve got the state experience now. They know what to expect. They know what they want. It’s the big trophy at the end.’’

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