by Tony Jones
The question of the second, of the minute, of the hour, of the day, and of the year is ‘how can we beat Springfield Southeast?’ The answer is probably no one considering the Lady Spartans will return its two best athletes on the track and in the field. Charday Crawford is the 100 and 200 defending state champion and Brion Portis is the defending triple jump champion and soon to be great long jumper. Everything else about the Lady Spartans will be detailed in the team caption.
There will be two familiar names added to the league in Chicago Morgan Park and E. St. Louis Sr. These two legendary programs with two living legend coaches have won over 20 state championships between them. Morgan Park head Derrick Calhoun has tasted the 2A ranks two seasons ago and did very well. He will have his girls ready for the change again. Nino Fennoy on the other hand has never dropped below the top division. It doesn’t matter though. He will bring his girls wherever there is a track meet.
Head Coach: Barb Montgomery
Key returning athletes: Charday Crawford (Sr.), Justice Collins (Sr.), Halle Devoe (Sr.), Shirley Jones (Jr.), Brion Portis (Sr.), Yakira Washington (Sr.), Shaniera Wilson (Jr.).
Key events: LJ, TJ, SP, DT, HJ, 100, 200, 4x1r, 4×2, 4×4.
Outlook: There will be a new sheriff over at Southeast. Or should we say Sheriff-ette? Long time coach and ITCCCA hall of famer Thomas McBride has retired and handed the reins to former long time assistant Barb Montgomery. Montgomery should be in good hands with the talent she is inheriting and helped shaped over the years. For starters, she has two of the top track and field athletes in the state in Charday Crawford and Brion Portis. Crawford won the 100 and 200 state titles last year with ease and added two relay medals (4×1, 4×2) to her massive trophy case. A possible 40 points will once again be a reality if health, fortune, and of course hunger are the ingredients to getting the job done. Crawford’s ace teammate Portis will have the assignment of field general. Last year, Portis won the state triple jump title by nearly a foot. Now, her nearest competitor going into this season is almost two-feet in the rear. Portis is also a long jump threat after placing 8th last spring. The supporting cast will be tight as well. Look for role players Justice Collins and Yakira Washington run great relay legs all spring long. They both were on the state championship 4×1 and 4×2 squads.
E. St. Louis Sr.-
Head Coach: Nino Fennoy
Key returning athletes: Rachel Campbell (Jr.), Micayla Collins (Sr.), Dynesha Powell (Jr.), Markita Rush (Sr.), Rineka Simmons (So.), Daria Walker (Jr.).
Key events: LJ, TJ, 100, 200, 400, 100H, 300H, 4×1, 4×2, 4×4.
Outlook: The Flyerettes have gone from a dynasty program in the late 1970s to the early 1990s to non-existent in the mid-90s to early 2000s. They are back again ready to do battle with whoever is in their path. This time it will be from the 2A ranks and not the 3A where they have dwelled since eternity. The main question is do the Flyerettes have enough ammo to battle with Springfield Southeast? On paper they look like a formable force with hurdle specialist Markita Rush leading the way. Rush will be in charge of both barrier races and two relays. She would be the leading choice in the individual stuff if not for Shamier Little (Sr., Chicago Lindblom) being the best hurdler in the Illinois universe. Depth will not be an issue as Micayla Collins and Daria Walker will back up Rush on the relays. Rachel Campbell will be an instrumental in several events this season for her team. Dynesha Powell should be one of the league’s best triple jumpers by year’s end. All in all, it is going to be difficult to keep the Flyettes out of the trophy race.
Melrose Park (Walther Lutheran)-
Head Coach: Marcia Eberhard
Key returning athletes: Isimeme Edeko (Sr.), MaShayla Kirksy (Sr.), Melanie Ransom (Sr.), Anna Strong (Sr.), Arra Strong (Sr.), Ebony Sykes (Sr.).
Key events: LJ, TJ, 4×1, 4×2, 4×4, 100, 200, 400.
Outlook: The Broncos finished a distant but strong second place to the Springfield Southeast last year in the state championship. Coach Eberhard will return a deep upperclassmen lineup full of state championship meet experience. Hopefully, that will turn into a big gold medal plaque. MaShayla Kirksy is going to have to continue her rise in the 2A ranks in order for her team to overthrow the three-time champion Spartans. Kirksy hit on a wind legal 19-3 long jump win last year. She is the odds on favorite to repeat again. As well, her presence in another event like the 100 and 200 or relays will be needed. Teammates Melanie Ransom will be running well in the relays again. Look for the Strong sisters to team up and boost the relays and one or two open events if needed.
Who else to watch:
Chicago Lindblom is really ‘Team Shamier Little’ so let’s be real about it. Until the IHSA changes the scoring system at state, there will always be the possibility that a once in a life time athlete will have an opportunity to win a team title. In last year’s state championship, Little put on one of the most impressive performances that any fan of track and field has ever seen. Little won the 100H, 400, 300H, and finished second in the 200. She racked up 38 pts and carried home the 3rd place trophy. This may not happen this season because of the willingness to just finish the season in one piece and move on to college at Texas A&M. We may see her run just three events spaced out at state. But who knows.
Chicago Morgan Park will lean on senior Elexis Fairley to hold the Mustangs hopes high. The former all-state athlete will seek to get back on track. If coach Calhoun can surround Fairley with some complementary athletes, the Mustangs will once again be in the hunt as a team to beat.