It will be the last call for... ahh.. for many of the participants in the upcoming 34th installment of the Gene Armer Invitational, who are looking to earn final indoor bests marks and/or automatic qualifying bids to the Illinois Prep Top Times. The meet is hosted by Urbana HS, but it's held inside the cozy U of Illinois-Champaign Armory Track & Floor.
Last year, the key highlight for the girls was when Whitney Young (Chicago) took Aaliyah Brown and her Lincoln-Way East (Frankfort) mates to school on the strength of star speedster Raena Rhone and her Dolphin's dominant exploits. If you recall, Young and the Griffins were mired in a tight battle for most of the meet until Rhone and her supporting cast came up with several big victories. The icing on the cake was Rhone whipping an overzealous Brown on the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay.
Lincoln-Way East will be the team to beat even without Brown and a few steady individuals not in their regular events. The Griffins will load up in the relays and try to better their seed times.
For the boys, Chicago Heights (Bloom Twp.) enjoyed an easier time winning by 19 points. The Trojans lost some key members to graduation but will be a force to reckon with on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Andy Schmitt’s team has run well this winter in several events. The relays appear to be their strengths at this point in the season. They very well could defend their meet championship if the cards fall right.
The boys’ sprints will be hot-
There is one name that has gotten lost in the Cameron James (Edwardsville) saga. His name is Brandon Perod of Triad and he is one of the top stories of the undercover season. Penrod has produced some of the fastest marks of the season in the 55 and 200 thus far. He will be entered in both and looking to better his IL #5 (6.54) and #3 (22.60) marks.
The 55HH should also be a good one with Rashad Hulbert (Crete-Monee)- the state’s barrier specialist who has signed with LSU- dueling with perhaps the most improved hurdler in the state Josh Robinson of Danville. Robinson has improved almost a half-second from year to run 7.77. But it’s Hulbert who is to be watched; he has blazed a personal best and US#23 7.45. Hulbert is also the Gene Armer defending champion.
Meunier and Gaesser will look to shine on Saturday-
The school with the tricky name should be ready to roll out its two best runners. Super seniors Sydni Meunier and Angel Gaesser will lead tiny Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in their first big meet of the year. Meunier, who is one of the premier milers in the state, will be competing in the 1600. The Notre Dame signee opened her season by winning the Charleston Invitational 800 in 2:17. She will make her season debut in the 1600.
Gaesser is known more for her middle distance exploits, but she ran the 200 and 400 at Charleston; she will be in her trademark 800 on Saturday. Ms. Gaesser is the top returnee in the Class A 800.
Girls and boys pole vault fields are deep-
Arguably, the deepest event in the building will be the girls’ pole vault. Normal Community junior Brittany Hull recently captured the US#1 rating with a sensational 13-0.25 effort to win the Big 12 Conference championship. In addition, there will be the steady Sarah Bell (Bloomington Central Catholic)- US#9; Katherine Boyer (Champaign St. Thomas More), Julie Junkrowski (Frankfort Lincoln-Way East), and Jessie Dryden (Carbondale) are to be watched very closely.
Four of the state’s top 25 vaulters will take to the U of I jumping pit on Saturday morning. Senior Clark Cirron of Danville is a talented triple jumper but will only contest the PV where he has jumped 14-7- good for IL#5. Pontiac’s Mark Panno will surely present a strong opposition with 14-6 season best from a week ago at the Jacksonville Invitational. Brandon Carrel (Urbana), and Tyler Ginger (Stanford-Olympia) will provide good competition to the field.