Gene Armer Invite produces favorable results for Bloom and Springfield Southeast

by Tony Jones- anthony.jones@espn.com

What was supposed to be an individual highlight show turned out to be a boys and girls team slugfest. Sort of...

Bloom Township (Chicago Heights) won their second consecutive Gene Armer Boys Invitational title with 77 points. The Trojans scrapped and clawed for points in various events throughout the early portion of the meet before finally pulling away from Triad- winning by 25 pts.

Bloom only won three events (400, 1600, and 4x4r) but still showed tremendous depth; the Trojans scored in 12 of 15 events.

Springfield Southeast showed they are closer to reloading than rebuilding after losing a fleet of talent girls through graduation. Despite a strong charge by Whitney Young (Chicago) over the final four events, the Spartans held on for a 47-43 victory. Team leaders Charday Crawford and Elizabeth Canaday pooled their resources with some emerging talent to secure the victory. Crawford won the 55 dash and Canaday placed 4th in the 400. They also won the 4x200r in 1:46.16 and finished things off well in the 4x400r with a solid mark of 4:10.11- good for 3rd.

Boys’ highlights-

The open sprints featured three winners: Julian Hylton (Frankfort Lincoln-Way North), Brandon Penrod (Triad), and Kaleb Williams (Bloom Twp) won the 55, 200, and 400 dashes respectively.

Hylton is a relative unknown to the IHSA track and field scene but not to track itself. The three-sport star had previously excelled in summer track under the guidance of coach Damani Shakoor and his Stealth Bombers Track Club. He went a long way on Saturday in cementing his way into the minds of his 3A foes when the state tournament arrives in May. Hylton blazed 6.48 in the 55 final and upset the favored Penrod very easily 6.48-6.58.

Penrod has enjoyed a very good indoor campaign in that he has scorched the competition on numerous occasions. The 200 final was close because of a talented field but Penrod was in control the entire way. He burst hard out of the blocks and held form through the back stretch and off of the final turn. Williams and company were stuck in chase mold for the entire way.

Williams may have surprised a few non-believers after his seed time of 49.82 popped out in the meet program. However, self-assurance that he could actually achieve the mark right now was never in doubt according to his coach Andy Schmitt. Williams ran 49.20 during last outdoor season which led to some pretty solid indoor marks prior to Gene Armer. The end result was an IL#1 49.78 performance that knocked the socks off of the competition and establish him the early favorite in next week’s IPTT Championship.

The 3200 had its own share of drama in the distance arena. Fans watched a tight pack of 5 runners slug through the first eight laps in 4:54 with Chicago Lane Tech’s Marcelo Burbano, Normal Community’s Ryan O’Leary, and Zach Kingsbury of Palos Heights Shepard leading. O’Leary and Burbano sneakily tried to pull away at the 2k mark but it was O’Leary who would suffer the consequences of the expedited pace and fall back.

Kingsbury stepped up and ran shoulder to shoulder with Burbano for the next three laps. Finally, on the bell lap Burbano turned on the jets and finished things off with a 62-second final 400. Perhaps, he could have run much faster if it were not for being so conservative in the early portion of the meet.

Seniors Rashad Hulbert of Crete-Monee and Josh Robinson from Danville were expecting a tight tilt in the 55HH, but instead the affair turned into a rout for Hulbert. Hulbert, who was the state’s top barrier specialist prior to the meet, remained in that position after a 7.64-7.90 romp. Robinson fought well but Hulbert’s technique and hurdle gliding was too much to overcome.

The boys’ pole vault was very thrilling. The solidly matched field saw four vaulters cleared 14-0 to the crowd’s delight. The next course of action for Joel Swanberg (New Lenox Lincoln-Way Central), Cirron Clark (Danville), Tyler Ginger (Stanford-Olympia), and Mark Panno (Pontiac) was to go to 14-6. Clark was the first to go and he clipped the bar on the way down to his demise. Ginger's fate was similar to Clark’s in that he had the clearance but the body touch prevented him from moving on. Swanberg didn’t fare any better than his three close competitors; he won the competition on less misses.

Girls’ highlights-

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley shouldn’t be faulted for being a two superstar team. Angel Gaesser and Sydni Meunier are two athletes that you don’t want to face solo. The Gene Armer meet usually means the season welcoming party for Gaesser and Meunier. Gasser was the first to compete in an open event. She took charge of the 800 championship just after two laps despite Whitney Young’s Shianne Baggett dogging her. Gaesser pulled away in the final 100 to win in 2:19.21.

Meunier took a more tactical approach to her victory in the 1600. The Notre Dame signee played follow the leader for the first four laps in 2:33- before turning up the heat in the second half of the race. Meunier took charge entering the 3rd 400 and opened up a sizable gap on Bloomington Central Catholic’s Alex Van Hoof, who previously led. Meunier passed through the 1200 in 3:48.5 and appeared to be shooting for sub- 5:00. She was able to reach the bell lap around 4:25 and clearly within reach of a goal that few girls in Illinois have ever achieved indoors. The final result was a stunning 4:59.73- a mark that is #2 all-time for meet purposes and IL#3/US#22 listings.

Brittany Hull (Normal Community) and Sarah Bell (Bloomington Central Catholic) are more than great friends. They are great competitors and that was very evident at the Armory in the pole vault. Hull is the US#1 ranked vaulter and Bell has the US#9 tag to her name. So, it was fitting that the winning effort would come down to the very end. Hull and Bell both cleared 12-0 to tie the meet record from 2005. The height was moved up to 12-6. Hull made the height on her second attempt but Bell missed on all three of her attempts. Hull asked for the height to be moved up to 13-3.25. It was unsure why that height since she already has the nation’s best mark and presumably the state’s all-time record indoors. Perhaps Hull was going for the overall all-time best (not sure what it is for Illinois since the event is still relatively new). Hull had the most of her three attempts despite having a sore quad. She hit the pole flush on the first effort. The second attempt featured a run up delay that took nearly two minutes to finally complete. That attempt was probably the best one as Hull got skyward over most of the bar but hit it solidly coming down. The final effort was slightly off from #2 but still worth the watch. Afterwards, Hull didn’t appear overjoyed: “I wanted to try this height… despite having a sore quad.” She indicated that she will shut down most of her training for the week leading up to IPTT. “Hopefully, I will be alright next weekend,” she said.