Danville, Centennial sophomores earn titles
MATTOON – It was good to be a sophomore at Thursday's Big 12 Conference boys' track and field meet.
Danville's Cameron Stringfellow-Ford (discus) and Centennial's Michael Neal (100 meters, 200) represented the sophomore class in fine style, capturing conference titles on a cold, blustery evening. Neither had an easy stroll, either.
Neal had a busy night – unconventionally so. It started well, as Neal won the 100 in 10.9 after his chief competition – Normal Community's top-seeded Melvin Hicks – false-started in the final.
"I was really looking forward to running against him," Neal said. "He's a great athlete. I was ready to run the best 100 of my life."
After some rest, Neal came back to capture the 200 final in 22.03 by holding off Bloomington's Jeshiah Campbell. That left the 1,600 relay, the next and final event. Neal gave it a shot.
Normally there are two final heats of the 1,600 relay, but not Thursday. With the event scratched down to one heat, Neal had less than 10 minutes of recovery time before anchoring the Chargers' squad.
Despite cramping up during the race, Neal helped Centennial take second in 3 minutes, 34.84 seconds.
"I'm pretty tired," Neal said, after a lengthy stretching workout to iron out his cramps. "It's my butt, my thighs, my calves – they all cramped up at once."
Neal's work helped the Chargers place fourth, the best of area schools. Favored Bloomington won with 142 points. Centennial had 72, and fifth-place Central scored 57.
Stringfellow-Ford fashioned a bit of drama in his victory. Seeded second, he needed to revert to a power technique – a simple approach that relies on an athlete's raw power – to get a finals-qualifying mark. Then a pep talk from coach Steve Luke got him going.
"Coach Luke came to me and said, 'I expect you to do better and you know you can. You're letting me down right now,'" Stringfellow-Ford said. "I thought about that when I got in the ring and just let it go."
On his last attempt in the finals – trailing by more than 10 feet – Stringfellow-Ford made a toss of 140 feet, 10 inches, more than 2 feet better than the runner-up.
Centennial junior Davin Dollison was the only other area winner, taking the triple jump at 43 feet.
The most surprising result came in the high jump, where Urbana's unbeaten Mykhail Chambers was upset. Chambers, who owns the state's top mark of 6-10 this season, cleared 6-4 to tie three others, with the final standings being determined by the fewest misses. Normal West's Troy Walls was placed first, Chambers third and Centennial's Eric Simmons fourth.
Urbana coach Harbert Jones said Chambers didn't handle the chilly conditions.
"I told him to come inside (during the early portion of the competition), but he didn't want to," Jones said.
Simmons also earned a second in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and a fourth in the 110 high hurdles, both races won by Bloomington standout Tyler Sipes.
Central had a pair of sprint relays post second-place finishes. Quantrel Hedrick was second in the long jump before an injury sidelined him for the 200. James Carter was second to Neal in the 100.
"I thought they did a great job," Central coach Argie Johnson said. "We did some things a little differently. We took Russell Wetzel out of the (3,200 relay) to see what he could do for us in the 3,200, just trying to look ahead and see where we could score some points and possibly win that sectional. Overall, with the times we got, given the weather, they did great."