High expectations as H-F boys track team aims for state title

  Homewood-Flossmoor High hurdler Matt Lewis-Bank,
  third from right, helped the team advance at the
  2017 IHSA finals. (Provided photo)
 
Raising the bar.
 
The expression comes from the high jump and pole vault events of track and field. Each athlete tries to jump over a bar at a set height. Then the bar is raised. Those who succeeded make more attempts at the new height, until only one athlete remains as the winner.
 
This year, the entire boys track team at Homewood-Flossmoor Hight School is raising the bar.
 
The Vikings come off their best season in school history with few 2017 graduations and a talented lineup. H-F boasts one of the deepest groups of sprinters and hurdlers in IHSA Class 3A, plus strong middle distance, proven horizontal jumps and, yes, a top returning high jumper.
 
“Few coaches have the fortune to coach a group of athletes like this,” said veteran H-F coach Nate Beebe. “We have the luxury of making a number of different combinations in different events. Even if we’re at a meet where we’re limited to two runners for an individual event, we can put different kids in relays and do quite well.”
 
This is how good the Vikings can be this year: H-F’s defending state champions in the 4x100 meter relay are returning — the whole relay. Joshua Bridges, who ran the first leg in last year’s final, and Jesuseun Adeyiga are juniors. Matthew Lewis-Banks and anchor Marcel Ellis are seniors.
 
Bridges owns the state’s second-best indoor time this season in the 200 meters.
 
“Josh really is coming into his own.  He’s competing at a whole new level,” Beebe said.
 
Lewis-Banks could make an even bigger impact in the hurdles. Last spring, Lewis-Banks placed 8th in the high hurdles at O’Brien Field in Charleston and 10th in the low hurdles.
H-F senior Grant Floyd also returns, after running a leg in the Vikings 4x200 relay that placed fourth at state last season. He was joined by Bridges, Adeyiga and Ellis in that race.
If that isn’t enough, H-F can call on Marshall Ellis, Marcel’s younger brother, to compete in sprints on the varsity level.
 
“Marshall is making some noise. He has the potential to make his way into some of the relays,” Beebe said.
 
The Vikings have more talent in the 400 meters.  Three runners are back from the 4x400 team that placed fourth at the 2017 state finals. Christian Reed, a junior, is H-F’s top runner in the event. Senior Tyler Roberson and junior Davell Clemon hope to return to the state finals and junior Jalen Hunter is ready to step up, Beebe said. 
 
But H-F is not just a sprint school.  Stewart Keene, a senior, returns as a state qualifier in the individual 800 meters and leadoff runner for the Vikings 4x800 relay that also went downstate. Clemson, Roberson and junior Jalen Robinson are back from that relay.
 
For depth in middle distance the Vikings can turn to sophomore Jazz Jabulani, who turned in some of the team’s best indoor times for the 800 and 1,600 meters.
 
Off the track, H-F expects success in the long jump and triple jump with two long jump state finalists returning for another season. E.J. Burruss took sixth place in the event at last year’s state meet and Reed placed 11th.
 
Cole Willis was a state qualifier in the high jump last season and will be joined at H-F by junior transfer Quinton Stringfellow, who was a conference champ at Lincoln-Way East.
“Obviously, we have a lot of kids who came in with talent, but their development has been very good,” Beebe said. “We were lucky enough to have them come through our system.  They worked hard and worked smart and they’re developing very nicely.”
 
It’s no surprise that the Vikings are setting such a high bar for success. H-F won both the South West Suburban Conference title and placed first in its IHSA 3A sectional last spring.  The Vikings scored 28 team points at the state meet for fifth place overall, the best finish ever for an H-F boys track team. With the help of wheelchair athlete Aaron Holiday, who graduated in 2017, H-F also won the inaugural IHSA wheelchair and able-bodied combined state title.
 
“Our expectations are pretty high,” Beebe said. “There will be a lot of expectations on this team from outside, but it’s no greater than the expectations that we set for ourselves.  We’ll take care of what we can. The results, the state titles, the awards and records and all that stuff will all happen according to that.”
 
The Vikings have a schedule to match. They started off with the ASICS Mt. Carmel meet in California, which draws elite teams from throughout the West. This month H-F competes at the Belleville West meet, where they will face off with the top two teams in Illinois from last year, Edwardsville and East St. Louis Senior.
 
H-F’s marquee home meet will be its invitational on Saturday, April 14. The 23 teams will include rival Bolingbrook, Rock Island, Lake Central (Indiana), long distance favorite St. Ignatius and local powerhouses Crete-Monee, Thornridge and Hillcrest. Lockport will bring John Meyer, the top ranked shot putter in the country.
 
“We have some strong competition, across the board.  We go in with the attitude that we will run against the very best, all of the time,” Beebe said. “In my 17 years in Illinois track and field, this is the best group of young men that I’ve had the pleasure to coach.”
 

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