RBHS senior pole vaulter Dean Zigulich qualified for the state meet in pole vault with a personal best of 13 feet one-inch at the Class 3A Morton Sectional (Courtesy RBHS Athletic Department)

Six days before Friday’s Class 3A Morton Sectional track meet, Riverside Brookfield senior pole vaulter Dean Zigulich sprained an ankle moving a mat at a child’s birthday party. He couldn’t vault in practice last week until the day before the sectional.

Zigulich set aside his ankle issue and vaulted a personal best 13 feet one-inch to finish second at the Morton Sectional and qualify for the state meet for the first time.

“I’m very excited,” Zigulich said.

Zigulich and Morton’s Mark Emiliano both cleared 13 feet one inch but Zigulich was awarded second place and the trip to the state meet on the basis of fewer misses. Lyons Township junior Austin Iturralde won the pole vault with a vault of 13 feet seven inches.

Zigulich was one of two RBHS state qualifiers at the meet which was dominated by LTHS. RBHS junior sprinter Jhalen Williams earned a trip to the state meet by finishing second in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.16 seconds. LTHS junior Antwan Thigpen easily won the 100 with a time of 10.72.

LTHS racked up 176 points en route to the sectional title, while RBHS finished fifth with 59 points.

LTHS advanced 12 individuals and three relays to the state meet.

But the first running final of the night caused controversy as the 3,200 relay team from LTHS was initially disqualified by the meet referee after winning the race because their first runner was ruled to have cut in off the first curve too soon.

For about 30 minutes it appeared that the RBHS 3,200 relay team, which finished third behind LTHS and Morton, would be going downstate after being bumped up to second place as a result of the Lions’ disqualification. The top two finishers in each event automatically qualify for the state meet.

But LTHS coach Mike Danner appealed the decision to the meet’s games committee. Apparently, he claimed that the cone that marked where the leadoff runner could cut in after the staggered start on the first turn had been misplaced.

The games committee voted to overrule the disqualification and reinstate the Lions’ first-place finish in the event, bumping the RBHS 3,200 relay team back to a non-state qualifying third-place finish.

After the decision Olson said that he preached sportsmanship to his disappointed relay runners.

“I think everything was done by the book and as disappointing as it is for our kids I think that sometimes these things happen,” Olson said. “If I had (an) issue with anything that happened I would have reached to my AD and see if there was any way to appeal to a higher level.”

RBHS supporters claim that the games committee acted improperly arguing that track and field rules and the Illinois High School Association meet instructions state that a judgement call of the meet referee is not subject to appeal.

The LTHS 3,200 relay team is expected to contend for a medal at the state meet. Although LTHS didn’t put its top runners on the relay at the sectional, the Lions easily won the race with a time of 8:03.04.

RBHS finished third (8:23.13) in the 3,200. Anchor runner Mateo Nunez eased off in his final lap under instructions from RBHS distance coach Larry Forberg because Nunez was too far behind Morton and also competing later in the 3,200-meter and 1,600-meter runs.

Those races turned out to be disappointments for the RBHS junior, who had qualified for state last year as a sophomore in the 3,200. But in the 3,200, which took place less than 30 minutes after his relay leg, Nunez suffered from a side stitch late in the race and faltered at the end to finish a non-qualifying third in 9:53.90 (17 seconds behind second place finisher LTHS senior Matt Begeman).

In the best performance of the night, LTHS sophomore Danny Kilrea ran away with the 3,200 in 9:15.68 (the seventh fastest sectional time in the state).

Nunez finished 4th in the 1,600 with a time of 4:31.85.

Prior to the sectional, RBHS won its fourth consecutive conference title. That accomplishment was particularly sweet for seniors Zigulich, Zach Witken, Jeremiah Clarkson and Andrew LeMesurier who each ran track all four years at RBHS.