Through My Lens 2016

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 3 Comments

I wrote my first Through My Lens after the 2014 state meet. The article was a rambling recap of the weekend though my eyes and through the lens of my Canon 20d with a 85mm f/1.8 telephoto lens.

I wrote again after the state meet last year, Through My Lens 2015.

And here we are again.

I’ve been attending the state meet since 1982 but I didn’t really pay close attention until I became the head track coach at Harrisburg in 1990. I’ve paid attention ever since.

Thousands of people attend the wildly popular IHSA State Track & Field Meet. Every individual sits in their own seat, talks to their own people, and sees the competition through their own filter. I write to organize my own thoughts and reflect.

Four New All-Time State Meet Records

Last summer I predicted 13 new state records (regardless of class). We had only four. What happened?

Ja’Mari Ward injured his knee at the Collinsville Invite on May 7. Ja’Mari would have surely broken two state records in the long jump and triple jump. Ja’Mari’s marks of 25’6.75″ and 53’7.5″ may not be topped in Illinois for 100 years.

East St. Louis would have surely broken a couple of relay records but they chased team points instead. The Flyers won the 4×4 running 3:15.35 despite two of their runners doing the impossible double of the 200/4×4. Roosevelt Davis and Marlowe Mosley placed 5th and 6th in the 200 before they ran the 4×4 ten minutes later. East St. Louis placed 2nd in the 4×2 despite two of their best athletes, Deonte Anderson and Marlowe Mosley, running the 400 instead. In other words, East St. Louis ran 1:27.09 in the 4×2 with their B-team. In order to score more points than Edwardsville, records had to be sacrificed.


Roosevelt Davis of East St. Louis ran the 4×1, 4×2, 200, and 4×4. How does someone get 5th in the 200 and 10 minutes later run a 47.4 split in the 4×4?


Sandburg broke the state record in the 4×8 when they ran 7:37.36 (US #2). What a year it’s been for distance coach John O’Malley. In the fall, John’s cross country team won the state title. If not for the injury to Dylan Jacobs, Sandburg may have been national champions.

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Tom Brennan (1:56.9), Dylan Jacobs (1:56.6), Chris Torpy (1:52.5), and Sean Torpy (1:50.9). The Torpy twins will run at Miami of Ohio next year. Photo Credit Colin B Photography


How about Josh Eiker (in the headline picture) winning the 100 with a record time of 10.34? Many will talk about wind but I choose to talk about the time. For those focused on wind instead of performance, how about Eiker’s 200 times into that strong wind? Josh Eiker ran 21.49 Friday and 21.61 on Saturday. Had he not run against the wind, I am sure he would have broken the state 200 record. I’m excited to see Coach Turk’s Fighting Illini track team next year.

My high hurdle prediction came true. Travis Anderson ran 13.59 in the prelims and 13.71 in the finals. The track & field curmudgeons of the world immediately discounted the incredible times as wind-aided despite the fact that AJ Harris of Wheaton North set the record (13.79) on a day that featured 35 mph gusts and dozens of team tents were destroyed. Wind played a part in every state track meet for over one hundred years before wind gauges were introduced about ten years ago. In a fantasy match-up between AJ Harris and Travis Anderson, my money is on Travis.

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Travis Anderson in the finals of the 110 HH. Most people didn’t expect Travis Anderson to dominate William Session of Belleville East this year. Edwardsville returns 40 of their 42 points next year.

Wind was not an issue with the discus record of 205’11”.  A.J. Epenesa, also of Edwardsville, created quite a stir around the usually quiet discus ring.  A.J. is only a junior.  FACT:  A.J. Epenesa only throws the discus eight weeks a year. In Edwardsville, kids play multiple sports. Epenesa plays football in the summer and fall, basketball in the winter, and track in the spring. Edwardsville’s success makes me question the importance of outsiders:  personal trainers, the parasites of 7-on-7,  summer track clubs, and AAU basketball. Wink.


This is what A.J. Epenesa was doing in June last summer. Contrary to popular belief, specialization is bad for everyone. Multi-sport athletes are healthier, mentally and physically, than those who specialize.

In a way, A.J. Epenesa and Travis Anderson are like grandsons to me. A.J. is coached by my good friend Matt Martin who is also the ultra-successful head football coach at Edwardsville (43-6 in past four seasons). I knew Matt when he was the head coach at Granite City back in 2007. Tim Kane and I almost had Matt locked up to come to Plainfield North to be our offensive line coach and throws coach. There was a glitch when Plainfield Schools decided Matt Martin may have too much experience to hire. These days the only teachers who get interviews in Plainfield are those who will start at the bottom of our pay scale.

I hear Travis Anderson stories every time I talk on the phone to Alec. Travis is a colorful kid. I activated Travis before he won the 110 high hurdles on Saturday. Travis later snuck up behind me and tickled me. I don’t think I’ve ever been tickled at a track meet.

Last August my family and the families of Chad, Matt, and several other Edwardsville coaches spent a week on the beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Destination weddings are the best.

I’m looking forward to my first grandson, Kendrick Anthony Holler, who is due in September.  Kendrick will probably run the hurdles for the Edwardsville in the spring of 2032. I will be 73.

Consortium Breeds Sprint Success

Top finishers in 3A 4×1

  1. East St. Louis
  2. Minooka
  3. South Elgin
  4. Rock Island
  5. Metea Valley
  6. Edwardsville
  7. Huntley
  8. Glenbard West
  9. Lake Forest

Seven of the schools above attended the Track-Football Consortium last December. Is this a coincidence?

The two guys who hosted the consortium had some bad luck at the state meet. My 4×1 team failed in the state prelims but ended IL #4. Chris Korfist’s Montini team got disqualified in the finals. Montini ended the season IL #3 in the Class 2A 4×1.

Brian Evans coaches the girls juggernaut at Lincoln-Way East. LWE blazed the 4×1 in 46.68 to win by a mile. The second place team ran 48.40.  Brian Evans attended December’s Consortium.

This is more than a shameless attempt to drive attendance at the TFC-3, this is an all-call to join us. I’m sick and tired of those coaches who still believe that coaching only occurs in the field events, hurdles, and distance events. These knuckleheads believe sprinting is talent while everything else is technique and hard work. Speed can be taught. Speed grows like a tree but it grows. “Feed the Cats” and maybe your team will be in the finals of the 4×1 next year. If interested, here is the link: sign up now.

For more information here are two articles:

Three Sprint Coaches to Watch

As I enter the fourth quarter of my coaching life, I am increasingly interested in the development of young coaches. I am looking for guys who may become the coaching stars of the future. Guys who are willing to fight the good fight for a career. Guys who aren’t planning their exit strategy from coaching to enter the high-paying administrative pipeline to spend their days supervising cafeterias, parking lots, and sporting events.

I think I may have found three guys that meet my criteria.

Tyrone Jones of Hoffman Estates had a breakout season. Last year Hoffman Estates scored 24 points at Sectional. This year Hoffman Estates won the Metea Valley Sectional scoring 91.

I’ve known Tyrone Jones since his high school days at Centralia. Tyrone caught the eye of the University of Illinois when his high school coach, the legendary Rod White of Centralia, entered Tyrone in the 4×8, 4×1, 800, and 400 at the Marion Sectional. All four events qualified. Tyrone Jones ran 46.20 in the 400 for the Illini.

This year, Hoffman Estates was led by Declan Rustay. Rustay placed 3rd in the 3A 100 meters running 10.68. Declan, only a sophomore, also led Hoffman Estates to school records in the 4×1 (42.18) and 4×2 (1:28.37). His 200 best was 21.70 at Sectional.

Declan Rustay, along with having an interesting name, has an interesting story. The son of a soccer-playing mom and a lacrosse-playing father, Declan grew up playing the family sports. When given the opportunity to race, Declan fell in love. The rest is history. We will hear lots of Declan Rustay’s Hoffman Estates team in the next couple years.

By the way, Tyrone Jones attended our December consortium and Declan Rustay has visited the basement of Chris Korfist. Coincidence?


Declan Rustay is the guy in lane-6 with the white uniform. Rustay ran a wind-aided 10.46 (+5.4). In the race pictured Declan finished 3rd in the finals running 10.68.


Joe Stevens of Metea Valley had a record-breaking season. Metea Valley shattered their old 4×1 school record of 42.79, running 41.92 at Sectional.  Metea went on to place 5th in the 3A 4×1. Jordan Cagigal ran 1:58 in the 4×8 at Top Times even though he was trained all year as a sprinter. Joe Stevens and I have breakfast together often at Plainfield Delight. Joe’s kids get activated every meet. Freelap is central to Metea’s sprint workouts. Metea’s sprinters have been trained like cats, not dogs.

Check out Metea’s new school records:

  • Alonzo Taylor-Jones:  indoor 55 and 200, outdoor 100
  • Amiri Finner: indoor and outdoor Long Jump and Triple Jump
  • Jordon Cagigal: indoor 4×8 & 400, outdoor 200 & 400
  • 4×1 & 4×2
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From left to right: Amiri Finner, Alonzo Taylor-Jones, Coach Stevens, Ben Loutsis, and Jordan Gagigal. ELEVEN new school records by this group who embraced Be-Activated, Freelap, and Feed the Cats. Coincidence?


Cam Culpepper has put South Elgin on the map.  Coach Culpepper put together one of the fastest teams in the state. South Elgin was led by Jaurice Thomas who placed 3rd in the state 200m. Jaurice ranked IL #9 with a time of 21.67. Jaurice Thomas is a football player who did not run track until his junior season. Cam Culpepper was Jaurice’s sophomore football coach.

South Elgin broke their previous school record in the 4×1 (42.34) blazing a 41.64 in the state prelims. Culpepper’s sprinters finished 3rd in the state. South Elgin did this without the services of Shawn Griffin (10.83 in 100m) who suffered a hip injury in football.

To be perfectly honest, South Elgin, like Hoffman Estates and Metea Valley, has never been a player at the state level.  Cam Culpepper has embraced ideas he learned at TFC-2 … Feed the Cats training, timing 10m flys, 30m starts, etc. Freelap is coming soon. Like Metea Valley, South Elgin went south for the Belleville West Invitational. An amazing EIGHT of the top-13 4×1 teams in Illinois ran at the Belleville West Invite. South Elgin finished 6th that day running 43.47.


South Elgin (lane-6, red tank) survived this early hand-off (runner must be in zone at first touching of baton) to run 41.64 and win their prelim heat. Jaurice Thomas of South Elgin is the super-fast anchor leg.


Let’s Talk About the IHSA

Shelbyville Coach Kevin Kramer tweeted “Just in from the IHSA – due to chance of rain the entire month of May 2017, next year’s state meet will be on a rolling schedule.”  Coach Kramer put a wink at the end so the IHSA would know he was just kidding. Wink.

Before I go further, let me explain the term “rolling schedule”. Meets can be run two ways. You can have a time schedule where runners know the time of their race and the meet has adequate rest periods between races, or, you can throw the time schedule out and run the meet as fast as humanly possible.

Here’s an analogy. A football game starts at 7:30 on Friday night. There are numerous timeouts allowed, teams take a short break between quarters, and a 15 minute break at halftime. If there is a chance of rain that night, should the officials eliminate timeouts, quarter breaks, and halftime? I’m sure the officials would enjoy the game lasting about an hour, but would this be good for the players?

With the potential for rain on Friday and Saturday, IHSA officials had decisions to make.

I picture the IHSA brass (former high school principals) sitting around drinking coffee early last Friday, checking Doppler radar on their iPhone and seeing the green blob that might be headed for Charleston. The panic must have been intense. The fact that we had multiple 30-minute delays in 2015 due to distant thunder must have made them all skittish.

The field events were moved into the field house for the Class 2A prelims Friday morning. The time schedule was thrown out. But it didn’t rain.

We all have phones. We all could see the hurricane to our south had mysteriously disappeared. The tiny spots of green had no embedded yellows or reds, no signs of severe thunderstorms.

These days you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The IHSA then doubled down, betting on bad weather in the afternoon. Afternoon 3A field events were moved indoors and the rolling schedule stayed in effect.

Just like school administrators everywhere, the IHSA rejects criticism. Management is never wrong. Coaches criticizing decisions of the IHSA reminds me of Bernie Sanders criticizing Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and DNC. As the John Cougar line goes, “When I fight authority, authority always wins.”

If I was in charge, I would have regretted my error in judgement. I would have lost sleep over the kids who had no rest between races. I would have wondered how many shot putters had bad days throwing. Daniel McQuaid detailed shot put problems in his article, Some Thoughts on the Throws at the State Meet.

Let’s get this straight. Eight hours of track and field was reduced to about six on Friday. Five field events were moved indoors. Not one umbrella was ever opened. No one got wet. One IHSA official mumbled the company line, “Hindsight is 20/20”.

So, did the IHSA learn from their error on Friday?

Saturday’s field events were held outdoors in the sunny 80-degree heat. Good decision.

However, the time schedule for running events was thrown out. We hurried through the meet for a rain that never came. Everyone was home before dark, but performances were affected. Is the meet for the kids?

Talk to teams who had multiple athletes competing in multiple events. Mitch West of Montini ran the 4×1, 100, and 4×2 within a 60 minute period in the Friday prelims. This basically means you sit in the clerk’s tent for 15 minutes, you run your race, exit the stadium, then rush back to the clerk’s tent so you don’t get disqualified for your next race.

For the state finals, no names were read for the athletes standing on the awards podium. “Here are the medalists for the 100 meter dash”.  That’s it.  Reading the names of every medalist would slow down the meet and risk a rain that never came.

A rolling schedule results in slower times and fewer record performances. There is no argument. If big storms are on the way, let’s run the meet fast. If there is 20% chance of rain and no thunderstorms in the area, keep the time schedule.

The running events finished early and the people went home. Several field events continued long past the conclusion of the running events.  Charleston was, once again, a ghost town by the time the championship teams received their trophies.

My criticism is not personal. I’m sure the people making these decisions are pillars of virtue, have wonderful families, and attend church on Sundays. But what’s up with their decision-making?

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

I’ve had unusual success at state track meets. This year I coached my 44th all-state relay team when my 4×2 placed 5th in 3A running 1:27.67. This is my 27th year as a head coach.

  • 13 all-state 4×1 teams
  • 13 all-state 4×2 teams
  • 15 all-state 4×4 teams
  • 3 all-state 4×8 teams

Maybe I need to spend more time with the 4×8.

Sprint coaches are proud and competitive people. Our demeanor can sometimes be seen as arrogant and narcissistic. But I’m really not that way … really.

My 4×1 team was the fastest of any I have ever coached. We ran 42.23 in mid-April, 41.87 in early May, and 41.72 at Sectional. At state we failed to execute the final exchange.


Clay Paysen swore he did not leave early. This picture proves it. We want the back foot completing the first step (bang step) when the incoming runner is between the two tennis balls (here 16 & 20 feet). Joe Stiffend’s foot is down and Clay is not quite done with his bang step. If anything, Clay left late. However, study the picture further. Our incoming #3 runner is taught to hug the inside line with good body lean. The anchor runner in lane-4 has his butt 6-12 inches into our lane. I see this all the time at the state meet. No one notices unless pictures are taken. If Joe Stiffend continues, he will collide with the runner from Hoffman Estates.



Clay Paysen is driving out big and strong, just as he is taught. However, Joe Stiffend has slowed down and moved to the outside of his lane to avoid the runner in lane-4 who now has his elbow in our lane. In order to make the hand-off, Joe will have to find a way to get back inside and regain top speed. This doesn’t happen of course, and Joe never catches Clay. We don’t do safe hand-offs, we do fast hand-offs. There is little margin for error. We would have run a time near 41.70. Should there have been a disqualification? No. However, I hope that coaches aren’t teaching the butt-interference technique. Like I say, I see it every year. Butt-out and feet pointed sideways is not a normal take-off position but it does a good job interfering with the lane outside of yours.

When Joe Stiffend failed to connect with teammate Clay Paysen, a dagger went into my gut. No matter how much you prepare for the possibility of failure, you are never truly prepared. This 4×1 team was special. My kids took it hard.

I sent my relay coach (my son, Quinn) to rally the troops. 15 minutes later, I called Quinn and asked if I needed to make an appearance. His reply, “Uh … yeah.”

Baggett, Houslet, Stiffend, and Paysen were sitting apart in the bleachers of a dark and eerie Lantz Gym. I can’t remember seeing four sadder kids.

I tried to lighten the mood with humor.  “Guys, we ran a great 3×1 today.”  I thought all four were going to burst into tears.

I gave my best sermon.

I love you guys. No one can take away everything we accomplished this year. One race does not define us. If we execute the final exchange we win our heat by ten meters, but that’s behind us.

I won’t tell you to forget the 4×1 and focus on the 4×2.

Instead, I will tell you this. You have a choice. You have a choice every day. We all live through bad times and good. You can choose to carry the crap in your life with you or you can choose to let it go. I choose to let it go.  I choose to wake up every day and forgive myself and move forward. Today I choose to forgive the 4×1 and get excited about the 4×2. But, the choice is yours. Good luck.

The expression on my kid’s faces did not change. No one pumped their fist in the air and said “LET’S GO!”  I left quietly in the darkness of Lantz Gym.

I really didn’t want to be around people. I saw Andy Derks leaving the restricted area on the east side of the track. Andy introduced me to a former professor of his from Eastern who was manning the gate and I sweet-talked my way into the competition area. I went to far side of the track where the 1st and 3rd 4×2 exchanges would occur and I waited. I wanted to be close to my team, not at the top of the stands.

My team showed up to run but their faces were still sad. We got beat by eventual state champion, Minooka, but we ran well and placed 2nd. We ran the 2nd best non-winning time of the four prelim heats, so we qualified for finals. The next day we ran 1:27.67 from lane-8 and placed 5th. Our time was a season-best. My kids made the right choice.

Ranking My Biggest Disasters

My wife, Jill, asked me Saturday night how the Friday 4×1 ranks in my worst-ever track moments. Wow, what a question! Surely, going into the 3A state meet with a chance to be 4×1 state champions only to fail in the prelims must rank near the top. The ranking of tragedies ain’t easy, so I will just list my top-10 in chronological order.

  1. Harrisburg’s 4×4 disqualification in 1992 prelims. Chad Lakatos (now Edwardsville coach) anchored our 4×4 in a time of 48.2 coming from 30 meters behind to win the final heat of the Class A prelims. Ten minutes later Chad informed me we had been disqualified because our lead-off runner ran three steps on the line. We had run 3:25 and the state champs ran 3:28 the next day.
  2. Damon Lampley no-heighting at the 1994 state meet. Damon placed 3rd in the high jump in 2A as a sophomore in 1993, without a single miss until the bar was put at 6’10”.  Somehow, he failed to clear a height in the finals of 1994. Damon’s senior year he cleared 7’0″ or better 13 times and became Class A state champ.
  3. Harrisburg’s 4×1 failed exchange in 1995 prelims. Anyone can botch an exchange. It is almost a miracle when everything goes right. But, we were the #1 ranked 4×1 team with a time almost a second faster than any other Class A team. Josh Gidcumb and Boone Cohlmeyer were devastated. We put it behind us and took home the big trophy.
  4. Harrisburg’s 1998 meltdown in the finals. We were prohibitive favorites to win the state title but placed 3rd. Our 7:53 4×8 team ran 8:02.86 and our 3:19 4×4 ran 3:20.77.  Both placed 2nd. Antwan Garnett and Brian Weiss could have placed 1-2 in the 800 but did not place (their sectional times ranked them #1 and #3 in Class A). Patton Segraves scored only one point in the 400. We scored 30 points but left another 30 on the table. I can’t describe our collective sadness. We got our revenge in 1999.
  5. Harrrisburg’s 4×2 failed exchange in 2000 prelims. We were the only Class A team under 1:30 but Brad Brachear slipped and fell on a rainy track right before he got to Braden Jones for the 2nd exchange. The next year Jones and Brachear led their relay teams to two Class A state records running 42.50 and 1:28.06 and a team state championship.
  6. Franklin’s (TN) failed 4×2 exchange in 2006 TSSAA State Meet. John Hewitt, Jonathon Haynes, Deontray “Redbone” Siske, and Todd Campbell had a chance to be state champions in the 4×2 but it wasn’t in the cards. After we medaled in the 4×4, me and my sons got into a beat up car and drove all night to see Cahokia dominate the IHSA State Meet.
  7. North’s 2008 4×1 false start at West Aurora Sectional. We were ranked #1 at our Sectional but we false started. Strangely, the FAT system used a “noisemaker” instead of a gun. Deon Strong thought he heard a beep. He was wrong. This was the only meet in my 35 years of coaching where no gun was used. We might have been 4×1 state champs in 2008.
  8. Derick Suss pulling his hamstring in 2012 state finals.  We had four seniors whose PRs indicated we could run 3:16 but Derick Suss went down hard. This worst-ever track moment turned into the best-ever track moment when Derick limped 300 meters in order to finish for his teammates. We proudly accepted our 9th place medals.
  9. Zion Mason’s disqualification in 2013 prelims for reporting 17 minutes before the 110 hurdles. I wrote at length about this avoidable disqualification in my Tribute to Zion. By the way, the clerks in the tent now get rave reviews by coaches. Someone from the IHSA might have read my article.
  10. North’s failed 4×1 exchange at the 2016 state meet. My guys honestly believe we would have beat East St. Louis in the finals.

Every catastrophe on my top-10 list turned into a teachable moment. Many of the worst moments were preludes to the best moments. Here is a tweet from Joe Stiffend’s mom just minutes after the 4×1 …

Our greatest lessons come from our failures, not from our wins. Get ’em focused on the 4×2, it’s not over yet! #GoTigers

We can choose to carry our failures with us or we can forgive ourselves and focus on the next race. This choice is ours to make every day.


We Are All In This Together

While we are on the subject of life, we must remember those fighting for theirs. Minooka’s track team is setting an example for all of us. Sprint coach Mark Smith has cancer and the situation is bad, real bad.  Head track coach Nick Lundin is leading a state-wide effort to help the family of Coach Smith. We never know when it will be our time to show courage in the face of defeat.

Here is what Nick Lundin wrote last week – No More Excuses, the Coach Smith I Know.

Please donate to the cause at GoFundMe.

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A picture of me shaking hands with Coach Smith at the Belleville West Invite in 2015. Minooka and Plainfield North have always had a special bond.

Mark Smith was at our consortium in December. He was eager to learn activation. Later in December he brought kids to my Sprint Showcase. I have not seen Coach Smith since.

Last Wednesday night after reading Nick’s article, I had to send Coach Smith a text. I had no idea what to say. This is all could come up with …

Total respect. Stand Tall.  – Coach Holler

Let’s do what we can to help Coach Smith’s young family.

Comments 3

  1. Coach Holler – I’ve read each of these since you started writing them and they are an awesome reflection of each state meet. It’s awesome to see speed training take hold and show really positive results. I know we tried our best to “Feed the cats” in our girls program this year and saw some awesome improvement and health throughout the season. It was my first year with our girls so I’m considering a building year.

    Along those lines… where’s the Coach Holler for the girls’ side? Where the “Through my lens” equivalent for the girls’ meet? I know there are programs and coaches utilizing these same approaches. Let’s hear from them too!

  2. Girls state meet had opposite problem: athletes were kept exceedingly long for awards. Kids in the 1A high hurdles were kept over 90 minutes on infield waiting for awards. Then they got bumped by 2A and 3A hurdlers for awards. IHSA has a tough job making us all happy for sure but I have to think we can do better. Are these decisions made with the athletes best interests in mind?

  3. Jon I am a girls coach and no I don’t use the system advocated by Coaches Holler and Korfist. I have coached in IL for 20+ years and don’t know any of the leading programs that do use it. Girls are in a different situation they don’t have football or soccer. Volleyball coaches tell kids you Must play club year round and You Can’t play Anything Else. So its X-c or bust. For sprints xc doesn’t help much. We do develop kids especially in my situation where kids have never run track before. We have to make them believe that they have the ability to be the best. Our conference on the girls side prepares us well for any and all competitions. That’s why I have been blessed to coach kids who believe in our system and will now go on and run in college division 1 and 3. They do it for the love of the sport.

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