By Marty Farmer
It's never easy when a track and field team loses a top sprinter like Zach Booth (left hamstring injury), but luckily the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys squad has speed to burn with Tariq Taylor and Jamal Baggett at the ready.
Taylor and Baggett fueled the Huskies' run to third place (93 points) at the St. Ignatius Sectional hosted by Concordia last week. St. Ignatius claimed the sectional title with 115 points followed by Lane Tech (97 points).
"Tariq and Jamal rally stepped it up and did a great job especially without Zach," OPRF coach Tim Hasso said. "Zach is normally our 100 and 200 guy so they had to step into some different roles. We're a sprint-driven team and we used our depth to produce similar results [if Booth had competed at the sectional]."
Booth suffered his injury during the 200 dash final of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship.
Taylor and Baggett finished first (11.17) and second (11.21), respectively, in the 100 at Concordia. The two speedsters teamed up with Lionel Towns and Desmond Bird-Murphy to capture first place in the 400 relay with a time of 42.33. The quartet also qualified for state in the 800 relay, finishing runner-up (1:28.77) to event champion Dunbar (1:28.70).
Baggett, an explosive running back on the OPRF football team, finished second in the 200 (22.29), just behind Dunbar's Demoria Harris (21.99). In the field events, Chris Wright-Madison was the Huskies' lone state qualifier clearing 6-03.00 in the high jump.
"We lost some guys from last year so that's affected our balance a bit," Hasso said. "I'm very pleased with the team's overall performance. We have asked a lot of kids just to beat their personal best week in and week out, and they have done a nice job in that regard."
At the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship, the Huskies scored 90 points to finish third behind York (162 points) and Lyons Township (141 points). The Huskies are eager to perform well at this weekend's state finals hosted by Eastern Illinois University, with or without Booth.
"We don't think there's any structural damage with Zach's hamstring," Hasso said, "but obviously we want to be careful. Desmond [Bird-Murphy] did a really nice job for us so we have some options.
"I think Lake Park is going to run away with the state title, but the rest of the top spots are relatively open. We'll try to score as many points as we can and see what happens."
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