An 11-person roster is ideal for basketball. Track and field, though? Not so much.
But the Lady Vandals' lack of depth didn't keep them from equaling last year's solid third-place finish Tuesday at the South Central Conference Meet at Carlinville.
Despite competing without defending 100-meter dash champion Emma Krummel, who is out with an Achilles rupture, the short-handed Lady Vandals proved that quality can trump quantity, as their 70 points tied for third with Greenville in a field of 12 teams.
Junior Kayla Houston led VCHS's small but talented contingent, taking the high jump title by surpassing her own school record with a leap of five feet, two inches.
She also teamed up with Paige Dodson, Kris Stunkel and Ashley Durbin on a 1,600m relay team that capped the meet with a first-place time of 4:19.50, pulling the Lady Vandals even with Greenville.
Vandalia came into the meet hoping for a higher finish - thinking it might have enough to compete for a conference title. But Pana and Litchfield's depth was simply too much to overcome.
"We don't have the numbers a lot of the teams have," Houston said. "We go for first, but if we get third, that's fine. There's only 11 of us."
Houston gave the Lady Vandals a huge boost early on, clearing 5-2 in the high jump on her second attempt. Houston had been stuck on 5-0 for most of the season before clearing 5-1 Friday at Cumberland. Now, she can exhale and literally focus in on greater heights.
"It's a relief," said Houston of breaking the 5-2 barrier and establishing yet another school record. "If you don't clear that height, you feel you're stuck on it. So now I've finally cleared 5-2, and it's like, 'Let's go jump 5-4, let's go jump 5-6,' and see how high you can get before the season's over."
But even after clearing 5-2, Houston couldn't relax, knowing Pana's Amanda Pavlicek has gone higher than 5-2 in the past.
"Me and the girl from Pana are buds, so we know what each other can do," Houston said. "I had to wait to see what she did before I knew I had won it."
Pavlicek came up short this time, as Houston won an unexpected conference title.
"It's nice," Houston said. "I never get first in the high jump at any big meets, so it's like, 'Thank you - finally!'"
Houston will now concentrate on bigger and better things.
"I'm trying to get in good position for state," Houston said. "I want to make it this year."
If she can duplicate her new school-record jump at the upcoming sectional, Houston will do just that. The state-qualifying standard is 5-1, and VCHS coach Mike Travelstead feels Houston will have a physical and mental edge now that she's met the state standard.
"Once your body does it, it remembers, and it's easier to do again," Travelstead said. "I told her earlier this year, 'You are going to go 5-2 this year.' And I'm glad I was right."
Travelstead is also optimistic the Lady Vandals 1,600m relay can book a trip to Charleston later this month.
Though Dodson, Stunkel, Houston and Durbin - all juniors - failed to equal their season-best time of 4:16 Tuesday, they showed once again that they have the talent and dedication to qualify for state.
"We work well together and we all know what we have to do," said Houston, who credited Dodson and Stunkel for setting the tone during the first half of the race. "The first and second leg really pulled away, and that helped us a lot. When me and Ashley get there, we just kinda keep the lead."
A similar performance at sectionals should help the team achieve its next goal.
"I really feel the 4x4 has a shot (at state)," Travelstead said. "And since their freshman year, that's what they've been wanting to do."
Houston figured she'd have a better shot at claiming a conference title in the 400m - an event she's qualified for state in two times. But Pana's Rachel Harbert (1:00.5) edged Houston (1:00.8), who was also hoping to go under the one-minute mark.
"I was actually kind of disappointed, because I was hoping to run a 59, because last meet the weather was so bad, and I still managed to run it in a minute flat," Houston said. "Hopefully I'll get it next meet."
Junior Tori Hagy gave the Lady Vandals a huge boost with a pair of third-place finishes, as she equaled her school-record time in the 200m (27.2) and had a long jump of 15-2 3/4.
"I thought Hagy did quite well in the 200," Travelstead said.
Hagy was also part of a pair of VCHS third-place relay teams.
Hagy, Houston, Dodson and Durbin teamed up to place third in the 400m relay (53.3) despite a shaky handoff.
"Our 4x100 team probably could have gotten a higher place," Travelstead said. "We just had one little problem on the second exchange that made a big difference."
Hagy also joined Stunkel and freshmen Courtney Gordon and Samantha Sullens on an 800m relay that clocked in at 1:57.4.
Travelstead was pleased with the 800m relay's finish, considering the absence of Krummel, who was a key member of that team before her injury.
"Our 4x200 relay has done pretty well," Travelstead said. "Our two freshman have run the first two legs well. They ran a pretty good race tonight."
In addition to being a part of a pair of relay teams that scored 16 points for the Lady Vandals, Durbin placed third with a personal-best time of 2:32.8 in the 800m run. Nikki Stine tacked on six points for VCHS with a third-place finish in the shot put (33-4 1/2).
Dodson (400m, 1:05.2) and Gordon (300 hurdles, 57.7) scored two points apiece by adding a pair of fifth-place finishes, while Dodson (long jump, 13-8 1/2) and Mischealle Goade (3,200m, 15:01.4) rounded out VCHS's scoring with sixth-place finishes. Goade's time was a personal best.
"We feel pretty good," Travelstead said of the overall showing. "I really thought we might creep up there a little more, but we didn't get as many high placements as we usually get in our field events, that would have helped."
Had Krummel been able to compete, the Lady Vandals would have likely competed for a conference title.
"It's a big hole," Travelstead said. "But I think the girls have held together pretty well, though. Those (individual) events she was in - the 100 and 100 hurdles - we could always count on her placing, and that helps with our points. And then, of course, she was strong in the sprint relays."
"She was a key part of our team, but injuries happen," Houston said. "You have to keep going. There's only 11 of us, so you can't replace any of us, so it hurts."
But - for a team dominated by talented juniors - there is always next year.
Durbin won the 800m run (2:35.5) and Houston took the 400m dash (1:00.3), in addition to breaking her own school record with a fourth-place high jump of 5-1, as the Lady Vandals finished fifth in a field of 12 teams.
Neoga (79) claimed the title in an ultra-competitive meet, followed by Teutopolis (73), Marshall (61), St. Anthony (58) and Vandalia (53) in the top five.
Houston and Durbin were also part of a first-place 1,600m relay team that included Dodson and Hagy, as that foursome clocked in at 53.7 seconds.
Dodson added a third-place time in the 400m (1:04.2), while Nikki Stine was third in the shot put (32-9 1/2).
The Lady Vandals' 800m relay team - Gordon, Sullens, Stunkel and Hagy - contributed a fourth-place time of 1:58, while Stine was fifth in the discus (81-11) and Hagy was sixth in the long jump (13-8 1/4).
Fourteen of 18 events were completed before stormy weather ended the meet.
Neoga 101, Altamont 67,
Stew-Stras 49, Vandalia 22
Competing one sophomore and three freshmen, the Lady Vandals finished fourth at a rescheduled meet at Stewardson-Strasburg.
Gordon led the way, finishing second in the 300-meter hurdles (59.1), third in the 200m dash (31.82) and fourth in the 100m high hurdles (20.4).
Goade added a fourth-place finish in the 3,200m (16:31) and long jump (11-0), while Christina Pennington was fifth in the 200m dash (33.51).
Newton 74.5, Vandalia 55.5, Pana 46
Houston and Hagy equaled or surpassed individual program records - and the junior duo helped the Lady Vandals establish new program standards in a pair of relay events - as VCHS rewrote the record books once again.
Hagy tied a school record that has stood since 1989 in winning the 200-meter dash. Her time of 27.2 seconds equaled that of Michelle Osborne atop the Lady Vandals' record book.
Houston broke her own school record with a time of 1:00.1 in the 400-meter dash, which was good for a second-place finish.
Houston and Hagy joined Dodson and Durbin on a 400m relay team that broke its own school mark with a time of 52.6 seconds, good for second.
The ever-versatile Houston was also part of the Lady Vandals' 1,600m relay, which placed first by breaking its own school record with a state-qualifying time of 4:16.2. Stunkel, Durbin and Dodson joined Houston on the record-setting mile relay team.
Durbin added a first-place time of 2:37.4 in the 800m run, while Goade was first in the 3,200m (16:06.7) and Stine won the shot put (35-2).
Hagy also had a second-place finish in the long jump (15-0), as did Stunkel in the triple jump (29-11) and Stine in the discus (87-2).
Gordon established a personal best with a third-place time in the 100m high hurdles (19.3), and she was also third in the 300m low hurdles (1:00.3).