Boogaard: State track prelims offer drama -- and Edison boys relay overcomes scare

The Fresno BeeJune 6, 2014 

Preliminaries in major track meets, those savvy to the sport will say, are more about not losing, as opposed to winning.

Sad but common storylines can be about those who don't make the finals as opposed to those who do.

They can be about star sprinters jumping the gun, mega jumpers fouling or no-heighting, and relay rockets botching baton exchanges.

As Edison's boys 400 relay did Friday on the opening day of the 96th CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Yet the Tigers survived to play another day on the brightest of national stages in the sport.

By inches.

"Scary -- very scary," Blake Wright said.

Running the opening leg, he reached and reached and reached in an attempt to place the stick into the left hand of Charles Wheeler.

"I was like, 'oh gosh, oh gosh,' " said Wheeler, who slowed, slowed and slowed before finally securing it just before exceeding the passing lane, which would have resulted in disqualification.

Incredibly, Edison still won its heat in 41.56 and qualified third overall among three heats for Saturday's final.

"That's because we've got a fast track team. That's because of all the work we've put in," Wright said of a quartet ranked third in the state coming in at 41.37, tied for ninth in Central Section history.

It was the experience, coolness and talent, indeed, of Wright and Wheeler -- not panicking under pressure -- that saved the Tigers.

The same couldn't be said moments earlier for Great Oak of Temecula.

The Wolfpack, arriving with the state's second-best time at 41.13, dropped the baton on their first exchange and are finished.

Meanwhile, in the boys discus, state No. 1 Dotun Ogundeji of Madison-San Diego fouled on two of his first three attempts and then hit 163-4 -- 31 feet short of his season best. He's out also, missing qualifying by 3 feet.

But those were the exception on a day virtually all the stars -- and we're talking national stars -- added fire to an already smoking Mondo track.

Take the great Ariana Washington of a Long Beach Poly girls team seeking to extend its record of 13 team titles in the 41st edition of female competition at the state meet.

A senior headed for the University of Oregon -- a common destination in this decade for California's finest -- she won her 100 (11.37) and 200 (23.26) heats in times ranking second nationally for the season.

And she also anchored the Jackrabbits' winning 400 relay (45.85). They lead the nation at 45.25.

Skyline-Oakland's Destiny Smith-Barnett won her 100 heat in a nation fourth-best 11.40, setting up a stirring century duel with Washington in the sport's glamour event to begin with.

Liberty-Bakersfield junior Morganne Hill torched the hurdles. Her wind-aided 13.66 in the 100 is No. 1 all-time in the section for all conditions. And her wind-legal 42.12 in the 300 is No. 2 all-time in the section.

Long Beach Poly freshman phenom Kaelin Roberts qualified first in the 400 at 53.72. She arrived third nationally at 53.37.

And Buchanan's Hannah Benoit (2:09.71) and Clovis North's defending champion Mikaela Smith (2:09.73) qualified 1-2 in the 800.

Smith made a statement in her heat, separating in the final 20 meters from Mater Dei's Ashlyn Rambo (2:10.79), who came in ranked 16th nationally at 2:08.75.

"When you're in front, you've got to stay in front," Smith said. "You can't lose it, even in a preliminary. I ran calm and relaxed in the last 200 meters. I could have sprinted, but I didn't need to."

Speed wasn't reserved for the female gender.

Mater Dei's Curtis Godin qualified first in both the 100 (10.41) and 200 (20.93). And he drew a vocal yet not-so favorable response from the crowd in the 100, looking over his shoulder with 15 meters to go while comfortably in front.

But it wasn't all about speed -- certainly not with Blake Haney in the house.

The Stockdale senior -- yet another California superstar bound for the Oregon Ducks -- coasted to win his 1600 heat in 4:13.64. He will seek tonight to become only the second male in the meet's history to score a distance double gold in consecutive years.

Kingsburg junior Joey Souza, pursuing the Vikings' first male gold since Rafer Johnson won the 120 high hurdles 60 years ago, qualified fourth in the long jump at 23-61/2. His season best 24-10 ranks third nationally.

A year after winning a record 25 medals, including five golds, the Central Section advanced a total of 32 individuals and relays to Saturday's finals -- a split of 16 for the boys and girls.

Saturday's action will begin at 4:30 p.m. with field events. Track events will be launched at 6 p.m. with the girls 400 relay. And among those figuring prominently in the (Poly) rabbit hunt will be Edison.

Two heats after Poly's win, a Tigers foursome of Jazmen Bunch, CaNisha Lewis, Melese Crozier and freshman Sambria Morgan passed the stick wonderfully while winning their heat in 46.26 -- No. 2 all-time in the section only to Edison's own 46.04 last year, when the Tigers finished second in the finals.

"I didn't see that coming, no, not at all," Edison coach Danny Alberty said of his girls' effort on a Friday that reached 100 degrees. "We've got a chance to finish on top. One bad handoff by Poly and we can win it."

The reporter can be reached at aboogaard@fresnobee.com or @beepreps on Twitter.

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