California high school track and field bid goodbye to the great Ariana Washington on Saturday night, fans standing, applauding and asking: When will they see such a sprinter again?
On a day the 96th edition of the CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium delivered nine nation-best season marks, the Long Beach Poly senior was responsible for three while joining former Olympians Marion Jones and Allyson Felix as the only females to sweep the 100- and 200-meter sprints consecutively for at least three years.
She'll haul to the University of Oregon eight career state gold medals after winning the 100 in 11.22 seconds, the 200 in 22.96 and anchoring the Jackrabbits' winning 400 relay in 45.19 as they easily extended a state record total of team titles to 14.
"It's an awesome feeling knowing that I'm among the fastest runners in the country," Washington said.
But for all the national standards in a meet that merely reaffirmed its standing as the finest in the land, for all the local excellence as the Central Section scooped 23 medals — including golds by Clovis North's Mikaela Smith (800) and Stockdale's Blake Haney (1600) and Asia Chesley (high jump) — it did not escape heartbreak.
Worse, the bleeding hearts are homegrown — Edison.
A scorching anchor leg in the boys 400 relay by Kevin Nutt gave the Tigers their first gold medal in the event in 31 years.
They timed 41.09 — tied for third in section history.
Nutt collapsed to his knees with emotion. And teammates, coaches and Edison fans celebrated on the track and in the stands among a crowd of 9,123.
For about 2 minutes.
Then the officials disqualified the Tigers because Kammeron Reed, running the third leg, stepped out of his lane multiple times immediately after passing the baton to Nutt.
Edison's Danny Alberty was asked soon after if he had ever experienced more pain in his 32-year coaching career.
He shook his head from side to side, biting his upper lip and fighting back tears.
After composing himself — barely — he said: "I've got to take my energy and focus on the kids. We've got to move on. We've got to move on."
Nutt, in the final track meet of his career before moving on to Colorado State in football, responded well, placing third in the 200 (21.26) and fifth in the 100 (wind-aided 10.55).
And the Edison girls had Jazmen Bunch place sixth in the 200 (24.19) and run the opening leg on a third-place 400 relay (46.52).
The Central Section otherwise enjoyed another productive meet a year after setting a record for the section with 25 medals (top six).
And it began with Smith, who successfully defended her 800 title in 2:06.85 — second in section history only to North Bakersfield's Linda Goen's 2:05.43 in 1977.
"Honestly, I didn't have much of that big of a plan," Smith said after winning wire-to-wire, featuring a thunderous drive in the final 200 meters after receiving a temporary push from San Lorenzo Valley's Anna Maxwell (2:08.32). Buchanan's Hannah Benoit (2:08.75) placed third.
"I knew there was an amazing field of runners," Smith said, "so I had to push myself either way. And I wanted to win back-to-back extremely bad, so I just left everything I had on the track. And the crowd gave me another energy boost, the next step to run faster."
The section produced silver medal efforts from Kingsburg's Joey Souza in the long jump (24-23/4) and Clovis North's Connor Morello in the 800 (1:51.05).
Morello, a junior who didn't even know if he would complete his season after battling shin problems three months ago, nearly caught Harvard-Westlake of Studio City's David Manahan (1:51.04) at the wire in the most stirring finish of the day.
"I gave it my best shot," Morello said. "I was fortunate just to be here. First of all, I never thought I would make the state finals, and then to actually compete and make the podium is very exciting."
The other nation-leading marks for the season:
Castro Valley's Nate Moore in the triple (51-4) and long (25-83/4) jumps. The long jump was the state's best in 25 years. Only Tulare's James Stallworth (national record 26-43/4, 1989) has done better in the state.
Long Beach Poly freshman Kaelin Roberts in the 400 (52.52).
Piedmont Hills freshman Reonna Collier in the girls 300 low hurdles (42.01).
Long Beach Poly's girls 1,600 relay (3:38.05).
And the Jackrabbits boys 1,600 relay (3:11.86) to close the meet — fittingly.
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