There are several Central Section track and field athletes performing on a state-class level, which is no surprise because they did so a year ago. If not sooner.
Hannah Waller, Emmett Brooks, Eduardo Herrera, Paramveer Chohan, Alexis Vincent-Walker: All 2015 state medalists on the nation’s elite prep stage, and there are other returning section standouts, even if they didn’t make the six-person podium in the CIF State Championships.
Then there’s McKay Johnson.
The senior, who has committed to Cal, will arrive at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday for the section’s 4 p.m. Masters Championships ranked third in the state and 13th nationally in the shot put, and eighth in the state in the discus.
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He had politely, unpretentiously placed fourth and fifth for Clovis North a year ago in the Masters discus and the shot put, finishing the season with best marks of 158-11 and 52-1 1/2 .
Fine, but hardly state radar material.
Today: 185-0 and 63-9.
Those are astounding 12-month leaps, and how to explain?
“Wake up in the morning,” he explains, “throw for two or three hours and work out for two more hours, then sleep for a few hours, wake up and throw for two more. I was upset with my previous season; I probably didn’t put in as much hard work as I should have.”
He and Buchanan junior Jacob Wilson are the headliners of a loaded cast of throwers in the boys division.
Wilson is ranked fourth in the state in both the shot (63-5 1/2 ) and discus (195-1) a year after winning the Masters discus at 175-10.
Clovis junior Jonah Wilson is ranked ninth in the state in the shot (59-8) and 10th in the discus (181-4).
In all, the Masters will showcase 34 athletes ranked among the state’s top 10 and 14 among the top five, including state leaders Lawrence White of Ridgeview (24-8 1/4 long jump) and Dennis Hicks of Liberty-Bakersfield (49-10 1/2 triple jump).
The top three finishers in each event will advance to the June 3-4 state finals at the same venue.
It was there that Waller was golden in last year’s 400, torching the Olympic-style Mondo track in a section-record 53.13 after placing third as a sophomore at 54.04.
Her 53.622 this season is second in the state only to Carson junior Kaelin Roberts’ 53.47.
Signed with 2015 NCAA champion Oregon, Waller believes she has a 52 in her, though it’s likely that would have to come in the state meet with threatening competition. She’s more than 3 seconds superior to anyone in the section this season.
Most important, Waller says, she’s at the top of her game: “Better than ever. I’m content with everything; everything is flowing correctly.”
Waller will attempt to become only the second four-time Masters champion in the girls 400. Stockdale’s Keisha Gaines did so from 2000-03, according to section track and field historian Ron Blackwood.
Waller has 14 Masters golds – seven individual and seven relay. And that stash is expected to balloon to 18 Saturday as she’s also favored in the 200 (24.18, No. 6 in the state) and with 400 (47.29, No. 9 in state) and 1600 (3:51.97, No. 10 in state) relays.
More pre-Masters highlights:
▪ Buchanan is favored for a repeat sweep of the team titles. The Bears boys, winners of six of the past seven, should be pushed by Bullard, Central and Liberty-Bakersfield. The Bears girls, winners of three of the past four, are extraordinarily deep, with qualifiers in 15 of 16 events. Their strongest competition should come from Clovis North and Stockdale.
▪ Buchanan’s Chohan, who is bound for Cal, is the defending champion in the 300 intermediate hurdles, where he’s second-ranked in the state with a section-record 37.05.
▪ Madera South’s Herrera and Clovis North’s Lauren Moffett will attempt to repeat distance sweeps of the 1600 and 3200. Herrera, second-ranked in the state in the 1600 (4:03.57, converted from mile) and No. 4 in the 3200 (8:55.01) is headed to Colorado; Moffett to Vanderbilt.
▪ Immanuel’s Zoe March represents one of the section’s most improbable stories of the year. The Fresno Bee’s Small Schools Player of the Year in girls basketball, she ranks first in the section and seventh in the state in the 300 low hurdles at 43.39 – also No. 7 all-time in the section. And the Azusa Pacific-bound senior (for basketball) is competing in track and field for the first time as a prep.
▪ Clovis’ Vincent-Walker, still only a sophomore, will try to successfully defend her Masters title in the high jump, where she’s fourth-ranked in the state at 5-7.
▪ Charles Williams will attempt to become the first runner in Bullard history to sweep the sprints. He leads the section in the 100 (10.82) and 200 (21.55). The UNLV-bound running back placed second and first in those events as a junior.
▪ Brooks of Kingsburg enters the Masters ranked eighth in the state in the long jump after earning a silver at the state finals a year ago. He’s also a contender in the 100.
Central Section Masters Championships
Saturday at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium
- Field events: 4 p.m.
- Track events: 5 p.m.
Note: Top three finishers in each event qualify for the CIF Track and Field Championships on June 3-4, also at Veterans Memorial Stadium