With six national-class athletes among the nearly 1,000 in the field, the 88th edition of the West Coast Relays oozed with potential at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
And when Buchanan High’s girls 400-meter relay opened the show by torching the sixth-best time in Central Section history, a special, toasty Saturday surely was in order.
What followed, however, would be as much about what didn’t happen as what did.
Yes, Clovis’ Connor Morello, Immanuel’s Kasey Knevelbaard, Kingsburg’s Joey Souza and Liberty-Bakersfield’s Morganne Hill — three-fourths of that national-ranking cast — walked out fit with championship T-shirts by winning their specialties.
But there was as much buzz about Clovis North’s Mikaela Smith and Buchanan’s Hannah Waller, who walked away virtually without a sweat.
Smith, in fact, never laced up the spikes — a decision that was actually made Friday night because of a slight foot discomfort.
“She ran great at Arcadia last week and there just wasn’t a need to run (Saturday), Broncos coach Rich Brazil said of Smith, the state’s two-year reigning 800 champion and No. 1 in the state and second nationally in the event this season. “It’s all about the end goal.”
That would be the CIF State Championships at Buchanan on June 5-6, where Waller also placed third and fourth the past two seasons as a sophomore and freshman.
And she, likewise, emphasized the end goal without borrowing the same expression after running the second leg of that Buchanan relay, but tweaking an ankle in the process and scratching the rest of the day.
Smith actually wasn’t entered in the 800, but a 400 duel with Waller was the meet’s most anticipated race of a day that reached 84 degrees, nine above normal.
“We’re just resting her,” Brazil said of the USC-bound Smith, who won the Arcadia Invitational 800 last Saturday in 2:08.44. Only she (2:06.85, 2014) and North’s Linda Goen (2:05.43, 1977) have run faster in section history.
It was also at Arcadia that Waller set the section 400 record in 53.57. And she did it without a push.
“She’s got a lot more in her,” Bears coach Brian Weaver said. “She could have ran (more Saturday), but we’re only a month out (from season-ending major meets). There’s no reason to risk it.”
Waller, recruited by USC, UCLA and Texas A&M, among others, agreed, though she was eager to let it rip on her home track: “It makes sad not to run, but, I think about it and what do I want more — West Coast Relays or state? What have I been working for, you know? Taking away from the (WCR) isn’t going to break me down or tear me apart. If anything, it’s going to move me forward more and back to the direction I was going.”
With stiff competition, Waller believes she can drop her time to 52.4: “I can’t do it by myself; I have to have someone around me. I just have to have patience because it will happen.”
Who’s been tested more by patience than Morello?
It was 10 months ago that he literally dived at the wire, only to lose the state 800 gold by one-hundredths of a second to David Manahan of Harvard Westlake-Studio City in the most riventing race of the two-day state finals. Manahan clocked 1:51.04; Morello 1:51.05.
“The best way to deal with it is just let it go. Shake it off your shoulders, learn from it and make up for the .01,” he said.
Headed to Washington, he won the WRC Invitational 800 in 1:53.35 only 80 minutes after placing second in the 400 (49.98).
“I feel I’m a step ahead of last year, but the end will tell in the big (state) meet in June,” said Morello, who leads the state and is ranked sixth nationally in the 800 at 1:51.86. His state finals time last year is No. 5 all-time in the section.
Other WCR highlights:
• Knevelbaard (4:16.17) repelled a late drive by Madera South’s Eduardo Herrera (4:16.27) to win the Invitational 1600. The Immanuel senior is ranked third in the state and nationally at 4:09.06.
• Souza, who has signed with North Carolina, won the Invitational long jump at 22-21/4. He’s second in the state and fifth nationally at 24-5 a year after placing second in the state.
• Hill, who will join Morello at Washington, wasn’t pushed while sweeping the 100 high (14.59) and 300 low (42.99) hurdles. Her season-best 13.99 and 42.23 stand fifth and first in the state.
• Clovis junior Mikayla Sodersten won the Invitational 1600 in 4:58.21, just off her season best of 4:57.30. “I didn’t think I’d get back into it this fast,” she said a year after losing her sophomore season because of knee surgery. “Sometimes I get mad at myself; I think I should be even faster. Then I remind myself I had surgery.”
• Buchanan’s Hannan Benoit won the 800 (2:10.23) and ran a leg on a winning 1600 relay (3:53.82). The Arizona State-bound senior placed third in the state 800 last year at 2:08.75.
• Waller teamed with Brenae Wellington, Yamilet Biggers and Amari Sperling to clock 46.87 in the 400 relay. Edison has the section record at 46.04 in 2013.
• Pacific Collegiate-Santa Cruz’s Erika Malaspina won the Invitational pole vault at 13-2 — No. 2 in the state and No. 7 nationally for the season.