Central Section athletes with genuine opportunities to win state titles in two weeks were golden Saturday in the Masters Track and Field Championships at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
That subject begins with Clovis North’s Mikaela Smith, who won the girls 800 for the third straight year and will be favored to do the same at the CIF State Championships June 5-6 at the same site.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” said the USC-bound senior, who was in command wire-to-wire while winning easily in 2minutes, 9.1 seconds.
She ran 2:06.84 — second best in section history — while winning the state last year, and she is confident she has a 2:04 in her for the state finals: “It’s coming, it’s coming.”
Additional golds are within reach of several section athletes, notably Centennial’s Isaac Trevino and Clovis’ Connor Morello (each in the 800), Lemoore’s Michael Burke (high jump) and Kingsburg’s Joey Souza (long jump) in the boys, and Buchanan’s Hannah Waller (400) and Liberty-Bakerfield’s Morganne Hill (100/300 hurdles) in the girls.
Hill, a senior who has signed with Washington, delivered the mark of the day by winning the 300 low hurdles in 41.76 — eclipsing the section record of 41.90 by Clovis West’s Alyssa Monteverde in 2011.
“I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve stayed up worried about running a 41,” she said after clocking a time ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 5 nationally for the season.
“My heart just sort of skipped a beat (when seeing the time on the video display board). I’m on top of the world now.”
Hill also won the 100 high hurdles (wind-aided 13.94) while becoming the section’s first hurdler in the Masters’ 42-year history of girls competition to sweep them for three consecutive years. And she torched a 54.9 400 split while nearly bringing Liberty from far back to catch Buchanan in the 1,600 relay.
Waller, a junior top-ranked in the state in the 400 with a section-record 53.57, swept the 200 (wind-aided 24.28) and 400 (54.09) and ran legs on winning 400 (47.05) and 1600 (3:52.16) relays.
“I felt really, really smooth,” she said. “It was nice and easy, not a lot of pressure, and I just ran my race.”
Buchanan swept the team titles for the third time in four years, including a record 140 1/2 points while crushing the girls’ field. Clovis North placed second at 64 1/2 points a year after setting the section record with 112.
The Bears’ sixth girls crown since 2000 under coach Brian Weaver was expected.
Buchanan’s Amari Sperling won the 100 (wind-aided 12.00) and ran on both relays.
The Bears’ exceptional depth was best seen in the 200, where they went 1-2-3-5-6-7 for 33 points, a total that outscored the complete scores of all but four teams.
Buchanan’s boys received wins from Paramveer Chohan in the 300 intermediate hurdles (38.13) and sophomore Jacob Wilson in the discus (175-10), along with a key 2-3 finish from Ben Parker (54-9 1/4) and Wilson (53-3 3/4) in the shot put to score 66 points while holding off Bakersfield (56).
It was the Bears’ sixth boys crown — all since 2009. And this, as opposed to their girls, was no sure thing.
“It was one of the greatest team efforts I’ve ever seen in the boys,” said Weaver, who arrived short, probably 25 points, after sprinter Isaiah Robinson (hamstring) and his 400 relay didn’t make it out of the North Area qualifier.
Kingsburg’s Souza made an enormous sacrifice.
Dealing delicately with a hamstring strain suffered two weeks ago in the Central Sequoia League finals, he took only one of his allowed three long jumps in the finals and sailed 24-1 3/4. Bakersfield’s Bryce Huggins immediately answered with a 24-4 1/4.
Souza, nonetheless, picked up his backpack and walked out of the stadium, denying himself the opportunity to win a fourth straight Masters gold in the event — unprecedented in the 95-year history of the meet (it actually began in 1915, but was suspended during World War II).
The North Carolina-bound senior’s priority is to win state gold after placing second last year.
“It was a bummer to give up (the chance to win a fourth Masters), but I sort of tweaked the hamstring a little more than I was hoping and I didn’t really want to risk it any more. In two weeks, I’ll be up and running well.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. I’ve been training hard for that state gold for a while, and I’m hoping for a high 24s, for sure.”