High school track and field is alive and well in this state, and so is the fan interest.
The 97th CIF State Championships at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium was another showcase of runners, sprinters, hurdlers and more, as the California finals long have been deemed the best in the country.
Six nation-leading times were set in Saturday’s finals, and scores of sophomores and juniors served notice there’s more to come after sizzling efforts, short and long. The fans showed up, too, 16,115 strong over two days, a good many standing and applauding throughout.
The Sacramento region had one champion, Oak Ridge pole vaulter Austin Laut, unbeaten this season and proudly embracing his gold medal after a 15-foot, 9-inch effort. It wasn’t his best vault of the season – he’s gone 16-3 – but he was good enough when it mattered.
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“Greatest feeling, all that work paying off,” the Yale-bound senior said. “What a great meet and experience.”
Mike Kennedy agreed. The girls prep editor for Track and Field News has attended 56 consecutive CIF finals. He said this one rates in the top 10, not quite up there with "the Chico meet in 1956 and Cerritos in 1981," but a memorable one regardless, Kennedy said.
“It’s a great venue here – Cerritos north – and there’s always a lot of talent.” Kennedy said. “So much of it is coming back next year.”
This includes the girls 3,200, where a rivalry is brewing.
Davis’ Fiona O’Keeffe was the state leader in the 3,200 meters, and she led for seven laps before succumbing to a fellow junior. Destiny Collins of Great Oak-Temecula, who placed a close third in the 1,600 two hours earlier, remarkably charged down the backstretch to pull away from O’Keeffe to win in 9 minutes, 53.79 seconds, the fourth best time in national prep history. O’Keeffe was second in 10:01.14.
“You run your best here because this is the best of the best,” Collins said.
The meet’s best was Michael Norman of Vista Murrieta. The junior won the 400 in a stunning 45.19 seconds, equaling the national high school record. Among international juniors, that’s the third fastest time in the world this season, trailing athletes from Qatar and Jamaica.
Norman took the 200 in 20.30, a state record. His 1,600 anchor-leg split of 44.9 was the second fastest by a California athlete ever, and he led Vista Murrieta to the team title.
The girls 100 hurdles went to the wire as Jasmyne Graham of Roosevelt-Eastvale outleaned defending champion Mecca McGlaston of Dublin in the meet’s most fantastic finish, 13.17 seconds to 13.18, the second and third fastest times in national history. Graham later won the 300 hurdles in a nation-leading 40.73. Jurnee Woodward of Vacaville was second in 41.17.
Yet another junior, Zaria Francis of Rio Mesa-Oxnard, won the 100 in a nation-leading best 11.31. She later won the 200 in 23.09.
Tre’Shon Woods of Roseville was the only other regional athlete to place in the top three, finishing third in the boys 300 hurdles in 37.46.
The Davis boys 1,600 relay team of Willie Hall, Blake Croft, Alexander McIntyre and Ben Salcedo was fourth in 3:15.61, the top time in Northern California this season and the fourth best in regional history.
GWI on tap – The 56th Golden West Invitational, the country’s oldest prep invitational meet, is Saturday at Folsom High.
The entry lists are still in flux with several CIF competitors debating whether to extend their seasons. A GWI participant has represented the United States in every Olympic Games since 1964, and more than 200 Olympic slots have been occupied by GWI alums. This marks the 50th year since the GWI settled in Sacramento.