Luna sixth in state meet, shatters Empire mark

By ERIC BRANCH
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CLOVIS — As he began his second-to-last lap in the 3,200 meters Saturday night, Luis Luna was exhausted.
The final lap? As the Piner junior recalled his depleted physical state following his memorable performance, he smiled weakly and pointed to his head.

Luis Luna, shown competing in the NCS meet on May 21, set an Empire record in the 3,200 meters Saturday at the state meet in Clovis. Photo by Crista Jeremaison / The Press Democrat

“It was all right here,” he said. “I knew I’d have to dig deep mentally, so I just started pumping my arms … But it was hard. It was terrible.”

And it was historic.

Luna, seeded 14th, shattered the Empire’s all-time record in the 3,200 and lowered his personal-best time by nine seconds en route to a sixth-place finish at the CIF State Track and Field Championships on Saturday night at Buchanan High.
Luna’s time of 8:55.43 topped the previous Empire record of 8:59.89 set last year by Santa Rosa’s Reesey Byers. Luna also became the first boy from the area to earn a top-six state medal in the 3,200 in 46 years.

So how, exactly, did he do it?
It helped that he was running in one of the fastest 3,200s in state history. Thirteen of the 32 runners finished in less than nine minutes, topping the previous state-meet mark of eight.

“I couldn’t tell what my splits were, but I just went with (the lead pack),” Luna said. “I knew the only thing I had to do was stay with them and they would take me along. But, yeah, I was tired. At six laps, I was like ‘Oh my, god.’”
Luna shared the spotlight with a classmate — Piner junior Kyra Johnson, who finished seventh in the 300-meter hurdles in 43.32 seconds.

Johnson’s performance was the second-best in Empire history — five-hundreths of a second off the area’s 24-year-old record — and marked the fourth straight time she’s lowered her personal-best record dating back to last week’s Meet of Champions.
Since she was a freshman, Johnson’s coaches have said the precocious hurdler doesn’t realize just how talented she is.

But it appears Johnson is finally starting to get it: She’s good.
Seeded 14th in Friday’s prelims, Johnson said she’s gained confidence after posting back-to-back breakthrough performances on one of the biggest stages in high school track.

“I still feel a little like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s them,” Johnson said of the competition. “But my old coach always told me you’re just as good as them. And I know that if I’m here at the state meet, I can run with them.”

Johnson was running with some of the very best in Saturday’s finals.
Next to her in Lane 4, for example, was Long Beach Poly’s Melia Cox, the national leader in the event who has signed with USC. Cox, who finished second in the 110-meter hurdles, won the 300 hurdles in 41.80 seconds.

“(Cox) took off and I knew she was going to finish in about five seconds,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I was like ‘Go on with your bad self.’ She was the fastest bunny ever. I just chased her.”

A light rain fell intermittently during the finals, which wasn’t welcome weather for Petaluma sophomore Courtney Tuck, whose personal-best of 5-7 in the high jump ranks seconds in Empire history.

Tuck prefers to compete in hot, sunny weather. Instead, she got Seattle.
Tuck missed her first three attempts at 5-2 and finished tied for 12th as the event was briefly delayed due to the rain and puddles dotted the track.

“I’m always scared that I’m going to slip, so there’s always that caution that has to be taken,” Tuck said.

“Everyone has their bad days. And I guess today was a bad day.”
Petaluma senior Forrest Shaffer finished 28th in the 3,200.

You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com.