Empire athletes advance to Meet of Champions

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The stars came out on a gorgeous spring afternoon Saturday, sparkling at the North Coast Section Redwood Empire track and field championship meet.

Piner’s Luis Luna continued his bid for a California Interscholastic Federation 3,200-meter crown with a convincing victory at Santa Rosa High School, leading a parade of Empire standouts who grabbed the spotlight on a day when the top seven finishers in each event earned spots in the North Coast Section Meet of Champions.

Luna ran comfortably in second place until the first turn of the final lap of his race. He burst to the front and had a six-second lead on the next nearest runner when he maneuvered the final turn entering the home stretch.

“The race went perfectly,” he said, after finishing with a time of 9 minutes, 16.72 seconds. “It went like I expected. I knew who’d be up there with me. I just want to run well to get to the Meet of Champions. At the Meet of Champions, I don’t care about personal best or anything. I just want to win and go on to the state meet and take it from there.”

There were two or three heat races in every track event, except the 3,200 meters, where all the finalists ran together. The top seven times in each event, taken from all the heats, advanced athletes to the Meet of Champions.

While field events competitors actually did compete head-to-head, the runners were on the track together, but actually racing the clock.

Piner senior Kyra Johnson doubled in the girls 100-meter hurdles (15.35 seconds) and the 300 hurdles (44.24).

“It’s always about time for me,” Johnson said. “You just want to qualify for the Meet of Champions. I visualized my race in the 300 beforehand and, for once, I listened to what I told myself to do. From now on, it’s really about trying to get to the state meet.”

El Molino senior Nicole Lane won her heat in the 1,600 in the morning in a time of 5:07.96. She came back in the last individual event of the afternoon to win the 3,200 with a half-lap lead on the field.

Even before she thought about celebrating her Redwood Empire double, she was thinking about personal records and what comes next in her season.

“My goal in the 3,200 today was 11 minutes, but I didn’t expect the pace to be as slow as it was,” she said. “I ran 11:17 last year. If I don’t get a PR and drop the mile, I think the 3,200 will be my best chance for state. It’s going to be tough. There are 11 girls who’ve run 11 minutes or better this year; last year there were two.”

Casa Grande senior Adam Lundquist dominated the fields in the 110 high hurdles (14.63) and the 300 hurdles (39.19). Still, he just had his eyes on a top-seven finish and the chance to keep his high school season alive.

“I saw lots of these guys at the Viking Invitational, so I knew who they are,” he said of competitors from the Sonoma County, North Bay, Marin County Athletic and Humboldt-Del Norte leagues. “But I focus on my own race. I can’t worry about what the other runners do. I need to do what I need to do to run well.”

The boys 800-meter heats were examples of how difficult it was to follow the qualification of athletes for the Meet of Champions.
Maria Carrillo sophomore Dante Hay won his heat in the 800, holding off Santa Rosa junior Christian Nazarek. With so many good times being turned in throughout the first two heats, the two had no clear idea if they’d qualified for the MOC.

“The race went out slower than I expected,” Hay said. “I thought we’d run the 400 in 57-58 seconds, so when we were at about 60, I was disappointed. It was OK. I think I got what I needed.”

Hay wound up winning the 800, finishing in 1:57.63. Nazarek was 12th (2:03.20), a bitter disappointment for an athlete who  acknowledged the MOC was all that was on his mind as he battled Hay down the stretch.

“It’s all about time, not racing against someone else,” he said. “I needed a PR and I really wanted to get to the Meet of Champions.”

Petaluma junior Ryan Douglas won his heat in the 800, crossing in 1:57.75 to finish fourth overall.

He wasn’t celebrating his accomplishment, though.

“I passed a guy with about 100 meters left and knew what time I needed in the 800 to qualify, so I just finished hard, looking at the clock the whole way,” Douglas said. “I’ll probably scratch the 800 and focus on just the 1,600 in the Meet of Champions anyway.”

He finished third in the 1,600, at 4:24.11.

Cardinal Newman’s Alexi Taylor ran a 4:23.30 to win the fast heat in the 1,600 and advance. He ran comfortably just off the leaders’ shoulders before exploding around the first turn of the final lap and romping to a win.

“I got the kick I wanted at the end,” Taylor explained.

One heat in the girls 400 offered an exciting look at the future of Empire track as Santa Rosa sophomore Darci White caught Sonoma Valley freshman Mackenzie Albrecht on the back straightaway, then out-sprinted her to the finish line.

White finished in 58.31, while Albrecht ran 58.66.

“Honestly, I was kind of feeling strange,” White said. “I didn’t really think about a fast time, but when others started slowing down, I went for it. Today was just about moving on to the Meet of Champions.”

The North Coast Section Meet of Champions will be held Friday and Saturday at UC Berkeley. The state meet is June 1-2 in Clovis.

“I’m second in the section in the high hurdles, behind the fastest guy in the U.S. The 110 hurdles will be really tough at the Meet of Champions,” Lundquist said. “My best shot for the state meet is in the high hurdles.”

Luna appears to be the Empire athlete with the clearest path to the CIF championships and, perhaps, a state title.

“I’m in, at least, the top five in the state in the 3,200,” he said. “I haven’t really been pushed to run my fastest yet, so with guys pushing me … I think I can do it. There are five guys who can win the state and I’m right there.”