Boys track: Carrillo’s Polk has sights set on top time at state

By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Maria Carrillo's Herbie Polk, center, is ranked No. 2 in the state in the 400-meter dash. (Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Herbie Polk, center, is ranked No. 2 in the state in the 400-meter dash. (Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat)

Five seconds is an eternity in a track and field sprint event.

But five seconds, remarkably, is precisely the time that Maria Carrillo sprinter Herbie Polk has shaved off his mark in the 400-meter dash since last season. This improvement — from a time of approximately 52 seconds to 47 seconds — has catapulted Polk to the state’s second-highest seed in the event. This weekend, Polk will vie to become this season’s fastest high school sprinter at the California Track and Field State Championships at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis.

“Being ranked No. 2 in the state of California is the real deal. That’s pretty jaw-dropping,” said Ian Myers, the sprinters coach at Maria Carrillo. “Herbie has become long and strong this year. He put on some muscle and strength since last year and that’s why his times have dropped.”

Polk, at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds with a long stride, has a classic sprinter physique. Polk qualified for the state championships while setting a personal best of 47.21 last weekend at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions (MOC) at UC Berkeley. Polk shattered his goal before the season of getting under the 50-second mark.

“I just trained a little bit faster and lifted a little bit more in the offseason to put on muscle,” Polk said. “With muscle comes power and with power comes speed.”

There will be 29 sprinters today in three preliminary heats in the 400. Nine sprinters, including the winners of each heat, will move on to Saturday’s final.

Polk will be running against Eureka’s Alexis Robinson, ranked No. 1 in the state with a time of 47.03 at the MOC. Robinson edged Polk at the MOC after Polk beat Robinson the previous week at the Redwood Empire Championships.

“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry (with Robinson),” Polk said. “It is two friends competing to be the best in the state rather than competing against each other.”

Amazingly, with nine other CIF sections in the state, it’s the NCS that has four of the top seven 400-meter sprinters in the state finals.

“It is incredible,” Myers said. “It is one of those years where the North Coast is really strong in this specific event.”

Polk voluntarily dropped the 200-meter race at the MOC but ran on the Pumas’ 4×400-meter relay team, which also qualified for the state final after finishing 14th with a time of 3:17:59. Twenty-five teams will compete for the 4×400 relay state title.

Polk will run the first leg of the relay, followed by Dontae Garcia, Alex Netherda and anchor Donte Hay, who is also competing in the 800-meter state final. Jake Viter is the alternate on the relay team.

Based on times, the Pumas are a long shot to win the relay, but that’s not how Polk views it.

“I think we will surprise some people,” he said.

Polk, 17, is a junior but will graduate on Friday after maxing out at 175 credits.

“It was a little bit of a shocker when I found out I had to graduate this year. I was expecting to have another year of track with my friends,” Polk said. “Because of the school district rule I am forced to graduate. I can’t do anything about it and am just trying to stay positive.”

The early graduation may hurt Polk’s chances of getting a scholarship at a Division I university. He said he will attend Santa Rosa Junior College next year and run on the Bear Cubs’ track team.

Polk hopes to get a scholarship to a four-year school eventually. “I have so many dreams and goals to run at a big school,” Polk said. “USC would be my preference.”

One drawback of being at the state finals is that Polk, his relay teammates and Puma Kathleen Durand (girls’ state discus final) will miss walking in their graduation ceremony at Maria Carrillo tonight.

Even so, an opportunity to run on the big stage of the state finals is one Polk couldn’t pass up. “I feed off the crowd. I embrace it and love big meets,” Polk said.

“For Friday, I just need to get out and run. I need to go 100 percent to make the final. I know we have prepared and practiced for this and now I just need to go out and do it.”

Polk’s stated goal for the state finals? Forty-six seconds, more than a second improvement over last week’s personal best.

“Herbie is so strong mentally,” said Myers. “I’ve never seen an athlete set his sights on a goal and achieve them in a way that he leaves no doubt about it.”

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