Casa’s Lawson quick at Big Cat Invitational

From left, JaJuan Lawson of Casa Grande, Elijah Higgs of Montgomery and Isaiah Roybal of Piner race in the 200-meter final at Santa Rosa High School on Saturday. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

From left, JaJuan Lawson of Casa Grande, Elijah Higgs of Montgomery and Isaiah Roybal of Piner race in the 200-meter final at Santa Rosa High School on Saturday. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

By JIM CROWHURST
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Empire track athletes love the Big Cat Invitational at Santa Rosa High because they finally get to see how all their hard training has paid off.

Casa Grande’s JaJuan Lawson was honored as the All-Empire Large School Football player of the year recently, but he showed on the track one of the reasons he is so tough to catch on the football field.

Lawson began by anchoring his team’s 400-meter relay team to the fastest time of the day in 45.94 seconds. He followed that with best times of the day in both the 100 (11.44) and 200 (23.59) with some pretty wicked cross winds hampering many of the race times during the day.

“Coming out of the blocks is always the hard part for me,” said Lawson, “but my training and conditioning really paid off, and I felt the last 80 meters I was very strong, and in the relay our hand-offs were all solid and that was the difference in that race.”

The Gauchos had a number of other impressive marks on the day as Caleb Lundquist had a personal best in the discus with a throw of 157 feet, 8 inches, while teammates Edgar Irizarry (pole vault, 13-3) and Nicholas Rauch (800, 1:59.90) also had lifetime bests to win their events.

Rauch needed all of that to defeat Windsor’s Zach Price (2:00.88) after Price had earlier won the 1600 in 4:32.64, just 1/100th of a second ahead of Maria Carrillo’s Dante Hay.

“I did so much better than I expected in the 1600,” Price said. “Even with the strong winds, I was able to pick it up the last 800 and it turned out to be the easiest 4:30 mile I have ever run.”

Rancho Cotate’s Justin Zinnerman also had a huge personal best in the high jump with a leap of 6-7, moving him into the top 20 all-time locally.

Santa Rosa High in no way lacked for some home glory as Annette Sutton blazed the fastest 100 (13.26) and 200 (27.32) times of the day in the girls races, while Delaney White outran the field in the 1600 (5:28.42).

“By the middle of my races, I was feeling myself coming up more on the others, and from there I felt great,” Sutton said.

“Usually, I don’t run smart in my first race of the year, but today I did,” White said. “When we would hit the strong winds on the turn, it felt like it would just stop me and I would have to shift gears just to move, so I drafted behind others until 500 meters before taking the lead.”

Montgomery’s Tori Mollard showed a lot of speed of her own, running a leg of the winning 400 relay (52.22) then out- hurdled everyone in the 100 highs (16.96) and 300 lows (50.62) before winning her heat of the 200. Teammate Meili Bartholome handled the headwinds in both the long and triple jumps better than anyone else, taking both those events.

“This meet is always a good way to start the season,” Mollard said. “We have been training hard, like riding a bike (hurdling technique), it all comes back to you.”

Meanwhile, Ukiah’s Allyson Milone dominated the throwing events, winning the shot (34-5½) and the discus (92-0).

One of the best battles of the day took place in the girls 800, as Casa Grande’s Ileana Moon (2:23.60) was able to just outrun Healdsburg’s Bianca Nicastro (2:23.90). Nicastro also had a nice 59.8 split on her 1600 relay team.

Other top marks came from Montgomery’s Erin McCullough (400, 65.06), Casa’s Eva King (HJ, 5-0) and Petaluma’s Natalie Gilmore (PV, 9-0).

And other boys winners included Sonoma Valley’s Edwin Reyes (400, 52.61), Maria Carrillo’s DJ Russell (110H, 16.37) and Alex Netherda (300H, 41.06), Windsor’s Tyler Lewis (LJ, 19-7½) and Joel Moens (TJ, 41-6¼) and Rancho’s Adan Reeves (SP, 47-3).

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