By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The 2015 North Coast Section Redwood Empire Area Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Santa Rosa High showcased the top track and field talent from Marin to Del Norte counties, and local athletes fared well.
The top female star was freshman sensation Kirsten Carter of Santa Rosa, who won the 200- and 400-meter races with personal bests. Carter also won the long jump and anchored the winning Panthers team in the 4×400 relay.
Carter got the baton in the final lap of the relay and was down by 30 meters to the Redwood anchor before kicking into high gear and winning going away.
In the 200 meters, her hand-timed mark of 23.80 equals an electronic time of 24.04. That allowed Carter to lower her own Redwood Empire best.
In the 400, she won in a time of 56.19, moving to No. 2 all-time in the Redwood Empire. She trails only Rose Criss of Analy (55.12, 1997).
“Carter has been doing that all year,” Panthers coach Doug Courtemarche said. “It’s always exciting when something like that happens. It’s one of the best moments in track and field.”
Rival Montgomery was also a favorite in the 4×400 relay but finished at the back of the final heat for seventh place.
“Our whole team was just not feeling it today,” Vikings anchor Emma Orosz said. “Carter is amazing. She won that race because of her athleticism; she deserves the win.”
The top seven individual finishers in each event automatically advance to the NCS Meet of Champions on Friday and Saturday at UC Berkeley. There were no at-large qualifiers who surpassed the NCS benchmarks to come out of the Redwood Empire meet this year.
In the 200 meters, Carter won with relative ease (she crossed the tape 1.6 seconds ahead of runner-up Nia Whitlock of Novato) even after a false start by a competitor and a red flag due to clock problems forced the field into starting three times.
“Before the final start I was a little nervous, a little shaky,” she said. “But for that situation, it’s not that important getting out of the blocks as fast as possible.
“Making it to the MOC is pretty awesome because most freshmen don’t make it that far,” she said.
The event featured 20 girls teams and 27 boys teams. The Santa Rosa girls finished second and the boys fifth. The Maria Carrillo boys finished first and the girls seventh.
The top five girls team finishers were Redwood of Larkspur (74 points), Santa Rosa (60), Novato (46), Windsor (44) and Justin-Siena of Napa (43).
The top boys finishers were Maria Carrillo (69), Marin Catholic of Kentfield (36.5), Fortuna (36), Casa Grande (36) and Santa Rosa (30).
The meet featured teams from the NBL, SCL, Marin County Athletic League, Humboldt Del Norte League and Lower Lake High.
The boys 4×400 relay was won by Maria Carrillo, which capitalized on a less-than-clean baton handoff between second-place Santa Rosa’s Skyler Perry and Mazi Macondray.
“I should have waited a little longer. We were jointly at fault,” Macondray said. “That handoff cost us.”
“We had great legs today,” Pumas anchor Isiah Smith said. “I was a little nervous and I was tired but when I was handed the baton I took off and I never looked back.”
Alex Netherda of Maria Carrillo won the 300-meter hurdles by a few strides. Nertherda will be a preferred walk-on to the Cal football team in the fall and is well acquainted with Berkeley.
“I feel at home at the MOC since I have been there every year since I was a freshman,” he said.
Other notable boys winners included Justin Zinnerman of Rancho Cotate in the high jump and Lani Gaspar of El Molino, who won the 100- and 200-meter dash events even with a sore left Achilles heel.
“I thought it went well today for not practicing for three days,” Gaspar said. “The last 50 meters were tough on my legs.”
In a feel-good story, McKinleyville’s Morgan Coonfield, the favorite in the 3200-meter run, won easily despite coming down with walking pneumonia a week ago and having not worked out in two weeks, she said.
“I hope I feel better for the MOC,” said Coonfield, whose intense drive makes up for her short 4-foot-9½ stature. “I’m expecting to go to state and if I don’t, that will be a huge disappointment.”
The top three individual finishers in each event at the MOC move on to the state championships at Clovis’ Buchanan High on June 5 and 6.