By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
BERKELEY — The future of Redwood Empire running arrived at UC Berkeley’s Edwards Stadium on four skinny legs.
Five local track-and-field athletes finished among the top three in their events at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions on Friday and Saturday, qualifying for the CIF state meet next weekend in Clovis. Most sensational among them were a pair of sweet-voiced freshmen girls, Santa Rosa’s Kirsten Carter and Sonoma Academy’s Rylee Bowen.
Wouldn’t you know it, they’ve been friends for years. Bowen’s mother, the former Nika Horn, and Carter’s father, Darin, both ran with the Santa Rosa Express youth running club, and at Santa Rosa High, separated by a few years.
“We always cheer each other on,” Kirsten Carter said.
They had a lot to cheer about Saturday. Carter won the girls’ 400 meters and finished second in the 200, while Bowen won the 1,600 meters.
They will be joined in Clovis by Casa Grande senior Nicholas Rauch, who finished second in the 1,600 and third in the 800, and Petaluma senior Allison Scranton, who was second in the discus. Rancho Cotate senior Justin Zinnerman had punched his ticket Friday when he finished second in the high jump, as did Sonoma Valley junior Isabel Garon and Petaluma senior Natalie Gilmore, who finished first and third, respectively, in the pole vault.
Bowen has been in the spotlight since the moment she began running cross-country at Sonoma Academy last fall, but she outdid herself at the MOC. She surged to the front in the mile race and broke off with a pack of five runners, which then whittled down to three. In the end, she held off Campolindo’s Brighie Leach and crossed the line in 4:43.92, shattering her personal record by nearly 10 seconds and clocking the third-fastest time by a California girl this year.
“I really wanted this race, I can’t deny that,” Bowen said. “(Leach) came up, and I was happy, because I knew we were going fast but I didn’t have any idea how fast. And so I’m really glad she pushed me, and together we both PR’d.”
Bowen said she woke up Saturday feeling “a little tired in my legs,” and indeed she couldn’t quite keep the pace in the subsequent girls’ 3,200 meters. She was in third place after three laps in that race, but wound up a distant fourth as she finally faded.
Carter, on the other hand, was only slightly less amazing in her second race, the 200 meters. Flying down the final straight, she very nearly caught the leader, Deer Valley’s Brianna Guillory, but settled for a close second in 24.36 seconds.
Carter, whose long strides could be the envy of everyone not named Colin Kaepernick, also gobbled up ground in her 400-meter victory after starting in the middle of the pack.
“At the 200-meter mark, I thought, ‘Well, I can get second place,’” Carter admitted. “At the 300 mark I was right there. Then I realized the girl ahead of me was going the same speed as me, and I could go faster. I was accepting second for a while.”
Instead she was first in 54.24, second fastest in California this year.
There likely will not be many more moments when Carter accepts second place. Consider that she has been running the 400 competitively for only a few weeks, and now is the fastest girl in the section. She plans to run both the 400 and the 200 at the state meet.
Not so Rauch, who will likely forgo the 1,600 meters next week and focus exclusively on the 800. In the shorter event Saturday, he very nearly caught the kid in front of him for second place. In the longer race, it was just the opposite. Rauch ran a fantastic race and looked as though he would win, only to be passed near the line by De La Salle’s Roc Johnson. Rauch finished in 4.17.61, eight-hundredths of a second behind Johnson.
“I’m hearing all this screaming, and I’m wondering am I getting caught, or is second place getting caught?” Rauch said. “Until he starts edging me out. Then I’m like, oh, shoot. I was trying to lean for it but he got me.”
Scranton, the accomplished Petaluma thrower, very nearly qualified for state in two events, too. Her shot put Friday, her season best, fell two inches shy of third place.
Scranton more than made up for it in the discus Saturday morning, though.
“Going into my first throw, I knew what the automatic state qualifier (mark) was, which was 132-8,” she said. “And so my goal was my first throw, to get over that. That way I didn’t have to worry about what place I got. So once I hit the 135-11 on my first throw, it was kind of smooth sailing from there.”
Scranton’s best toss Saturday was 136 feet, 3 inches.
Also medaling at the Meet of Champions were El Molino’s Lani Gaspar (100 and 200 meters), Brian Schulz (3,200 meters) and Jordan Shane (discus); Windsor’s Maddie Call (100 and 300 hurdles) and Jackson Pool (discus); Cardinal Newman’s Tommy Streb (100 and 200); Casa Grande’s Matt Salazar (1,600); Petaluma’s Morgan Giraud (discus); Fort Bragg’s Mikayla Mix (discus); Analy’s Ryan Douglass (pole vault) and Malcolm Jenkins (triple jump); Willits’ Will Smith (discus); and Maria Carrillo’s Alex Netherda (300 hurdles).
Most boys would be thrilled with taking fourth place at a section track meet, but it was a bitter disappointment for Netherda, who was banking on a return to the CIF meet.
“It was just a bad race, all in all,” he said. “I hit a couple hurdles, I had some micro-stutters and it was just not good.”
Netherda, typically a slow starter and a strong finisher, still felt he had a chance as he came around the final turn. But he clipped another hurdle and couldn’t catch the top three
That showed how tough it is to qualify for the state track meet. Not that Bowen and Carter necessarily understand yet. Seemingly motivated by the joy of running more than the intensity of competition, the ninth-graders are taking it all in stride.
“At state, I’ll probably do the same thing I do with every race — show up, run, and then go home and play,” Bowen said.