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There were approximately 900 participants in Saturday’s 24th annual Big Cat Invitational track and field meet at Santa Rosa High, but it was the blustery wind and driving rain that took center stage at the event.

Even with the inclement weather — which got worse as the day wore on — there were still many standout performances by Empire athletes. While some field events (discus, pole vault) had lower-than-normal participation, no events were cancelled despite the rain. Notably, 20 of the 21 scheduled school teams showed up for the event, including the entire North Bay League, Sonoma County League, Coastal Mountain Conference and Sacred Heart and Lowell from San Francisco.

The first track meet of the season for Empire schools “served the purpose to introduce a lot of kids to a track meet,” Santa Rosa boys coach Doug Courtemarche said. “We were never close to calling the event. I was happy with the outcome. I don’t know how much you can prepare for this weather.”

Standout performances included a 300-meter hurdles win by Santa Rosa’s Kirsten Carter and a girls’ 4x400-meter relay win by the Panthers, in which Carter overcame a 30-meter deficit in the anchor leg. She also finished second in the high jump, which along with the hurdles was a new event for her.

“Because last year I caught quite a few people from behind I thought I had a good chance to pass the girl, in front of me,” Carter said of her comeback in the relay.

Also for the Panthers, Delaney White came in second in the girls’ 3,200-meter distance race and Daniel Pride won the boys’ 1,600 meters.

Maria Carrillo won the boys’ 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays.

“Our handoffs were kind of rough,” Pumas’ first-leg runner Ian Herculson said. “But we have four really strong runners so we ended up winning the relays.”

For the Pumas, Herculson also won the 100 meters, relay teammate Isiah Smith won the 400 meters and Rebecca Plattus won the high jump.

“Our team wasn’t derailed by the weather,” Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg said. “I’m very pleased with how we did. It’s a good meet to knock the rust off and also see what your new kids can do.”

Several coaches praised Courtemarche and his staff for running a successful event during problematic weather.

“The Santa Rosa crew did a great job overall given the conditions,” Cardinal Newman coach Chris Puppione said. “This weather builds character.”

Said Windsor coach Doug Hastings: “The kids took a bath. … There isn’t much you can do with Mother Nature, but Doug and his staff got it done.”

Cardinal Newman’s unheralded Anna Hartmann had a coming-out party, winning the girls’ 100 meters and finishing second in the 200 meters.

“I had a hamstring injury last year so I didn’t get to run much,” she said. “It was pretty cold so you had to make sure you were warmed up. It was kind of fun running in the rain.”

Another strong finisher was Adria Barich of Casa Grande, who finished first in the girls’ 800 meters and second in the 1,600 meters.

“Adria got into the 800 meters race primarily to train for the 1,600 meters and about halfway through it (800 meters) the field was there for her to take control, and she won it,” Casa Grande coach Jamie Pugh said.

The end of the Big Cat came during a downpour, as athletes and fans alike scattered from the waterlogged field to seek shelter in their vehicles.

“I’ve never seen people clear out of there so fast,” Fogg said with a chuckle.

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