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Benefield: Delaney White, Rylee Bowen lead Redwood Empire state track and field contingent

White, a senior at Santa Rosa High School, raced her way to third place in the hyper-competitive 3,200-meter race Saturday.|

BERKELEY

Delaney White got to stand on the podium at the Meet of Champions on Saturday. On top of that, she does not have to go to her own high school graduation ceremony.

It was a double win.

“Oh my god, I don’t have to go to graduation! I’m so happy!” she said.

White, a senior at Santa Rosa High School, raced her way to third place in the hyper-competitive 3,200-meter race at the Meet of Champions at Cal’s Edwards Stadium, booking a trip to the CIF State Track and Field Championship in Clovis next weekend - the same weekend that “Pomp and Circumstance” will be played at Bailey Field for the graduates of Santa Rosa High.

But White, ever confident in her ability despite her somewhat long-shotish No. 10 seed, had promised all of her guest tickets for graduation to friends. She had a feeling she’d be otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been racing gutsy all year,” she said. “I was going to gut it out. I was going to be the gritty racer I know I can be.”

Gritty indeed.

The 3,200 field was loaded. So loaded, in fact, that White originally intended to race for the time threshold needed to simply make state, not a top-three spot, assuming that would be all but impossible.

But out she flew, and other than first-place finisher Morgin Coonfield of McKinleyville High and Megan McCandless of Granada High, no one caught her. White finished in 10 minutes, 41.82 seconds, behind Coonfield’s 10:25.43 and McCandless’s 10:28.09.

Sonoma Academy sophomore Rylee Bowen, a racer who had posted the fastest time of any high schooler in the nation in the 3,200 earlier this season, never looked comfortable and finished 15th at 11:19.02.

But it should be noted that Bowen went after the feared double - she raced, and won, the 1,600 meters earlier in the day - against many of the same runners who pushed the pace in the 3,200. Bowen won the 1,600 meters in 4:49.38.

“It’s the deepest event, talent wise, on paper, in this meet,” Santa Rosa distance coach Carrie Joseph said of the 3,200.

White interrupted our post-race interview more than once, to cover her mouth and say, “Oh my god!” or yell an appreciative thanks to someone in the stands.

She was having, in no uncertain terms, a moment.

“I’m so excited. So happy,” she said. “I knew this race was going to be huge.

“I can’t even say how much this means to me,” she said. “To get on the podium was one of the goals I had in my heart.”

While it may have been a surprise for those in the stands to see a 10 seed in an incredibly talented field run with the front two racers and hold on for a third-place finish, those who know White weren’t shocked at all.

“She didn’t shock people in the know,” said Joseph. “On paper, it’s a shock, but a lot of people know how hard she works.”

While White locked in her trip to Clovis next weekend, there were several heartbreaking near-misses by local athletes who finished fourth in their respective events, just outside the cut to go to the state meet.

Santa Rosa junior Luca Mazzanti finished fourth in the 1,600 meters in 4:18.21 - five seconds faster than he ran in the preliminaries Friday.

Brian Schulz, a junior from El Molino, finished fourth in the 3,200 meters but had a unique reaction.

“As long as I’m dead, it’s fine,” he said.

Meaning: He was exhausted at the finish - he could do no more.

“They were going pretty quick. I stuck with them as long as I could,” he said. “I’m happy with the effort, though.”

Maria Carrillo’s Amani Baker, who seemed to be competing every time I looked around, finished fourth in the long jump - her first of three events Saturday.

“It’s a little disappointing,” she said after her jump (17 feet, 1 inch) fell one inch short of a ticket to Clovis. Baker finished fifth in the 100-meter dash and eighth in the 200 meters.

Willits High senior Will Smith was feeling good after he emerged from his first-round heat well ahead of those in this group in the discus. Then he ran into eventual two-event champ Nathan Esparza of Amador Valley.

Smith’s 164-feet, 2-inch throw eventually finished fourth behind Esparza and Iffy Joyner and Namonte Grisby of Pittsburg High. Smith threw a 164-2 while Esparza’s winning toss was 188-2.

“I was just glad I had a chance to throw with these guys,” Smith said. “It was a lot of fun. I love this meet every year. There’s a lot of competition. I don’t usually get that because I’m from a small school.

“I’m happy with my performance,” he said. “It’s just a good experience. I know it will make me better.”

Near misses and tickets booked. Saturday’s meet had it all.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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