Benefield: Plenty of ups and downs for Empire athletes at NCS Meet of Champions

Redwood Empire high school athletes endured a bunch of near-misses while others had hair-raising finishes to secure their spots at the state meet next weekend.|


Severin Ramirez’s day started with dejection. It ended with exaltation. And then, finally, a healthy dose of sweet relief.

First, the dejection. The Maria Carrillo junior sprinter was in just the second track event of the day, waiting on the far turn of the track to run the final leg of the 4-by-100-meter relay at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions in Berkeley Saturday. He heard the pop of the starter’s gun. Then he heard it pop again.

False start.

At the other end of the track, teammate Demetre Coffey jumped early and the Pumas were disqualified. The field marshal approached Ramirez and told him, “Yellow team, you are off.”

He watched the rest of the race from a concrete curb on the far side of the track with his head in his hands.

Then, he finished the 100-meter dash in 11.03. Good enough for fifth place, but not good enough to make the CIF state track and field championships this weekend in Clovis.

It got worse before it got better. Ramirez, a strong contender in the 200 meters, finished fourth - one place from a state invitation. The mounting disappointment was all over his face.

So when, in the final event of the day, Ramirez ran the first leg of the Carrillo boys’ vaunted 4-by-400 relay, I watched him. I watched him sprint his team into first place. And then I watched the lead slip away. And then I watched the anchor leg, junior Tyler Van Arden, get the baton in fifth place and somehow grind his way to third.

The Pumas were going to the state meet.

“I thought, ‘This is not over,’” Ramirez said. “I gave it my all and gave them the lead.”

The ticket to Clovis in the relay?

“This erases everything,” he said, smiling for perhaps the first time that day.

But there is more. Moments later, Ramirez learned that a runner in the 200 scratched. Ramirez, who had finished one spot out of contention, was in.

Ramirez’s roller-coaster of a day was perhaps more roller coaster-y than most, but area athletes endured a bunch of near-misses while others had hair-raising finishes to secure their spots at the state meet this weekend. Such is the unfolding drama at the daylong NCS Meet of Champions.

Santa Rosa’s superstar Kirsten Carter advanced in everything she tried, but is so talented she felt disappointed with a couple of her results.

She qualified for the state meet in the 400 meters with her third-place finish in 56.83, but was well off her best time. She also made the cut in the 200 when she finished second with a 24.29 - a time that could be her best wind-legal effort. But her moment of glory seemed to come in running the third leg of the 4-by-400 relay.

The second-to-last event of the day, it was a barn burner. My notes are a little messy, but I can make this part out: “Kirsten owned it.”

The Panthers’ relay team made up of Izel Zamora, Jacque Hale, Carter and Caroline Duffy crushed the school record and finished in 3:55.67 - three seconds faster than the squad posted at the prelims on Friday.

Their third-place finish sends them to Clovis.

“I really wanted it,” Duffy said. “I leaned as hard as I could.”

Duffy didn’t quite nip the second-place runner from Carondelet, but it didn’t matter - the Panthers are going to state.

“I love these girls so much,” Duffy said. “I’m so happy.”

Healdsburg distance star Gabby Peterson did the same kind of lean at the end of the 3,200 meters. Learning in the 3,200? Yup. It was that close.

Peterson finished in 10:34.44. There was no sunlight between Peterson and the third-place finisher, Colleen McCandless who finished with a time of 10:34.34.

Peterson missed the cut by a blink.

“I never thought I’d have to lean at the end of a two-mile,” she said.

“Though I’m a bit sad I didn’t qualify in the 32, I did tie my PR, so I’m pretty happy with that,” she said.

If she’s bummed about the near-miss in the 3,200, Peterson can sort through her feelings while training for the state meet next weekend because she absolutely ran away from the field in the 1,600, finishing in 4:48.91 - a personal best. Sonoma Academy senior Rylee Bowen booked a ticket to Clovis by finishing second with a run of 4:55.94.

In a very tight 100-meter-hurdles battle, Maria Carrillo senior Habibah Sanusi didn’t know she had finished second and would be headed to state until the Puma contingent in the stands let out a roar when the final times were posted - as Sanusi was still trying to catch her breath.

Sanusi finished in 14.80. First place came across at 14.78 and third place was 14.86.

“I thought I could do it, but you never know on the day,” she said. “I’m really glad I made it, though.”

Carrillo teammate, sophomore Sarah Aanenson, finished third in the long jump with a leap of 17 feet, 7 inches to make her first trip to Clovis. And Carrillo junior Cooper Plattus finished second in the pole vault with a high of 14 feet, 9 inches to advance.

Santa Rosa junior Brayden Glascock’s reaction to his third-place finish in the 300 hurdles was priceless. He seemed almost stunned.

“I stumbled over the second-to-last one. It worried me a little bit,” he said.

To make state?

“It was a season goal. Well, more of a dream,” he said. “It’s a ton of work. It was almost discouraging because up until Redwood, the season wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. And it all just clicked.”

Ramirez, and to some extent Carter and Peterson, can probably relate to things not going exactly as one would want them to after the gun fired Saturday. But they can also relate to having a good number of things go quite well and getting the opportunity to take their gifts to one of the brightest stages in high school track this weekend.

After a day of wild swings in emotion, a trip to Clovis is definitely ending on a high.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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