Benefield: Rain brings out the best in Empire track athletes

Several local athletes marked season bests in dumping rains and fierce winds Friday night at the Santa Rosa Twilight Invitational track meet.|

Rain and wind do not make for ideal conditions at a track meet.

Well, somebody forgot to tell that to a solid list of athletes who marked season bests in dumping rains and fierce winds Friday night at the Santa Rosa Twilight Invitational track meet at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“It was biblical rains. I was waiting for frogs,” Santa Rosa High track coach Carrie Joseph said. “It was unbelievable.”

Also unbelievable? Some of the results.

Santa Rosa senior Luca Mazzanti, who ran his way to being named the All-Empire Cross Country Runner of the Year in the fall, ran through pelting rain to stand alone atop the North Coast Section bests in the 1,600 meters with a 4-minute, 16-second performance. The next fastest this season is 4:19.

“Luca ran a PR in the pouring rain,” said Greg Fogg, coach of Maria Carrillo’s track squad that hosted the Friday night event. “With ideal weather conditions, you can give him a few more seconds.”

So bad was the storm, according to Fogg, that at one point a timer had one hand on the clock and one hand on a canopy so it wouldn’t blow away. Race officials were dressed like deep sea fishermen.

“And it was 50 degrees,” Joseph said. “Your body just doesn’t warm up properly. Your socks are sopping, your shoes are heavier, your clothes are sticking to you. You don’t just feel comfortable.”

Which all means that the standout performances Friday could point to some fireworks come postseason meets when these athletes dry out.

Santa Rosa junior Kirsten Carter, chattering teeth and all, sprinted to third best in the section in the 100 meters with a 12.02 finish and fifth in the 200 with a 24.29.

“Kirsten’s time to me is amazing,” Joseph said. “To PR by a tenth of a second? I know it doesn’t sound like much, but in sprinting, that’s a lot.”

“In the right conditions, I think she’ll break 12,” she said. “And breaking 13 is really good.”

Want confidence? How about Maria Carrillo junior Habibah Sanusi’s remarkable performance in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, in which she ran to the section’s fourth fastest finishes despite pelting rain and a swampy track.

“They are launching off and pushing off to go over the hurdles. If their grip is slippery it can be pretty hazardous,” Fogg said.

Joseph was equally impressed.

“Her performance was outstanding. Hurdling in the rain? That’s a tough call. The hurdles are hard enough without hardly being able to see them because you are squinting,” she said.

Another epic effort came in the 100 meters in which Montgomery junior Jaymes Tischbern ran to a 10.97 finish for fifth best in the section so far this season.

The weather was so foul the pole vault was canceled.

But other field events went on, despite wet discuses and a messy long jump pit. Carter showed off there too - jumping 18 feet, 1 inch to put her in a tie for third in the section.

Rincon Valley Christian junior Kylie Olson, fresh off of the Eagles’ stellar basketball season, put the shot 35-feet, 21/2 inches for seventh best in the section.

Other notable performances on a night when the weather threatened to steal the thunder from the athletes were Healdsburg sophomore Gabby Peterson’s double. The first-team All-Empire cross country runner won both the 1,600 meters in 15:05 and the 3,200-meters in 11:20. Maria Carrillo sophomore and first team All-Empire cross country selection Aimee Armstrong took third in the 1,600 in 5:07.

“That’s a PR by 10 seconds,” Fogg said of Armstrong’s race. “That’s a really nice break out.”

Even with some time to dry out and mull the evening, coaches were shaking their heads Monday, both at the weather and what their kids did in it.

“There were some pretty remarkable performances under those conditions, no doubt about that,” Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche said.

“It was impressive, top to bottom,” Joesph said. “There were some really great performances. And that’s why we practice in the rain. We don’t off practice in the rain. I don’t know any team that calls off practice. You have to get used to it … Friday proved that.”

It did, in spades.

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

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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