Benefield: Trip to state finals on the line for track and field stars at NCS Meet of Champions
After months - and in many cases, years - of training and preparation, emerging from this weekend’s two-day North Coast Section Meet of Champions to earn a spot at the CIF state track and field meet can come down to the smallest of details.
Not, perhaps, a tenth of a second or a half-inch, but to a second pair of socks.
With rain forecast for all day Saturday at the biggest meet (so far) of the year, success can ride on mental strength and simple preparation, especially in adverse conditions.
“Just take care of more of the little details when the weather is an issue,” Santa Rosa High co-coach Carrie Joseph said. “This is the kind of stuff good athletes do - they prepare for all of the contingencies.”
And that means socks.
“If it’s really wet, bringing two pairs of socks - one pair to warm up in and one pair of socks to race in,” she said. Something so small is the kind of thing that can lessen an athlete’s anxiety in a most anxiety-inducing moment.
On Saturday for the finals? The forecast calls for 100% chance of rain.
And for many locals, the stage at the Meet of Champions is huge. This is one of the fastest, best meets in the nation.
“We have always told our kids to treat this like a state championship. Getting to this is the equivalent of making a state meet in other areas,” Joseph said. “Typically the marks that you see at a meet like this Saturday, in the final, are marks that would stand out against pretty much any state in the country except for (maybe) Texas, New York, Florida.”
But if things go right and if athletes perform to their past performances and rankings on paper, this could be a banner year in terms of Redwood Empire athletes advancing to the state meet at Buchanan High School in Clovis next weekend, according to area coaches.
“I think it’s an exciting year,” Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg said, pointing to the wide range of events that feature strong local contenders vying for a trip to the state meet.
In most events, only the top finishers in Friday’s preliminaries make the finals Saturday, held for the first time in years not at Cal’s Edwards Stadium but at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. A number of field events, including girls discus, pole vault and triple jump as well as boys high jump, triple jump and shot put, will determine state qualifiers from Friday’s competition.
From Saturday’s finals, only the top three finishers move on to the state meet.
Three locals have secured No. 1 seeds among North Coast Section competitors, and one - Healdsburg distance sensation Gabby Peterson, a senior - is the top-ranked runner in two events. Peterson’s seed time in the 1,600 meters is 4:47.9 - barely a whisper behind Mia Barnett of Village Christian’s state best of 4:47.3, which, like Peterson’s, was posted Saturday. Peterson’s 10:42 seed time in the 3,200 meters isn’t even close to her personal best this season and it still netted her the top spot at MOC.
Peterson threw down a 10:25 in the 3,200 meters at the Arcadia Invitational in April. That time puts her at seventh fastest in California this season.
“My God, she gets faster every week,” Fogg said of the Oregon State-bound runner. “I’m hoping she can just hold that fitness and keep it going.”
And Peterson will have a familiar, fast, and - let’s be honest -friendly foe in the 1,600 meters this weekend in Analy High senior Sierra Atkins. Atkins, who will run at UC Davis next year, grabbed the second seed with a 4:57 qualifying time and she, too, has the legs to go even faster. She ran a personal best of 4:51 at the North Bay League championship meet May 3 - good enough for 10th fastest in California this season.
The two other top seeds are throwers: El Molino junior Kassidy Sani in the discus and Middletown senior Bryson Trask in the shot put. Both, in addition to third-seed shot putter Kalathan Laiwa-McKay of Ukiah, may have a little luck on their side in that both the girls discus and the boys shot put finals are Friday - in between the predicted rain showers. Petaluma all-around athlete Sydney Dennis got a piece of that luck, too - she’s the No. 2 seed in the triple jump, another competition that will start and conclude Friday.
Dennis set a school and meet record last weekend at the NCS Redwood event, jumping 37 feet, 5¼ inches. She also qualified in the long jump, the 100-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles. She has dropped the 100-meter hurdles from her very full plate this weekend.
“She’s a great, amazing athlete,” Joseph said. “She’s the kind of person who is a second-day person,” capable of advancing to the MOC finals on Saturday.