Benefield: Bar set high at competitive Meet of Champions

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So this is where things start heating up.

The Meet of Champions, the North Coast Section — whatever you want to call it — it’s the track meet where things happen.

Legs go faster, throws go farther, jumps go higher — season bests are set. And for the elite few, tickets are punched for a weekend in Clovis.

“This meet is like one of the premier meets in the whole nation in terms of quality,” said Greg Fogg, track coach at Maria Carrillo.

While some earlier marquee events like the Stanford Invitational and the Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles produced some personal bests and strong results, those were early season meets. Athletes who converge on Cal’s Edwards Stadium Friday are likely fitter than they were just weeks ago and primed for the postseason, Fogg said.

“People have been taking care of themselves, are hopefully healthy. They all should just be positioned to do amazing things,” he said.

“This is a big venue where people really pay attention to these marks,” he said. “It’s a lot of competition.”

You can say that again.

“It’s a tougher meet than a lot of state meets,” said Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche. “A lot of state champions come out of this meet.”

And some of the performances that will be put up over the next two days could be the fastest, farthest, highest in the country for high schoolers.

Only the top finishers in Friday’s preliminaries make the finals Saturday. From there, only the top three move on to the CIF State Track and Field Championship at Buchanan Track and Field at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Clovis next weekend.

The bar is high. But there are some area athletes who could have the goods to make the cut.

“There are really talented kids and any one of them could have the day that could take them to the state meet,” Courtemarche said.

Sonoma Academy sophomore Rylee Bowen is a favorite to return to Clovis — an event she made as a freshman. Bowen, who has posted national-best times this year, is slated to run the 1,600- and 3,200-meters at MOC. She will be joined in the longer race by Santa Rosa senior Delaney White, the four-time North Bay League cross country champion.

“Delaney is sitting in good shape,” said Santa Rosa distance coach Carrie Joseph. “I think she might have something to say on Saturday.”

Santa Rosa junior Luca Mazzanti has had a heckuva season in the 1,600 meters thus far. Courtemarche and others say he may not be done yet.

“His season has been unbelievable,” Courtemarche said. “We call him the beast out there because he just nails every workout. He’s getting better as the season progresses and he’s never been better than he is right now. It puts him in the hunt for the state meet.”

“He reminds me of (Casa Grande grad) Nick Rauch — really tough,” Fogg said.

Also in the hunt from Santa Rosa? Sophomore Kirsten Carter.

Last year’s sprint sensation who earned a trip to Clovis is focusing on the 200 meters this postseason.

In the boys’ 3,200 meters, El Molino’s junior Brian Schulz is a strong contender to punch a ticket to the state meet, in part because he runs well around tough competition.

“He’s a gamer,” Joseph said.

Sonoma Valley senior Isabel Garon has a shot at making a return trip to state in the pole vault.

“She’s pretty darned good,” said Piner coach Luis Rosales.

In the discuss, Willits High’s Will Smith has the goods to go, as does Santa Rosa’s Delano Bell.

Casa Grande’s girls’ 4x100 relay team has spent the season breaking records. The team of Annie Gallo, Jordan Boehning, Hannah Barlow and Destiny Williams, now own the fastest time (49.10) in Empire history and could make a run at MOC.

“They are a good thing,” Fogg said.

Rosales has hope that Piner’s 4x400 girls relay team — a group that broke a school record in their one race together this year — could put up a good time today.

In the 800 meters, Santa Rosa senior Aimee Holland could pull off something special and Casa Grande’s Zachary Esponda “has a real good shot at making” it to state, Fogg said.

Fogg called Carrillo senior Ian Herculson’s chances in the 200 meters strong.

“(He) has a legit shot at making finals,” he said. “It’s a pretty tall order to get through.”

It’s a tall order for any athlete who suits up in Berkeley to get through to Clovis.

But it’s also the last go-around for a lot of them and that brings with it an extra push, Fogg said. And special things can happen when athletes who are at peak fitness are faced with either moving on or hanging up their spikes, in some cases for good.

“For a lot of kids, this is their senior year,” he said. “It’s got that level of intensity.”

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

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