Benefield: Track and field athletes ready for league showdown

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Who: North Bay League track and field finalists

What: NBL Championship

When: 3 p.m.

Where: Montgomery High School, 1250 Hahman Dr., Santa Rosa

New league alignment, new meet format, new rules — there are a bunch of changes afoot for the North Bay League track and field finals Friday. But all the good — fast and far — stuff, thankfully, stays the same.

The new meet, hosted by Montgomery High, will feature all 12 schools from both the NBL-Oak and NBL-Redwood divisions, with athletes vying for the top six automatic qualifier spots or six additional at-large spots to earn entry into the North Coast Section-Redwood Division meet on May 11 at Maria Carrillo High.

Some 46 miles away at American Canyon High School, the schools in the new Vine Valley Athletic League — Casa Grande, Petaluma, Sonoma Valley, Justin-Siena, American Canyon, Vintage and Napa — will run their first league championship Friday as well.

As the weeks in May go on, the number of athletes advancing from the NBL and VVAL gets smaller. Next weekend at the NCS-Redwood Empire meet, schools from the Marin County Athletic League and Humboldt-Del Norte will join athletes from the NBL and VVAL to compete for spots at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions on May 17-18 at Diablo Valley College. From there the thinning continues — only the top three earn a spot at the CIF state track and field meet at Buchanan High in Clovis on May 24 and 25.

The process all began with Wednesday’s preliminary meets. But at the finals Friday, there will be something new. NBL coaches like their depth across the board, so they decided to go with two heats in the shorter races in order to give more athletes a chance to post a fast final time to advance to next week’s Redwood meet.

And as deep as the NBL appears in a number of events, athletes from those 12 schools may grab a fair share of the six-per-event at-large spots.

“If we are going to grab as many at-large spots as possible, we need to have two heats,” said Santa Rosa High co-coach Carrie Joseph.

Those spots will be secured or lost at the big meet at Montgomery High on Friday.

Looking at results from Wednesday, a number of events stand out.

The shorter sprints on the boys side is more wide open in recent years because two of Maria Carrillo’s sprint stars are nursing injuries. Severin Ramirez and Tyler Van Arden, both seniors, are limiting their race menu to the 400 meters and the 4x400 meter relay, an event Pumas coach Greg Fogg thinks can earn the team a trip to the state meet later this month.

All that makes the boys’ 400 meters a race to watch.

“That’s going to be a really good race,” Fogg said.

Leading the charge into that one is Cardinal Newman junior Justin Patterson, who clocked a prelim-best 50.63. For context, the best time coming out of the VVAL prelims was the 51.21 put up by Casa Grande senior Jalydon Love.

Patterson is again looking like the guy to beat in the 200 meters, after he sprinted to a 23.02 ahead of Jay Luis, a senior from Rancho Cotate, and Max Sandwina, a junior from Windsor. But a league over, freshman sensation Croix Stewart of American Canyon finished his VVAL prelim in 22.53. Casa senior Matthew Mason came in second in 22.99 and Love crossed in 23.24.


Who: North Bay League track and field finalists

What: NBL Championship

When: 3 p.m.

Where: Montgomery High School, 1250 Hahman Dr., Santa Rosa

And in the 100 meters, the prelim times were about as tight as you could get with Luis and teammate Noah Holzmann, a sophomore, both clocking a 11.41 in different heats and Sandwina going 11.43. In the VVAL, the top guys — Stewart, Justin Siena senior Conrad Say and Casa’s Matthew Mason — went 11.28, 11.30 and 11.41, respectively.

In the girls’ shorter sprints, it’s a freshman from Santa Rosa High who leads the pack.

Kassidy Schroth’s 12.72 in the 100 meters on Wednesday moved her to 37th on the all-time Redwood Empire list and is the 10th-fastest freshman time. What makes this one good, according to coaches, is that Windsor sophomore Isabela Chavez is giving good chase. Chavez crossed in 12.80, good enough for 43rd all-time and the eighth-fastest sophomore time. In the VVAL, the top time was posted by Petaluma sophomore Cali Sullivan, who raced to a 13.066 just ahead of Casa Grande senior Lauren Doran in 13.069.

In the 200 meters, it is teammates duking it out. Schroth won the sprint Wednesday in 26.38 (24th all-time) and senior Izel Zamora was second in 26.57. Freshman Sydney Thweatt from Justin-Siena was the best of the VVAL runners, clocking a 27.17.

The boys long jump got a number of coaches’ attention, with four athletes leaping farther than 20 feet and a fifth hitting 20 feet dead on. Rancho’s Luis led the charge with a leap of 20 feet, 10 inches, followed by Piner senior Reanne Ball going for 20 feet, 8 inches. Carrillo’s all-arounder Mason Adams leaped for 20 feet, 4 inches and Vu Ngo, a senior from Piner, went 20 feet, 3 inches. Soul Berna, a sophomore from El Molino, landed at 20 feet even.

“Four guys going over 20 feet? That is good,” Fogg said.

A new name in the hurdle game is Montgomery senior Leah Haley. Haley, who finished ninth in the CIF state cross country Division 3 finals last fall, had never run hurdles until days ago. Now it’s on her docket in addition to her main event, the 800 meters.

“She’s never done hurdles in her life and then did them for us at our last league meet,” Montgomery coach Melody Karpinski said. “She ran a crazy good time.”

Haley ran a 49.23 to finish second behind Cardinal Newman sophomore Aysia Dural, who finished in 48.74 Wednesday. So the Vikings decided to drop Haley from the 1,600 meters and try her at the hurdles.

“She ran this good time with one practice and she has always been one of our all-athletes,” Karpinski said. “We are rolling the dice a little bit.”

In the boys distance contests, it’s the usual speedy suspects from Maria Carrillo: juniors Colton Swinth, Rory Smail and Pierce Kapustka, who have season bests in the 1,600 meters of 4:21.61, 4:21.69 and 4:21.70, respectively.

And right there are Windsor senior Lucas Chung with a season best of 4:22.19 and Healdsburg’s Dante Godinez with a 4:22.82. Everybody in that race will want to crack 4:20, according to Fogg.

In the 3,200 meters, it’s Smail, Chung, Sonoma Academy senior Andre Williams (who won the Division 5 state cross country title last fall) and Vintage senior Manny Guzman who have posted the best times of the season.

The boys 800 meters has a tough mix with Casa Grande junior Logan Moon, Healdsburg’s Godinez, Windsor’s Vince Corday and the Hite brothers, Owen and William, from Casa Grande all putting up competitive times.

And on the girls side, Healdsburg senior Gabby Peterson is lined up to race a triple: 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters. On her tail will be Analy senior Sierra Atkins, who always puts on a show, as well as fellow senior Aimee Armstrong, who has been painfully close to cracking the five-minute barrier in the 1,600 meters.

“All distance races will be awesome,” Fogg said.

Another good duel will likely be in girls discus, where El Molino junior Kassidy Sani has taken charge with a prelim throw of 115 feet, 8 inches, ahead of Santa Rosa senior Caitlin Grace — just behind with a throw of 114 feet, 6 inches.

Grace flipped the script in the shot put, besting Sani with a put of 33 feet, 8 inches to Sani’s 33 feet even.

But Ukiah junior Danielle Cunningham walked away with the day’s best effort with a put of 34 feet, 6 inches.

The same back and forth played out on the boys side of the throwing events, with Cardinal Newman junior Samuel Davison winning the discus easily with a heave of 155 feet, 10 inches.

Second place went to Austin Kelsey of El Molino, who threw for 136 feet, 9 inches. Ukiah’s Kalathan Laiwa-McKay got third with a heave of 134 feet, 9 inches. But in the shot, it was Laiwa-McKay who got the win with a put of 52 feet, 5 inches to Davison’s 47 feet, 1 inch. Kelsey got third with a 44 feet, 7 inches.

North Bay League pennants have been given out — to the Santa Rosa High girls and to Maria Carrillo boys in the Oak division and Analy girls and boys in Redwood, but Friday’s event will be for individual titles and combined team championship meet titles.

But perhaps more important, it’s the beginning of the one-and-done phase of track. An off day sends an athlete home. And for many local athletes, they’d like to keep their season going, perhaps booking a date for Clovis later this month.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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