Benefield: Trip to state finals on the line for track and field stars at NCS Meet of Champions

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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.

And coaches reiterated up and down what it means for athletes to not only make this meet, but make it to Day 2.

“For more of the kids, making it to Friday is a big deal and then for the extra-special kids, making it to Saturday is a big deal,” Joseph said. “Making top three (and going to state) is the dream.”

And that dream is alive for more than just a handful of kids.

Maria Carrillo’s boys 4x400 relay squad has a solid shot of making it to Clovis, sitting at the No. 2 seed, and Puma Rory Smail qualified as a No. 2 seed in the 3,200 meters. Middletown’s Trask is again a top seed Saturday — this time in the discus, where he is ranked second — and Cardinal Newman junior Samuel Davison is ranked third.

Carrillo senior Severin Ramirez, a member of that seeded relay team, is ranked No. 3 in the 400 meters with a qualifying time of 49.33. Cardinal Newman junior Justin Patterson is right there with a 49.52 for the fifth seed, Casa Grande senior Jalydon Love’s 49.57 for the sixth seed and Carrillo senior Tyler Van Arden in 49.75 for eighth.

In the 200-meter dash, Casa Grande senior Matthew Mason is ranked third at 21.92, just behind American Canyon freshman sensation Croix Stewart at 21.78. Mason is seeded 11th in the 100 meters with an 11.07.

But these seedings don’t take into account the gamers — the athletes who will show up this weekend and disregard their qualifying seed and do something special. It feels like it happens every year.

Windsor’s Lucas Chung showed he can pull off huge performances under bright lights when he very nearly ran away with the NCS Division 3 cross country title ahead of Stanford-bound and nationally ranked Liam Anderson of Redwood High last fall.

Anderson will likely make life difficult for competitors in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, but there is a lot of local talent in those fields – especially the 1,600.

Carrillo junior Colton Swinth qualified with the fourth seed in 4:16.81, just ahead of Chung’s 4:17.67. Carrillo junior Pierce Kapustka is ranked seventh with a qualifying time of 4:18.73.

“Liam Anderson pretty much takes one spot in both events,” Joseph said. “You are really only fighting for two spots now. It reduces your chances when you have a national-caliber runner in both events.”

But Joseph likes the local talent in that race.

“I wouldn’t put anything past Colton in the 1,600,” she said.

Another fourth seed who Joseph has a good feeling about is Santa Rosa’s own Caitlin Grace. The senior qualified in both the shot put (eighth seed) and discus, but her best shot is likely the latter. Her qualifying throw was 118 feet, 4 inches, but her season best is 125 feet, 2 inches in March. And she’s gone better in training.

“She throws in the 130s in practice and that, on paper, should get you out,” Joseph said. “She works her butt off. I hope she pops one off.”

Middletown senior Taelor Roderick is seeded sixth in the discus, but she, too, can throw it much farther than her qualifying toss, so she is one to watch.

In shot put, it’s many of those same names: Sani (seventh seed), Grace (eighth seed), Roderick (10th seed), but two others put up efforts that seed them higher. Casa Grande junior Lillian McCoy is ranked third with a 39-foot, 5-inch put and Ukiah junior Danielle Cunningham is the fifth seed with a qualifying put of 37 feet, 11.5 inches.

The high jump can be completely unpredictable in a meet of this magnitude and in the forecast conditions, but Sonoma Valley junior Luke Sendaydiego leads the charge with a clearance of 6 feet, 4 inches. Carrillo junior Zavier Rodrigues and senior Mason Adams are in the mix, too, both with qualifying leaps of 6 feet, 2 inches.

Santa Rosa senior Brayden Glascock made the state meet in the 300-meter hurdles as a junior and has the goods to make it again this season, but will be battling a rising star in Windsor’s Vince Corday. The senior Jag ran a 39.56 to earn the third seed and Glascock finished in 39.65. But those rankings are reversed on the season, with Glascock running a personal best of 38.75 at the North Bay League finals and Corday running his personal best last weekend.

“That says it all there,” Santa Rosa co-coach Doug Courtemarche said of Glascock’s setting a new school record at the NBL finals. “I think Brayden recognizes the challenge. He’s right there in it.”

In the boys 800-meter race, two locals have the legs, and likely the guts, to pull off an upset. Junior Logan Moon has run a 1:54 this season. His qualifying time of 1:55.24 puts him in the fourth seed, just ahead of another local who could make a race of it: Healdsburg senior Dante Godinez. He’s in at 1:55.31, a personal best he recorded last weekend.

“I’m continually impressed with him,” Fogg said of Godinez. “Don’t count him out.”

When these two days are over, locals will either see their season ended or extended one more week with a trip to Clovis to compete among the very best.

“We have a really good shot at sending a lot of kids this year,” Joseph said of area talent. “We have a lot of kids knocking on the door. I am hoping we get a lot of kids to Clovis.”

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

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