By MARK GARDNER
In what has become the premier Track & Field event of the Inland Empire, welcome to the 15th edition of the Inland Empire Championships! The best of Riverside County comes together with the best of San Bernardino County to showcase one of the strongest Track & Field hotbeds in the United States. Pound for pound, the Inland Empire has become the most competitive region in California and you will be witness to that talent this weekend.
The 2017 CIF-Southern Section finals saw the Inland Empire earn 27 individual CIF titles along with 27 runner-up finishes. Furthermore, we also witnessed five relay squad titles come back home.
On the boys' side, Great Oak is the mid-season favorite to capture the SS-Division I title and has the inside track to the State Team title right now. Reflecting back, the Broncos of Vista Murrieta were the CIF Division I Boys Champions from 2010-2013 only to see Southwestern League rival, Great Oak, bring home the titles in 2014 and 2016. Drafting off those national powers' success, nearby Rancho Verde took the team title in 2017 while on their way to the California State Team Title!
The two previous seasons, Vista Murrieta came back home with the championship hardware. At the Division I CIF Finals in 2016, the top four squads (GO, VM, RV and Riverside ML King) all hailed from Riverside County. In 2017, five of the top six squads descended from the Inland Empire with Rancho Verde, Great Oak and Roosevelt claiming the top three spots, respectively.
The SS-Div. I Team Champion has come from Riverside County the last eight seasons.
For the Division I girls in 2017, four of the top seven squads came from the Inland Empire with Great Oak settling for the 2nd place plaque by a mere four points behind Long Beach Poly. Over the past two decades, only two schools were able to break the dynasty set forth by the Long Beach legacies (Poly and Wilson) - both from the IE. Rancho Verde's girls turned the trick in 2007 while Great Oak did so in 2016. Could it happen again here in 2018? Upland's girls have come into mid-April as the mid-season team favorite for the Division I team title with Great Oak not too far off their heels.
Vista Murrieta High School will host the meet in 2018 once again. With the meet being the genesis of Chris Drescher of the Finished Results timing firm, he formed a collaborative meet committee that has come together to take this invitational to another level. With a more consolidated schedule this year, this meet runs as efficient as any other.
You will be entertained by a slew of California State Meet qualifiers and CIF Finalists while the top squads and individuals in the Inland Empire clash for bragging rights and supremacy. The top athletes are bouncing back from the Arcadia Invitational last weekend and with league finals less than three weeks away, the very best are fine tuning to step it up to another level in May! The overall depth, especially in the boys' sprints, is staggering. We expect to see most meet records challenged on all levels while you do not want to overlook those future stars at the Frosh/Soph level!