Sneak Peak at the 2020 Winter Championships

We are only two weeks away from the official start of the 2020 Track & Field Outdoor season in California!  We wrap up the preseason with the California Outdoor Winter Championships this Saturday!  Originating with the idea of bringing the winter indoor season to the Sunshine State, Arcadia High School has hosted the event the last four seasons. What started with an indoor meet, contested in Fresno, in 2007 has now moved to the outdoors but keeping the indoors distances intact. 

With Venue Sports teaming up with Finished Results, the event has continually attracted some of the best athletes all throughout California. Like we've seen in recent years, the Winter Championship offers the fans a sneak peek of the upcoming season's talent pool in the state.  In 2019, Madison's Kenan Christon captured the 60-meter championship while later motoring on to State Titles in the 100 and 200 meters.  Meanwhile, Valencia's Kai Wingo took the title in the 600 meters, only to extend it several months later to a State Championship in the 800 meters!   When glancing through the meet records from the past four seasons, the list features a slew of former state champions including Ariyanna Augustine (Long Beach Poly, now at LSU), Zach Shinnick (Damien, now at USC), Isaac Cortes (Great Oak, now at Stanford), Shae Anderson (Norco, now at UCLA), Abigail Burke (Riverside Poly, now at Dartmouth), Koty Burton (La Quinta, now at LB State), Laurel Wong (Santa Catalina, now at Stanford) and Bronson Osborn (Esperanza, 2018 World U-20 Shot Put Gold Medalist).

 With some of the state's top athletes slated to compete at this Saturday's Winter Championships, many view this as a launching pad to a season that finds them at a State Meet medalist at Buchanan Stadium at the California State Championships on the last weekend of May!


60 meters
What may be brewing to be one of the premier events on the docket, the top returner is
Chrystal Aluya, the Division 1-SS finalist from Valencia, Pl.   She placed fourth a year to champion, Jasmyne Frost of Serra.  This year, the top underclassman at the 2019 California State Meet in the 100 and 200 meters headlines the field!  Madison's Aysha Shaheed was the San Diego Section champ in both events while eventually placing third at the State Meet in the 100 meters.  Two of the Southern Section's best will look for the upset in the likes of Baseline League foes, Jordyn Grady of Upland and Kennedi Porter of Etiwanda.   Representing the LA City Section and teammates at Carson are Kaitlyn Williams and Ryan Lacefield.  Williams is the defending sectional champ in the 100 meters while Lacefield lists the 200-meter title on her resume.  

150 meters
After a hiatus, this event has been placed back onto the schedule.  Most of the top names mentioned above for the 60 meters will also compete here as well with Shaheed owning the top qualifying mark (18.37).   With a relatively smaller field slated to compete here, El Segundo's Lauren Davis and Murrieta Mesa's Stevie Wu bring impressive qualifying marks onto the track.  

300 meters
Last year's champion in this event, Egbe Ndip-agbor has opted to skip the event to focus more on the month of May.  The Harvard-bound senior is the defending Division 1-SS champion in the 200 meters and placed eighth at the State Meet last year.  With that, her league rival, Roosevelt's Naomi Johnson comes in with the top qualifying time (39.91)  Johnson was one of the top freshmen in the nation in 2019 and a State Meet qualifier.  JW North's Amari Jenkins (pictured) is one of the top 300-meter hurdlers in the nation as she placed fifth at the 2019 State Meet in the event.  One of San Diego Section's best in Vista's Summer Sergeant and Golden Valley's Yleana Lopez also look to join the sub-40 second club for this event.  

600 meters
With last year's champ,
Janiah Brown graduated and the top returners opting to wait until the regular season begins, there will all new faces in this one.  Chino sophomore Mia Chavez enters with the top qualifying time of 1:38.35.  But, she will have some strong competition as Fountain Valley sophomore Kaho Cichon and Dana Hills' Mia Lawrence are two of the top returners for the 800-meters in the Southern Section.  Placing fourth here in 2019, Lawrence placed fourth at the Division I-SS finals before placing tenth at the section's Masters Meet.  Norco's Kirstin Light continues to improve (comes in with a 1:39.10 qualifying mark), also watch for Etiwanda's Laila Wright and Ellen Palmgren of Liberty (Bakersfield).     

60 Meter Hurdles
Third at the 2019 California State Meet along with victories at the Southern Section Masters Meet and Division IV-SS Finals (in '18 and '19),
Asjah Atkinson of St. Anthony is the favorite.  The 2019 champion, Bella Witt of Calabasas will sit this one out.  She should receive a strong push from a slew of California's best in the 300 Hurdles!   JW North's Amari Jenkins (third place at the 2019 State Meet), Upland's Jordyn Grady (fourth place) and Roosevelt's Myah Hatcher (SM qualifier) headline those that should be chasing Atkinson.   Elise Craft, moving over from Thousand Oaks to Oaks Christian, was a Masters Meet qualifier in the longer hurdles while fifth at the Division II-SS Finals in the 100 hurdles.  


1500 meters
Last year's champion,
Tori Gaitan of Great Oak, will wait for the regular season.  Her Winter Championships victory last year ended up being her last race of 2019 which was cut short to injuries.   Runner-up a year ago as a freshman, Sofia Abrego (pictured) will control the pace in this one.  She is the defending LA City Section Champion in the 1600 and 3200 meters.  She placed 10th and 12th, respectively, at the California State Meet in those events.  Covina's Katelyn Vuong impressed in her 4:47.92 qualifying effort.    Rebecca Schultz of Westlake is back after losing her 2019 season to injury, with a qualifying time of 4:51.00 while Claremont's Maddie Coles (4:51.32) and Great Oak's Arianna Griffiths (4:51.80) are also slated to up front for this event.  Griffiths was third here in 2019 with Vuong crossing in fifth.  

3000 meters
As mentioned, Great Oak's Gaitan will rest up for the regular season and sit this one out.  With many of the same faces mentioned from the 1500 meters, unfortunately, this is not a big field.  Abrego was fourth in this event a year ago but receive some great competition from Great Oak's
Audrey Dang and freshman Kelli Gaffney.  Dang just missed qualifying for the State Meet last year while the UC-Davis bound senior is coming off a great Cross Country season.  Costa Mesa's Diane Molina placed third at the Winter Championships in 2019 and looking to place higher in 2020.    


Long Jump
Defending State Champion, Upland's Caelyn Harris will provide a show in the jumping pits.  She was one of the talented freshmen in the nation in 2019 but looks to improve upon her impressive marks in 2020.  Known more for her hurdling talent, St. Anthony's Asjah Atkinson holds her own in this event as evidenced by her sixth-place finish at the State Meet last year.  Great Oak's Summer Stevenson is also looking to prove that her 19-5 personal best from 2019 is a level she can continue to match on a consistent basis.  

Triple Jump
Summer Stevenson of Great Oak was the Division I-SS champion in 2019 but she has plenty of company pushing her for the victory this weekend.   Vallejo's Sameerah Evans, Upland's Kerrington Smith, and the Carson duo Arrieya Harper and Tirah Timms were all State Meet qualifiers but looking to advance to the SM finals in 2020.  

Pole Vault
Three of California's best will take to the elevated runway here.  Defending State Champion,
Ashley Callahan of Rancho Bernardo (pictured) is fresh off a 13-4 clearance and captured the title at the National Pole Vault Summit several weeks ago.  Westlake's Paige Sommers was runner-up to Callahan at last year's State Meet, and placed third (12-10) at the same event.  Meanwhile, Poway's Katerina Adamiec got onto the medals' stand at the State Meet with a sixth-place finish and will attend UCLA this fall.   

High Jump
Victoria Plummer of Moorpark returns after a strong 2019 campaign that saw her place third at the California State Meet.   She was runner-up here in 2018, her teammate Quynh Gedney will look to join Plummer as she did at last year's State Meet.  Isabella Palchak will make the trip down from St. Francis of Sacramento while the rest of the group all look to eclipse the 5-02 bar.  

Shot Put
Faith Bender of Liberty (Bakersfield) has been a stalwart on the statewide scene the past two seasons and is the headliner this weekend.  She placed third here in 2018, second in 2019 and is the overwhelming favorite in 2020.  She placed fifth in this event at the State Meet last year while earning the runner-up medal in the Discus.  


4x200 Meter Relay
Consistently amongst the top 4x400 squads in California, Roosevelt comes in with the top seed time of 1:41.86.  Etiwanda rolled to a 1:43.31 in qualifying while Yucaipa returns all of their members from 2019 and ran a 1:45.49.   Orange Vista came home with the surprising victory last year, barely holding off a fast-charging Roosevelt group down the stretch, 1:42.80-1:42.94.  

800 Meter Sprint Medley Relay (1-1-2-4)
Calabasas looks to defend their meet record victory from last year.  Usually one of the stronger 4x400 squads in California, the Dolphins come in with the fastest qualifying mark of 1:49.67.    Yucaipa qualified with a 1:52.27 with Arcadia looking to defend their home track with a qualifying mark of 1:53.62.  

4x800 Meter Relay
Great Oak traditionally unveils some of the top distance relay nationally-ranked squads on a yearly basis.  They look to hold off all challengers and defend their victory from 2019.     

Distance Medley Relay (12-4-8-16)
As has been the case in recent years, the women of Great Oak and Claremont will clash in the distance relays.  Claremont has run away with victories the last several years in this event as they look to break their 2018 meet record of 12:17.75.   La Canada also impressed in breaking 13 minutes in qualifying.   


60 Meters
Last year's thrilling finish featured Christon's victory in 6.984 (-1.2w) while in fourth place, Valencia's Tylyn Cook was recorded at 7.000!   Only .006 separated the top four in 2019!  Cook is the top returner, entering with the second-fastest qualifying mark (7.09).   Upland's all-everything senior, Namir Hemphill has the top qualifying time in 7.07.  Pittman's Michael Moore placed ninth last year as only one of two underclassmen to finish in the top 11.  With this being the shortest (and quickest) race of the season for these boys, reaction time out of the blocks is paramount 

150 Meters
Meet management opted to add this event back into the fold, with some of the top names in the 60 meters returning to try their hand here in the 150 meters.  Nicholas Weaver of University comes in with the fastest qualifying mark of 16.20.  But Ayala's Chase Mars is not too far behind with a qualifying mark of 16.44.  One to watch though is Calabasas' Nicholas Gates.  Gates was one of the top freshmen sprinters in California for 2019 as he captured the Division II-SS titles in the 100 and 200 meters.     

300 Meters
This could be one of the premier events for the boys if everybody slated to compete truly does.  The top seed is no other than Upland's Namir Hemphill at 34.77.  Arguably the most talented athlete in California for our sport, he qualified for six events and will obviously eliminate two.  I stellar field of 200/400 athletes, La Sierra's Donovan Nelson was third a year ago and one of the top seeds.  Palm Desert's Liam Carr
(48.53 best for 400 meters) eclipsed the 35-second barrier for the event while Calabasas' sophomore, Nicholas Gates ran a 35.19.  Golden Valley's Antonio Abrego (pictured, bib 1112) may double back from competing in the 600 meters.  Also, watch for Saugus' Brandon Cruz as he eclipsed the 50-second threshold as a sophomore in 2019 and was sixth overall last year.  

600 Meters
Golden Valley's Antonio Abrego flew to an impressive 1:19.79 in qualifying and within range of setting a new meet record.  The eventual state champion, Kai Wingo, won this event in 2019 with a 1:19.80 while Abrego placed third at 1:21.05.  He went on to place second at the Division II-SS Finals in the event, just missing the Masters Meet (which he qualified for as a freshman).  Westlake's Michael Han brings in the second-fastest seed time of 1:23.80.  Thacher's Winslow Atkeson, LB Wilson's Seaver Cardoza, Granada Hills' Cai Duran, and Narbonne's Nicholas Castro eclipsed 1:25 in qualifying and will look to challenge the heavily favored, Abrego.  

60 Meter Hurdles
Cathedral's Anthony Taylor comes in as the favorite as he comes back from a sophomore season that had him earning a sixth-place medal at the California State Meet.  As he qualified in 8.13, keep in mind that the meet record is 8.09.  Peninsula's Aiden Lieb is one of the most talented all-around boys in the Southern Section and rolled to a 8.24 in qualifying.  Do not forget that Lieb is the defending Division II-SS champ and trying to come back from a disappointing finish to 2019 where he just missed qualifying for the State Meet final.  Other notables here include Big Bear's Anthony Forrest, El Camino's Jayden Kennedy, and Summit's Joshua Hornsby.   Hornsby was third at the 2019 Division II-SS finals.  


1500 meters
With a strong field assembled, the Great duo of
Chris Verdugo (headed to the Air Force Academy this Fall) and Cole Sawires-Yager return after placing second and third a year ago.  But, the favorite may be Ethan Jones of Liberty (Bakersfield).  Riding of vapor of Newbury Park's Nico Young and Jace Aschbrenner on this same track two weeks ago, Jones revealed that he's in sub-4:17 fitness for the full 1600 meters (his best is 4:21.38).  Sawires-Yager dipped below 4:02 in qualifying while West Torrance's Alex Mainvielle and Thacher's Winslow Atkeson also broke 4:03.   With that, the final and fastest heat of this event features a lot of experience and talent.    

3000 meters
It's difficult to gauge by qualifying marks who are the favorites for the 3000 meters.  But, based on Alex Mainvielle's 8:42.18, he may be going after the 8:42.12 meet record.  Competing for Chadwick a year ago, he placed fourth at the Division IV-SS finals in the 1600 and 3200 meters and owns modest bests of 4:26.45 and 9:40.86.  Meanwhile, Great Oak's
Gabriel Abbes is looking to kick off a successful senior campaign while also count on Granada's Anthony Guerra to be up front as well.  Based on Guerra's 8:52.45 qualifying mark, he's looking to improve his personal bests right out of the gates.  We expect Great Oak to have several boys scoring points here and securing another team championship.  


Long Jump
Angel Ledesma of Canyon, Ana. was runner-up a year ago and a slight favorite going into the weekend's affairs. But, if Namir Hemphill opts to choose long jump as one of the six events he qualified for, Ledesma will have a fight on his hands (legs?). Paul Portillo comes in with the third-best qualifying mark. Villa Park's Kyle Jankans, Devin Gandy of Silverado while Oceanside's John Gibbs looks to bring his triple jumping success over to this event 

Triple Jump
As referenced in our long jump preview, John Gibbs comes up from Oceanside where he was the San Diego Section runner-up and a State Meet finalist in 2019. But, Upland's Namir Hemphill is slated here once again. Hemphill placed fifth at the 2019 State Meet and owns a personal best of 48-10. Meanwhile, Jordan's Andrew Gallardo is the top returner after placing third a year ago.  Do not overlook Northwood's Miles Carter, who owns a best of 46-3.5.  

High Jump
This event will steal some attention away from the track events. 
Tyler Cash (pictured) is the class of the field and one of the main headliners at this year's Winter Championships.  The Division II-SS champion, Cash is coming off a 6-8 clearance from two weeks ago.  His personal best of 6-10 came at the right time when he placed second at the 2019 State Championships.  But defending champion, Joseph Ruddell of Morro Bay is making the trek back down to Arcadia. With a 6-10 best, he was fifth at the State Meet. With a best of 6-8, Villa Park's Kyle Jankans placed seventh at the State Meet. 

Pole Vault
Providing a talented field, not much separates those competing for the title.  As a sophomore, Great Oak's
Jack Wright earned the runner-up medal here a year ago.  But, teammate, Kyle Yonker is the one that stole the headlines at the State Meet with a surprising fourth place finish.  He owns a 15-9 best and came through with a 15-2 effort three weeks ago at the National Pole Vault Summit.  Eli Gault-Crabb of Burroughs (Burbank) is coming off a personal best of 15-4 two weeks ago in qualifying for this weekend.   Do not overlook Everett's Vicentejordan Vanderlipe who placed third here a year ago.  

Shot Put
With Esperanza's
Jeff Duensing opting out of this weekend's event, Jake Porter of Canyon, Ana., Golden Valley's Kienan Donovan and Los Alamitos' Sawyer Howard will provide a great battle in the ring.   Donovan placed fourth here a year ago with Howard a distant fifth.  But, in the end, Howard providing the fireworks with a fourth place finish at the California State Meet with a huge three-foot personal best (61-2).  While Donovan was a State Meet finalist as a sophomore in 2019, Porter was a Masters Meet qualifier in both throws a year ago.    


4x200 Relay
Cathedral captured the victory a year but graduated three off that team.  Upland comes in with the top qualifying time of 1:30.03, but we will see if they place Namir Hemphill on this squad.  

Sprint Medley Relay (1-1-2-4)
Meet record holders, Cathedral will try to hold off a tough Vista Murrieta crew that enters with the top seed time of 1:35.41.   Cathedral earned runner-up honors a year ago, just behind Valencia.   

4x800 Meter Relay
Great Oak held off a stingy Dana Hills group a year ago and once again, are the favorites.  

Distance Medley Relay (12-4-8-16)
Great Oak, the best distance program in the nation the past several years, created a monopoly last year with their 'A' team holding off their 'B' team.  Should we expect the same?  


Photos by Todd Cash, Zoe, Medranda, Brandon Miles, Karen Ocskasy, Jeffrey Parenti, DeAnna Turner