2020 Southern Section Boys Preview


Senior sprinter Anthony Johnson leads an always-strong Long Beach Poly team. (file photo)


The Jackrabbits of Long Beach Poly are back to defend their 2019 team championship!  But, as has become a tradition over the past decade, they will have to go through the Inland Empire powerhouses in Great Oak, Vista Murrieta and last year's runner-up, Upland!  Poly graduated the majority of its points while Upland will have to rebound off the graduation of superstar and State 300 hurdles champion Caleb Roberson.  With Poly grabbing the title last year, it was the first time since 2009 (Dana Hills) that the Division 1 team champion was not from Riverside County.  Vista Murrieta and Great Oak earned four titles apiece during that nine-year span with Rancho Verde's state championship squad of 2018 sandwiched in.   

On paper, Southwest League rivals Vista Murrieta and Great Oak are the preseason favorites.  Vista Murrieta features one of the top field event specialists (junior Darius Hill) in the division to go along with a top-ranked hurdler and thrower.  Great Oak counters with huge points in the field events to go along with their dominance in the distances. These were the most successful programs in the section last decade and looks like they will start right where they left off in the 2020's!   

Upland and Long Beach Poly will be there as well but Newbury Park may be able to break into the top three, just based on their jaw-dropping early season results in the distances.  Those same points could impact the battle between our two favorites as well!

Solomon Strader of West Ranch earns the headlines as we look forward to the 2020 season. Strader is the defending Div. 1 champion in the 400 meters while placing second in the 200 meters. The University of Miami-bound senior focused on the 400 down the stretch, capturing the Masters Meet and earning the third-place medal at the State Meet.  Strader is a three-time State Meet finalist and one of the nation's best, returning with 21.45 and 46.59 from his 2019 resume.  

Long Beach Poly's Anthony Johnson is the only other sprinter in the division that qualified in two sprinting events last year. In helping boost his squad to the championship, he was fourth in the 100 meters before coming back to place fifth in the 200-meters. He owns the fourth-fastest returning marks in the Southern Section in both events as he qualified for the Masters Meet in the 100 meters in 2019.  He is also one of the division's best long jumpers.  

As a sophomore, Oxnard's Isaiah Marecheau placed fifth in the 100 meters last year but also crossed in fifth at the Masters Meet to earn himself a spot at the State Meet. There, he just missed qualifying for the finals.  Aliso Niguel's Kaden Reynolds finished third in the event last year and also qualified for the Masters Meet. 

Long Beach Poly's Everett Steward has been a fixture since his freshman year but is one of the section's best for the 400 meters. Fourth at the divisional finals, he excelled to a sixth-place finish at the State Meet.  He is also one of the top 800-meter athletes (1:54.84, seventh fastest returner) in the division, but opted to focus on the one-lapper in the 2019 postseason.  His younger teammate, sophomore Jaelen Knox will be one to look out for. Although competing at the Frosh/Soph level at the Moore League Finals, he rolled to 10.87w and 21.69 marks! His 200-meter time is the third-fastest returning in the Southern Section as we go into 2020. 

Edison's Ryan Rivituso brings his 48.26 best from Division 2 in 2020. That time is the fourth-fastest returner in the Southern Section as he advanced to the Masters Meet as a sophomore in 2019. He looked very sharp in opening up with victories in the 200 (22.69) and 400 meters (49.98) last weekend.   Also, for the 400 meters, expect Glendale's Dylan Andrade (49.19) to make an impact in 2020. 

Other stars to keep an eye on include Rancho Cucamonga's Silas Bolden as his 10.61 wind-aided effort is the fastest returning mark under all conditions.  Loyola's Ceyair Wright was a finalist in the 200 meters as his 21.84 clocking is the fifth-fastest coming into 2020.  Wright, one of the top junior football recruits in the section, just missed advancing in the 100 meters, despite a 10.84 wind-legal performance at the 2019 prelims.  

Cajon's Lorenzo McMillan motored to the 100-meter finals last year while Roosevelt, junior Jaylend Howard comes in with a 49.22 time from the 2019 finals. 

For the 110 hurdles, only ONE returner is back for the 2020 campaign as the entire field in 2019 was virtually all seniors. Vista Murrieta's Hunter Escorcia (pictured) is the lone wolf(or Bronco in this case) returning as he also advanced to the divisional finals in 2018 as a sophomore. It was a frustrating junior season for him, considering how he advanced to the State Meet a year earlier as well, but with similar results.  But, he will be matched up against Summit's Joshua Hornsby, who shined in capturing the 60-meter hurdles at the Winter Championships two weeks ago. Hornsby moves in from Division 2 where he placed third a year ago. The division is taking all applicants willing to break 15-seconds as spots are definitely open. 

Moving to the 300 hurdles, arguably the most talented athlete in California is Upland's Namir Hemphill. He returns with the fastest time in the Southern Section (37.50) and slated to win the divisional championship in 2020. Keep in mind, he is usually competing in the triple jump while competing in the event. He was third at the divisional finals in 2019 as he included the event into his arsenal with an eighth-place finish at the State Meet. Escorcia (39.61 best) was seventh in 2019 while Trabuco Hills' Isaac Korn (39.07 best) was also a finalist. Summit's Hornsby also brings in a 39.71 best that will bolster this event in 2020. 

Both defending champs return for the 2020 season. What about the third event? That being the 800 meters where all nine finalists from 2019 were seniors.  But, more on that event in a bit. THE main headliner, regardless of any event, in the Southern Section is Newbury Park's Nico Young (pictured).   Shattering the national record in the 3000 meters recently, he has his eyes set on setting the national 3200-meter record this season. Committed to attending Northern Arizona University, he is the defending divisional and State Champion in the event. His ability to negative-split the event during last postseason was jaw-dropping as we are, in the midst of perhaps, the greatest prep distance runner in the history of the United States.  In record-setting style, Young captured the title at the Nike Cross Nationals last December.  

Staying with the 8-lapper, his teammate, Jace Aschbrenner has created his own shadow of respect as well.  Runner-up to Young at the 2019 finals, he proved that he is one of the nation's best off of his performance this past cross country season.  Peaking with a 9:05.55 at the Masters Meet, he placed eleventh at the State Meet for the 3200 meters. Last month, his performance for the 1500 meters equated out to a sub-4:15 effort for the full 1600 meters.  BUT this past weekend, Aschbrenner erupted for an 8:24.23 in the 3000 meters, which converts to a sub-9:02 performance for the full 3200 meters! Staying with the Panthers, sophomore Colin Sahlman and junior Nick Goldstein would have eclipsed the 9:15 threshold for the 3200 as well. Sahlman was the nation's third-fastest freshman for the 1600 meters in 2019 with a 4:15.14 victory at the Arcadia Rising Stars Mile.    

Returners from the 2019 finals also include Mira Costa's Billy Atkinson (9:17.38), who placed fifth along with Roosevelt's Raul Chavez.  Atkinson's effort advanced him forward to the Masters Meet as he is coming off a cross country season that saw him shine at the State Meet with a fifth-place finish in the toughest division in the country. 

Moving to the 1600 meters, Crescenta Valley's Dylan Wilbur is the defending champion, where he rolled to a 4:12.31 to win the title. He moved on to eventually place eighth at the State Meet finals. Do not think we're overlooking Young, who owns a personal best of 4:07.33, so we will see this upcoming postseason if he chooses to double, unlike last year. 

Third, at the 2019 finals, Dana Hills' Carrick Denker will take his talents over to Division 2 in 2020.  Meanwhile, the 2019 finals for the 1600 meters featured a slew of underclassmen. Aliso Niguel's Ben Mckenna (4:15.80) was fourth while Loyola's Anthony Stone placed fifth.  Stone moved on with a 4:14.17 to qualify for the State Meet last year while McKenna, also a Masters Meet qualifier, just missed moving on. 

With Great Oak advancing three harriers to the 2019 finals, Chris Verdugo (United States Military Academy) and Cole Sawires-Yager (Cal) return. Verdugo was seventh at the State Meet this past cross country season and comes in with a 4:16.34 best. Meanwhile, Sawires-Yager captured the Winter Championships 1500 meters, just ahead of Verdugo, in a time that equates out to a sub-4:16 for the 1600 meters. 

For greater perspective, 11 of the Southern Section's top 14 hail from Division 1, with 12 altogether coming into the season with sub-4:20 credentials (this does not include Aschbrenner or this past season's CIF-SS Div. 1 cross country champion, Jeremiah Castellano of Upland). 

With all nine finalists in 2019 being seniors for the 800 meters, who will emerge in this event?  We already mentioned Long Beach Poly's Everett Steward who has a best of 1:54.84.  Wilbur of Crescenta Valley chose to focus on the 1600 a year ago but sped to a 1:54.73 best.  But, early on, La Serna's Nathaniel Estrada is turning heads with his 1:54.80 bomb he dropped at a recent all-comers meet!  His previous best was 1:58.28 when he competed for Pioneer High.  He's a sure-fire bet to add to an already deep sub-4:20 club for the 1600 meters as well.  

Competing in ultra-competitive Southwestern League, Cole Havins comes into 2020 with a 1:56.12 best with Great Oak's Micah Baird right behind him at 1:56.34.  Sam Medure of Riverside Poly and Upland's Castellano both eclipsed the 1:57-threshold in 2019 as well.  

Horizontal Jumps
As acknowledged earlier, Upland's Namir Hemphill is incredibly talented. In the triple jump, he settled for a third-place finish at the 2019 finals as he had just competed in the 300 hurdles, only to turn around to anchor his squad to the victory in the 4x400 relay! Hemphill (pictured) went on to place fifth at the State Meet after just missing the State Meet finals a year earlier, as a sophomore. For further emphasis, he was the only underclassman at the 2019 finals.  He is the overwhelming favorite with only Great Oak's JC Stevenson being the only boy to eclipse the 45-foot mark, under all conditions. Christopher Randolph of Eisenhower, Murrieta Mesa's Reno Vasquez and San Clemente's Kanious Vaughn are also some of the top returners based on 2019 results. 

In the long jump, junior Darius Hill is the top returner.  Hill will be trying to win three jumping events this upcoming postseason and lead his Vista Murrieta squad to some valuable points. Upland's Namir Hemphill was third and Miguel Orozco of LB Poly was sixth in last year's competition. Upland's Jailen Burrell excelled throughout the season with a couple 22+ foot efforts and should also play a role in 2020. 

Vertical Jumps
Starting with the high jump, Darius Hill of Vista Murrieta looks to defend his 2019 title, accomplished when he was a sophomore. He is the overwhelming favorite as he cleared 6-8 last year and returns with the second-best mark in the section.  In perhaps the weakest event for this division, it only features four of the top 13 returners in the section. Eisenhower's Christopher Randolph was sixth at the 2019 finals and returns with a 6-4 best as a freshman.   

In the pole vault, the top four from the 2019 finals graduated with only two underclassmen returning. With no surprise, the two returners hail from the Southwestern League. Great Oak's Kyle Yonker (pictured) placed fifth in 2019 with Kendal Gibbs finishing in seventh place. Yonker (15-9) is the top returner in the Southern Section while Gibbs (15-3) is ranked third coming into 2020. Not a divisional finalist in 2019, Great Oak's Jack Wright (15-2) returns with the fourth-best mark in the section.  Eli Gault-Crabb of Burroughs elevated up over the 14-9 bar a year old and is projected as a Masters Meet qualifier this season. 

One of the main headlines in the Southern Section is Newport Harbor's Aidan Elbettar (pictured) moving over from Division 2. The UCLA commit is the top returning discus thrower in the section and owns the second-best mark for the shot put. He was the Division 2 champion in both throws and was runner-up at the State Meet in the shot put after placing sixth in 2018 as a sophomore. His 197-4 effort in a dual meet last March ranks him amongst the best in the nation as he was the Masters Meet champion before a disappointing effort at the State Meet.   Despite damp conditions this past weekend, Elbettar unleashed a monster 187-0 launch in the discus after coming back from a 61-2.25 victory in the shot put.

Vista Murrieta's Edward Ta'amilo was a divisional finalist to both events in 2019. He placed eighth in the shot put but excelled with a runner-up finish in the discus.  His 182-2 best is the third-best returning mark in the Southern Section. He need not look too far for competition as Great Oak boasts a pair of throwers seeking valuable points in May. Nicholas Meeker (54-4 best) was fourth in the shot put at the 2019 finals is seventh-best amongst all 2020 returners.  James Wright placed seventh in the discus and is also the seventh-best returning, but for the discus.   

In the shot put, Sawyer Howard of Los Alamitos shined when it counted most with his breakthrough performance at the 2019 State Meet. Already out to a 58-3 best this Spring, his 61-2 personal best elevated him to a fourth-place medal at the State Finals. His previous best was 58-2.75 going into the State Meet.