2020 Dan Gabor Sprint and Distance Festival preview

By meet director Jason Oswalt (Amador Valley coach)
Death, taxes, and rain at the Dan Gabor Invitational. I don't remember who gets credit for that quote, but as far as traditions go, rain in Pleasanton on the first Saturday in March seems to be an enduring one. Over the past six years, The Dan Gabor Memorial Invitational has become known as Track and Field's greatest swim meet. It hasn't rained in a month and early weather reports suggested that this year might buck the trend, but Danny's ghost was having none of it and now it looks like athletes should come prepared with their swim caps and goggles ala Monte Vista's Meredith Corda. 

Although uncomfortable, the weather has become the meet's mythology over the years and have given athletes opportunities to show their mettle in unique conditions. Maybe the rains came last year to help athletes prepare for NCS MOC and with the meet featuring a large group of athletes who will eventually compete at that meet, perhaps it is for the best. Either way, rain is coming on Saturday. Also present at the track on Saturday will be one of the strongest group of entries ever assembled at the Dan Gabor Invitational, spread over several events. 

The boys' 400m is particularly strong this year. St. Mary's Kai'Lib Copes and Berkeley's Harry Overstreet come in with marks under 50 seconds to challenge pre-meet favorite Thomas Kersulias of Foothill. Kersulias ran 49.11 all alone under windy conditions at Foothill's time trial a few weeks back. They will be joined by Moreau Catholic's standout freshman (already 11.25 in the 100m last weekend at the Stocking Super 7) Bryce Thomas, and Amador Valley's John Lester, who boasts a PR of 50.34 and was 7th at the state meet over 800m last season. To earn a spot in the fast heat at this year's meet, athletes all needed a time of 50.71 or better. This will be an early season scorcher. Overstreet, Kersulis, and Copes are all slated to return to race the 100m later on and where their seed times are not quite as strong in the 100m as they are in the 400m, they are separated by just 2 one-hundredths of a second at 11.06, 11.07, and 11.08 to lead the field there as well.

In the girls' sprints, the 100m is the stronger of the two events as for the first time we have a time under 13 seconds that did not make it into the fast heat. Where Chinyere Okoro's record appears to be safe, having 8 athletes between 12.74 and 12.92 promises to be one heck of a race in early season competition. Heritage sophomore Jayden Sanders will start in lane 4 and will be flanked by Dublin's Antonina Fillari and Castro Valley freshman Lynee Sims. Sims is not the only freshman in the field as age group standout Leila Champion, now competing for Cal High, will line up in lane 2.

Elyse Wohlenburg of Foothill comes in as the strong favorite in the 400m. She is the only athlete with an entry time under 60 seconds at 58.75. But again, the event is deep as all 8 athletes come in with times under 61 seconds. If Wohlenburg isn't as sharp to start the season as her coaches believe, or if she is a little off on the day it could quickly become anybody's race.

If Kai'Lib Copes runs all of his races on Saturday he will have earned a rest on Saturday night. He has already been featured in the 400m and 100m preview, but he is also slated as the #2 seed in the 300m hurdles. He and teammate Di'Niko Bates lead the field by a stretch after recording sub 40-second clockings at last week's Skyline Invitational. If the race goes to form, fans will have a chance to watch them battle it out down the home stretch, take a breath and then watch a close race for third. On the girls' side, Castro Valley's Zoe Bursch comes in as the top seed with a mark of 47.12. The only athlete within a second of Bursch is Dublin's Alaina Adamos, but the field has 7 athletes entered who have run under 50 seconds for the event. On both the boys' and girls' side, the hurdles are definitely an event where the weather could play a role, so watch out for surprises in these events.

The girls' throws are strong this year as four girls enter the shot put competition with marks above 34 feet and six girls come in with triple-digit discus throws. Northgate senior Eden Broussard leads the way in the shot with a seed mark of 35 feet, 4.5 inches, but is closely followed by Livermore's Ashley Emmanuelle, who has also recorded a mark over 35 feet. Castro Valley's Malan Potts and Amador Valley's Jocelyn Mitchell both come in with marks over 34 feet and will look to upset the form charts. Claire March of Granada is favored in the discus, coming in with a mark of 122 feet. Foothill's Abigail Howe and Dublin's Breanna Williams have both thrown over 110 feet, leading the pursuit. Following those three are Emannuele, Cal's Annika Lister, and San Ramon Valley's Sydney Kane.

On the boys' side, Amador Valley's Jad Khansa leads the shot put field with a mark of 47 feet, 2 inches, which he recorded at a scrimmage two weeks ago. He is followed by Mission San Jose's Michael Kania and College Park's Colton Bonnington, who both have best marks over 46 feet. Kania comes back as a heavy favorite in the discus, as his mark of 152 feet, 1 inch is over 20 feet farther than his closest rival, Drew Asborno from Cal High. 

The long jump events should feature terrific competition as seven male long jumpers come in at over 21 feet and eight of the ladies come in with marks over 18 feet. The top four boys are seeded 3.5 inches apart with Northgate's Shane Kaiper leading the way with a mark of 21 feet, 10 inches. Travis Simmons keeps Heritage High Schools tradition of strong jumpers alive at the Dan Gabor Invitational, coming in with a mark of 21 feet, 7.5 inches, just a half-inch ahead of Newark Memorial's Adonis Prince, who is only .75 inches ahead of Cal's Cole Miller. Deer Valley's Ariel Anderson heads up the women's field with the only mark above 18 feet (18 feet, 1 inch to be exact), but at 17'11", 17'10.5", and 17'9.75, do not forget about Nyah Paulding, Lydia Howard, and Torre Anderson. Those athletes from Castro Valley, St. Mary's, and Foothill are looking for even bigger jumps in the early season to cement themselves amongst the NCS favorites in the horizontal events. Watch out for Castro Valley Freshmen Naomi Sachs and Lynee Sims (previously featured in the 100m) who already have marks over 17 feet.

The girls' high jump features ten girls' who have cleared 5 feet. Atop the list are Dublin's Amina Middleton-Pearson and St. Mary's Simone Rogers who both own clearances of 5 feet, 3 inches. Just behind them at 5 feet, 2 inches are the previously mentioned Cal freshman, Leila Champion and Cal sophomore Mara Lampas. Castro Valley's Miles Bennett leads six boys over 6 feet with a mark of 6 feet 4 inches, while Foothill junior Anthony Lin has the #2 mark coming in at 6 feet, 2 inches.

Kainoa Lee and Connor Buchanon will dual in the pole vault. Both athletes set PR's at last year's NCS Meet of Champions. Lee, from Moreau Catholic vaulted 13 feet, 5 inches and Buchanon, from San Ramon Valley finished just behind him with a mark of 13 feet, 1 inch. The two are both among the top 10 returners in NCS and could be seeing plenty of each other as this season progresses. Foothill's Sydney Sullivan leads the girls' competition with a PR of 11 feet, but five athletes follow her with vaults of 10 feet or better. The Dublin duo of Morgan Lee and Lauren Han are Sullivan's closest competitors with marks of 10 feet, 6 inches and 10 feet, 3 inches. Washington's Lauren Thorpe will try to topple the EBAL athletes as she comes in with a mark of 10 feet, 2 inches.

The girls' 1600m race is not as strong upfront as it has been in the past, with just one athlete entered with a time under 5:10 (Sierra Ransweiler of San Ramon Valley), but this is a race to watch for the future as out of the seventeen runners in the field who have broken 5:30, Ransweiler is the only senior and eleven of the girls are freshmen or sophomores. Seven girls in the field have run between 5:20 and 5:23.82, so if the winds stay reasonable, we could see a lot of first-time sub 5:20's on Saturday. Besides Ransweiler, Monte Vista's Kinsy Pogue, Dougherty Valley's Rhea Braganza, and Armijo's Madison Denny have already dipped under 5:20 and will be looking to challenge Ransweiler for the title.

A much more veteran crew in the boys' 1600m field will be looking to make sure that a particular young man out of Vacaville doesn't steal their upperclassmen thunder. State meet qualifying sophomore Kellen Steplight from Vacaville comes in as the only athlete with sub 4:20 credentials (4:16.94 as a freshman last year), but Amador Valley's Aidan McCarthy, Mission San Jose's Arnov Arora, and Vacaville teammate  Daniel Hernandez are seniors who will not make it easy for him. McCarthy and Hernandez put together terrific cross country seasons, indicating big things for this spring. Hernandez ran some monster times at early-season invitationals and McCarthy ended his season with a top 20 finish in the Division 1 race. The field contains thirteen athletes who have run under 4:30 for 1600m and another group right on the doorstep. Dougherty Valley freshman Shane Badcock is one to watch here as he split about 4:31 on the 1600m leg on his team's DMR last week in his first high school track race. Amador Valley will be looking to put four athletes under 4:30 in this one as well.

Amador Valley's John Lester will not be favored in the 400m in the morning, but with a PR of 1:52.99, he will be the man to beat in the 800m. His competitors will not make it easy for him as nine runners in the field have previously broken 2:00 with Gabriel Preciado of Heritage leading the chase pack with a PR of 1:56.19. In a meet named after Dan Gabor, the legendary Amador Valley 800m runner, an Amador Valley runner has never won the 800m at the Dan Gabor Invitational. So with all due respect to Preciado and the rest of the field, I will be rooting for Lester in this one. The top three girls in the 800m field all compete for the Dons. Nicole Frigon and Lauren Yee have both run 2:17 for the Acalanes Dons and Lizzy Shriber has run 2:19 for the Amador Valley Dons. Madison Denny of Armijo will return to get some work after she runs the 1600m and while she gets that work in, will try to make the Dons work and ultimately secure a place in the top 3. San Ramon Valley's Sydnie Nutter is also one to watch. After a big finish to last year's track season, she will be looking to take the next step this spring.

With people waiting for the Dublin Distance Fiesta to run a big two-mile in recent years, the 3200m race at Dan Gabor had lost some of its star power recently. It used to be the deepest event at the meet. But this year's field is particularly strong compared to recent renditions. On the girls' side, Granada's individual NCS cross country champion Shae Hill. Hill will look to break 11 minutes in this early season competition. She will be pushed by super freshman Kaiya Brooks, of Crystal Springs Upland. Cal's Madison Chavez ran some big races last spring but was not healthy for a large part of the fall. If she is healthy now, she has the ability to push the front of this race also. Granada's Anthony Guerra and Seth Jeppson also lead the way in the boys' 3200m and will certainly be pushed by Dublin's Surya Marimuthu. Seven athletes come in with PR's below 10:00 with a crowd behind them that will be aiming to join the club tomorrow night. 

All in all, it should be a great day at the lake…err…track. Hope to see everybody there.