Girls Seniors-Only CIF-SS Division 3 Prelims Highlights
With no clear favorite, today was a day for contenders to show their strength, and that's just what a handful of athletes did. Lauren Davis (El Segundo) posted the top time of the meet to go with her season-leading mark, and she will be the one to beat next weekend. She continues to pursue a wind-legal sub-12 time, but has consistently run in the 12.2's this spring. Sophia Hartwell opted to focus all of her energy on the jumps, opening the door for Faith Obeng (North Torrance) to move onto the final as a heat winner. Megan Chen (Oak Park) and Sophia Grant (Bishop Alemany) also advanced.
This race is always a clash between the short sprinters and the long sprinters, and division 3 is no exception. Davis won her heat easily, posting another high 24 time and serving notice that she won't back down from the pair of elite 400 runners that are the top 2 returners in the division. Valeia Payne (Chino) has the best PR of the three by just a smidgen, with Nakyia Buckner (La Sierra) right on her heels time-wise. These three will duke it out for the title next week, and Davis' comparatively fresher legs could make a difference. Chen, Grant, and Obeng also advanced to the final, but they have a lot of work to do to stay with the top 3.
Buckner is stronger in the 400 than in the 200, and her relatively easy heat win today doesn't show her full potential. Having run a few 56's during the regular season, she has her sights set on a finally breaking through to the 55's and challenging for a Masters spot. Payne is capable of breaking 56 as well, although she has trailed Buckner by roughly a half-second all season. It looks like there will be a sizable gap back to the next group, led by Alexis Perry (Yorba Linda) and Grant, who has been very busy today (we expect her to chose one or two focus races next week, however). This second group will be pushing for mid-58's, although it's not out of the question for one of them to run a high 57.
When Rylan Engels (JSerra) opened the 2020 season with a 2:14, it signaled that a new favorite had emerged. Gianna Beasley (South Pasadena) was the top returner from 2019 after finishing 2nd in the division finals with her 2:15, and those two have stayed atop the rankings all season. They both advanced smoothly today, setting up an interesting showdown. Don't count out Katelyn Vuong (Covina), who has been within striking distance of them all season. With all three having cracked the 2:15 barrier at least once this year, they may push each other toward the 2:12-2:13 range next week, and that could put them in play for spots in the Masters meet. It's interesting to see so many of the top cross country runners in the division focus on the 800, but as long as it brings an exciting race we're happy for it!
Whitney Valenti (Brea Olinda) entered the season as the top returner after making it to Masters in 2019, and now she closes out the 2020 season as the top seed in the division finals. She has been under 5 several times, so today's race was a cruise for her, but next week she will be looking to go sub-4:50 for the first time. The main challenger is Savannah Scriven (Palos Verdes), who has also broken 5 (though not as often or as convincingly as Valenti). Vuong is the only contender that is doubling in the 800, and it will be interesting to see if she chooses to put maximum effort into one or the other (or both) next week. Mia Douge (Brea Olinda) and Diane Molina (Costa Mesa) also move on to the finals, both still in pursuit of a sub-5 time.
Samantha Steman (Palos Verdes) will be very hard to beat in this event next week, as she is both the top returner (2nd in division finals and 8th in Masters last year) and also has the top time in 2020. Having gone under 10:40 already this season, she will be looking to get back to Masters and this time advance to the state meet. Although Steman is favored, there are four other girls in the race with sub-11 credentials, so it won't be a walkover. Sarah Auther (La Canada), Valenti, and Molina have all been in the upper 10:40's and have been within a few seconds of each other since last spring, so this should be an exciting race to watch. Vuong could also have been a factor here, but she opted for the 1600 and 800.
This race has possibly the most clear-cut favorite in the division: Jazmin Jackson (Chaminade) went all the way to the state meet prelims last spring, dropping two 14.50's in the process. Improvement is hard at a high level, but she has gotten steadily faster during 2020, to the point where she has an outside chance to crack 14 seconds. That wasn't necessary today, of course, and won't be in the division finals, but watch out for her at Masters and the state meet. Gabrielle Jackson (Notre Dame Sherman Oaks) is still looking for her first sub-15, and she she will have at least one more chance after easily advancing to finals. Sophia Morris (Santa Margarita Catholic) rounds out the top 3 seeds next week; she has been a few tenths behind Gabrielle this season, but is certainly within striking range.
This is the better race (by far) for Morris, who will look to improve on her 3rd place finish in last year's division finals. She has been under 45 a handful of times this spring, and with a good race she could make Masters, but her first task is staying ahead of two very close challengers. Jazmin Jackson will be gunning for the double win, and she has been within a few tenths of Morris all season. Jessica Elizalde-Rendon, teammate to Morris, has also been in the low 45's; any of the three could win the title. Don't forget about Gabrielle Jackson, either - although she has been 4th in the division 3 rankings in this event most of the season, her mid-45 time puts her in range of breaking into the top 3. This could turn out to be one of the deepest and most competitive finals next week!
Can Orange Lutheran pull off a 1-2 sweep? They have the top 2 returners in Emma O'Connell and Allie Garis, and both have thrown over 35 feet this season, but the competition is hard on their heels. Leah Kauhola (Whittier) has also exceeded 35, and the three of them have each spent time atop the division rankings at some point. All three advanced to finals, and any of them is capable of winning. Camille Lacy (North Torrance) has been close to 35, and with a good day she could crack the top 3, as well.
O'Connell is the favorite here, setting up a possible double win if she can defeat the fleet of challengers in the shot. After an inconsistent 2019 season, she has been edging toward the 130-foot mark, and now she sets her sights on a return to the Masters meet that she made in 2018. The Corona del Mar duo of Ashley Trester and Kelly White will be seeded second and third next week, and they are very evenly matched: both are hunting for their first 120-foot mark.
For the third time, we're calling Jazmin Jackson's name as a potential event winner - can you say MVP candidate? She has less experience here compared to the hurdles, and that has led to some inconsistency. Will she clear 5-6 for the third time this season, or even pop a higher mark? It's certainly possible, but if she isn't on her season best she could be beaten by Ryann O'Bannon (St Joseph). O'Bannon hasn't cleared 5-6 yet, but she has been over 5-4 several times and 5-5 a few more, and her consistency could be the key to a division title. Jayda Reid (Hillcrest) and Ariana Butler (Bishop Alemany) are both looking for their first 5-4 and both have identical 5-3 season bests, so they should be well-matched in the battle for a spot in the top 3.
With only 2 jumpers over 10 feet, it looks like the top two positions are set next week - but in which order? Savannah Baca (Hillcrest) has cleared 11 once while consistently getting over 10 and 10-6, and that gives her a slight edge over Avenlea McGraw (Cabrillo Lompoc), who has a best of 10-6 this spring. There should be a spirited competition for third place, led by 9-foot vaulters Sophia Battaglia (San Marino) and Sydney Chen (El Segundo).
Sophia Hartwell (Orange Lutheran) has been atop the division rankings all season, having gotten past 19 feet twice during the season. Now she looks forward to a possible Masters meet spot with a chance to go to the state meet. She can't afford to overlook O'Bannon, who could be working on a double win with the high jump. O'Bannon has been close to 19, and finals would be a prime opportunity to break through. Ayziah Simmons (Lompoc) and Summer Zavala (El Monte) both advance with mid-17's to battle for third next week, although they could pick off one of the top two if the circumstances are right.
Hartwell actually struggled just a bit in this event (by her standard, that is) at the beginning of the 2020 season. After jumping over 39 four times last spring (plus 4 more in the 38's), it took her until April to get back to that distance. Her patience paid off with two 40-foot jumps, although neither had a recorded wind. Today she conserved energy for her push to make the state meet, a goal that she narrowly missed in 2019. She is the only jumper in the division to have broken 39, although O'Bannon has been on the verge of that accomplishment for most of the season. (O'Bannon is a legitimate MVP candidate, by the way, if she performs well in all three jumps.) Simmons has the 3rd seed in this jump as well, but she has a host of challengers right behind her: Sophia Yamashita (South Pasadena), Chiemena Nnorom (Hillcrest), and Kaili Yanagisawa (Los Amigos) have all been in the high 35's or low 36's, and any of them could make the podium next week.