21 California Boys Athletes To Watch In 2021

(From left) Camden Wheeler, Jai Dawson, Colin Sahlman and Garrett Brown are among 21 California boys athletes to watch in cross country and track and field in 2021. (Photos by James Leash, Patrick Corsinita, Karen Ocskasy)

- - -

Welcome to the new year. And hopefully with the new year comes a rare winter cross country season and a regular track and field season. Hopefully.

Here are 21 athletes to watch in '21 across those two sports. (OK, well, we've coupled two elite sets of twins, so technically we've listed 23 super-talented boys.)

Let's preface this by saying 21 (err, 23) is a very small number when talking about elite boys athletes across a huge state like CA. Frankly, that's a small number when pulling from just the Southern Section, and that also goes for most of the other sections. This state is rich with talented athletes. 

If we were to re-create this list seven months from now, how many new names would warrant addition? With that, we challenge the young men listed below to maintain their 21-in-'21 status and we challenge the rest of the guys in CA to crush it and earn one of these spots. 


(Athletes are listed alphabetically)

Antonio Abrego (Sr./Golden Valley/SS) -- His 1:52.12 for 800m at July AAU West JOs places University of Iowa recruit among the top seven returners U.S. for the two-lap event.

Garrett Brown (Sr./La Costa Canyon/SD) -- Used summer all-comers meets to set a San Diego Section record (16-10.75) and establish himself as the top pole vaulter in CA and among the top 5 U.S. 

Patrick Curulla (Sr./De La Salle/NC) -- UCLA recruit is the defending North Coast Section D-II XC champion and top NCS returner and No. 6 returner overall from the 2019 CIF-State XC Championships.

Jai Dawson (Jr./Dana Hills/SS) -- Is neck-and-neck with Colin Sahlman as the top distance runner in the class of 2022. He was sixth overall as the No. 2 sophomore (behind Sahlman) at the 2019 CIF-State D-II XC Championship and fourth overall in the merge among returners. No. 3 CA returner for 800m.

Kienan Donovan (Sr./Golden Valley/SS) -- Established himself as the top returning combo thrower in CA as the only Class of 2021 thrower to make the finals of both the 2019 CIF-State TF Championships and Southern Section Masters in both the discus throw and shot put.

Nicholas Gates (Jr./Calabasas/SS) -- CIF-Southern Section D-2 champion for both 100m and 200m in 2019 and CIF-State Meet finalist for 200m, placing seventh as a freshman in 2019. CA No. 1 returner for 200m and No. 4 returner for 200m.

Darius Hill (Sr./Vista Murrieta/SS) -- Potentially the state's most versatile jumper who was the only sophomore to qualify for CIF-Southern Section Masters in the high jump and long jump.  

Mateo Joseph (Sr./Great Oak/SS) -- No. 3 returner in the class from CIF-State XC D-I championships, who has opted to focus on track and the 800m. 

John Lester (Sr./Amador Valley/NC) -- Stanford-bound half-miler established himself as one of the nation's best last spring by running the No. 3 all-time 800m by a high school junior (1:48.26/CA No. 5 AT). Olympic-qualifying aspirations may limit his CIF competition schedule.

Aiden Lippert (Sr./La Costa Canyon/SD) -- As a sophomore, he was a CIF-State TF qualifier in both the 200m and 400m. No. 4 returner in the state in both sprints. 

Rayshon Luke (Jr./St. John Bosco/SS) -- CIF-State TF finalist in the 100m as a freshman in 2019, who placed second in the short sprint at CIF-Southern Section Masters. 100m PR ranks U.S. No. 8 in the class.

Jadyn Marshall (Jr./St. Mary's/SJ) -- Three-sport star was a CIF-State TF Championships qualifier in both hurdles as a freshman and 300mH finalist (dropping the No. 5 time in prelims). Brother Jamar (now at Arizona State) is the state record-holder for 110mH.

Colin Peattie (Sr./Bellarmine/CC) -- Virginia-bound distance runner is the No. 1 XC returner in D-I and the No. 1 TF returner for both 1600m and 3200m from the 2019 TF Championships. Foot Locker National finalist.

Ryan Rivituso (Sr./Edison/SS) -- Runner-up for 400m at 2019 CIF-SS D-2 Finals as a sophomore, he went undefeated in seven spring-2020 races across 200-400-800. No. 2 returner in CA for 400m. Has won 10 times in 11 career 200m races.

Colin Sahlman (Jr./Newbury Park/SS) -- Top returner on the top boys XC team in the U.S. He was fourth overall as the No. 1 sophomore in the 2019 CIF-State D-II XC Championship and third overall in the merge among returners.

Christian Simone (Sr./Newbury Park/SS) -- Transfer from Great Oak made his presence felt during fall club XC races where he proved to be among the top scorers for a Newbury Park Athletic Club team replacing Nico Young and Jace Aschbrenner that earned MileSplit50 No. 1 ranking this fall. 

Anthony Taylor (Sr./Cathedral/SS) -- Top returning combo hurdler in CA. Placed sixth at State in the 110mH as a sophomore and missed 300mH final by one spot while running PR. 110mH champion for D-3 at CIF-SS All-Division Finals with No. 1 time at the meet.

Galen/Nolan Topper (Sr./Bellarmine/CC) -- Stanford-bound twins, coupled here, are a big reason the Bellarmine College Prep XC team warrants inclusion among the state's elite teams heading into the winter '21 season. 

Camden Wheeler (Sr./Monterey Trail/SJ) -- Oregon-bound quarter-miler placed fifth in the 400m finals at the 2019 CIF-State TF Championships as a sophomore and also ran third leg on winning 4x100 relay. 

Jacob Yagers (Sr./Highland/CS) -- CIF-Central Section champion for 1600m on the track and for 5K in XC. No. 8 returner overall from the 2019 CIF-State XC Championships. 

Lex/Leo Young (So./Newbury Park/SS) -- Twins, coupled here, are a major reason the future is so bright at Newbury Park. Both made an impact during the summer/fall "club" season where NP Athletic Club team earned No. 1 national ranking.