PREVIEW Southern Section Track and Field Girls to Watch

Westlake senior Paige Sommers set the state pole vault record as a junior in 2020. (Karen Ocskasy photo)

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Track and field season is underway in CA for the first time in a year. Regardless of how this spring season rolls out, we do have a season!! And that's worth celebrating, which we are doing with a streamlined preview approach, focusing on the top athletes in each section.

Here's a look at 10 Girls To Watch In the Southern Section

Paige Sommers - Westlake (Pole Vault)
Sommers opened up the 2020 season, establishing a new California State record in the pole vault (14-6).  Her eyes were obviously set on breaking the national record of 14-9 before the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown.  She was the State Meet runner-up in 2019 after placing third, as a freshman, in 2018. Many often overlook her versatility, as she qualified for the 2019 State Meet in the high jump while also qualifying for the postseason in the 100-meter hurdles. She will attend Duke University in the fall.    

Mia Barnett - Crescenta Valley (Distance)
Transferring over from nearby Village Christian, Barnett has been capturing the headlines this past month. At the Sundown Track Meet #2 in late February, the University of Virginia-bound Barnett rolled to a new personal best of 10:15.82 for the 3200 meters. In the opening weekend of this track season, she erupted with a 2:09.49 for the 800 meters (previous best was 2:15.01).  And last weekend she ran a U.S. No. 1 4:43.11 for the mile at the Sundown Track Meet #3. After placing sixth in the 1,600 meters as a freshman at the 2018 State Meet, Barnett returned for a fourth-place finish for the same event. Meanwhile, Barnett owns FOUR CIF-SS Division 4 titles in capturing the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in her first two years. With a personal best of 4:46.12, all indicators point to her surpassing that by quite aways as she now is in the business of rewriting the Crescenta Valley school record books.   

Jade McDonald - Long Beach Poly (Jumps/Hurdles)
Committing to the University of Iowa this fall, McDonald will add to her resume soon enough. As a freshman, attending Mater Dei, she placed sixth in the triple jump at the 2018 State Meet. As a sophomore, representing Calabasas, she qualified for the State Meet finals in THREE events. In 2019, McDonald captured the CIF-SS Division 2 titles in both horizontal jumps with a runner-up placing in the 100-meter hurdles. The 2019 State Championships were highlighted by her fourth-place finish in the long jump, while also placing seventh in the triple jump and eighth in the 100 hurdles.   

Bella Witt - Calabasas (Hurdles/Sprints)
Representing Calabasas, Witt had the unfortunate circumstances where her last two seasons' post-seasons were cut short. With that, the UNLV-bound talent is not to be overlooked! As a freshman in 2018 and representing Birmingham of the LA City Section, Witt qualified to the State Meet in the 200 meters and 100 hurdles. In 2019, she became a vital member of the Calabasas program, she was one of the fastest sophomores in the nation (13.63) for the 100 hurdles and part of their nationally ranked 4x100 squad.  

Caelyn Harris - Upland (Jumps/Hurdles)
As a freshman in 2019, Harris peaked with her best when it counted most. She dominated the long jump competition at the State Meet, with a series of jumps all over the 20-foot threshold as her 20-8.5 performance captured the state championship by almost a full foot. Harris opened up her sophomore season in 2020 by capturing the Outdoor Winter Championships with a 20-4.5 effort. She is also an accomplished hurdler as she placed fifth at the 2019 Division 1 Finals. 

Asjah Atkinson - St. Anthony (Hurdles/Jumps)
One of the most decorated girls in this group, Atkinson previewed her talent in the season's opening weekend. Off to attend UC Berkeley this fall, Atkinson placed third at the 2019 State Meet in the 100 hurdles and sixth in the long jump. As a freshman in 2018, she placed seventh in the 100 hurdles. Add on to these accolades that Atkinson earned four CIF-SS Division 4 individual titles during those first two years. Her wind-legal best in the short hurdles is 13.93 along with a wind-legal best of 19-4.5 in the Long Jump.

Audrey Suarez - Mayfield (Distance)
Attending Stanford this fall, Suarez comes in as one of the top distance returners from the 2019 season.  Peaking with a 4:45.00 in earning the bronze medal at the 2019 State Championships for the 1,600 meters, Suarez also owns 2:11.16/10:29.58 personal bests for the 800 and 3,200 meters, respectively.  In 2018, she placed fifth at the State Meet for the 1,600 meters.  She captured the Southern Section Masters Meet for the same event en route to her successful run to the State Meet in 2019.      

Jacqueline Duarte - Chino Hills (Distance) 
Fully recovered from a torn ACL that she suffered back in October of 2019, this was one athlete that had already planned on taking the Spring of 2020 off before the COVID-19 shutdown.  Duarte exploded onto the national spotlight in capturing the 1,600-meter State Championship in 4:42.58.  Headed off to USC in the fall, Jacqui is a two-time CIF-Southern Section Division I champion for 1,600 and also was a double CIF-SS champion as a sophomore in 2019, also winning the 800 meters (2:11.66 best).     

Samarra Monrroy - Millikan (Sprints)
One of the few non-seniors in this group, Monrroy erupted onto the scene late in her freshman year in capturing the 400 meters to win the Moore League title (55.07).  That same postseason, Monrroy captured the Masters Meet in the 400 and surprised many with her runner-up finish at the 2019 California State Meet.  She enters her junior year with a 54.16 personal best and a wind-legal best of 24.64 for the 200 meters.   

Sara Pettinger - Mission Viejo (Throws)
An individual that JUST placed themselves on this list shined bright in the season's opening weekend at the Don Green Invitational!  Her 43-1 victory in the shot put was followed up with a 144-1 winning performance as both were solid personal bests for the UC Berkeley bound senior.  With all girls from the CIF-SS Masters Meet having graduated, Pettinger's stock rose straight to the top of the list as we embark upon the 2021 Track and Field season.  

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Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA and serves as the Southern Section editor.