Liberty's Rebecca Vander Poel (6) and Clovis North's Takiya Cenci (5) are two of the top returning girls track and field athletes in the Central Section. (DeAnna Turner photo)
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As the 2021 spring track and field season continues to evolve out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are highlighting some of the top track and field athletes to watch this spring. For the purpose of this article on Central Section girls, we rolled back to look at freshmen and sophomores from 2019 and sampled those non-senior marks from the short-lived 2020 campaign to build the foundation of this list.
Girls who have been working hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, will no doubt see the fruits of that labor as this spring season rolls out. The Sanger Spring Classic, held last Saturday, gave us a first overview look at some of the standout girls track and field athletes in the Central Section.
We understand that with other sports going on this spring, like basketball, football, and soccer, some athletes may be involved in those sports now with the potential of turning their focus back to TF in a few weeks.
The loss of the 2020 State Track and Field Championships and the potential of that happening again was enough for at least one state-level star from 2019 to seize her future now. Reese Renz, a three-time Central Section hurdle champion who placed third in the 300-meter hurdles and sixth in the 100m hurdles as a sophomore at the 2019 State Meet, opted to graduate at mid-year and is now competing at the University of Colorado.
This isn't intended to be a complete list, nor is it a prediction, but rather a sampling of some of the top girls from the CS to watch as the 2021 TF season plays out.
Tiara Adeniji - Clovis North (Sprints)
The senior is one of the section's top sprinters and opened 2021 by equalling her PRs of 12.35 for 100m, 25.23 for 200m, while also helping the 4x100 relay team to a 48.13 win, at this week's dual with Buchanan.
Kalei Aoki-Chance - Clovis West (Distances)
Aoki-Chance, a junior, has gone 2:23.79 for 800m and 5:14:50 for 1600m. Her 2:25.08 for 800m at Sanger ranks third in the CS.
Faith Bender - Liberty (Throws)
One of the nation's top high school throwers since her freshman year, this senior and Arizona State signee has PRs of 47-7.25 for the shot and 168-6 for the discus throw. Her DT PR came in placing second at the 2019 CIF State Meet. Bender had section-leading throws of 154-10 for the discus and 40-8 for the shot during the shortened 2020 season. Unfortunately, a back injury has slowed her this spring. Liberty coach Ryan Renz said Bender is "hoping to be healthy in about six weeks."
Sierra Burror - Bishop Union (Distances)
Burror, a senior, went 5:07.91 for the mile last June in Arizona. She currently has the section's No. 2 time for 3200m (11:13.85) and has a PR for the eight-lap challenge of 10:57.99.
Takiya Cenci - Clovis North (Sprints)
Cenci, a junior, is one of the state's elite sprinters who has already dropped PRs this spring for 200m (24.52) and 400m (54.81). Both are current CA No. 1 times. As a frosh in 2019, she placed eighth at the State Meet in the 400m. In the abbreviated 2020 outdoor season, she ran section bests for 100 (12.34) and 200 (24.69). She equalled that 12.34 this week in a dual with Buchanan.
Grace Hutchison - Buchanan (Distances)
As a freshman in 2019, Hutchison scored for Buchanan in its Division I victory at the CIF-State Cross County Championships. She has PRs of 2:23.57 for 800m, 5:09.47 for 1600m, and 11:26.67 for 3200m.
Lauren Fowler - Buchanan (Sprints)
Fowler, a member of the State Championship-winning girls team in 2019, placed fourth in the 200m and second in the long jump at the CS Masters that spring. This sprinter-jumper headed to the University of New Mexico is already off to a fast start for 2021 with a section-best 100 meters of 12.43 (-1.1) from the April 10 Sanger Spring Classic. There she also ran a CS No. 2 to state leader Takiya Cenci in the 400m (25.48) and warmed up with a 17-7 long jump.
Erica Nyberg - Clovis East (Distance)
Nyberg, a sophomore, proved to be one of the top distance runners in the state for her cross country efforts in the fall of 2019 when she placed second in the CS Finals and 11th at the State Meet. She did not run XC during this past season. In the abbreviated 2020 outdoor season, Nyberg set PR baselines for 800m (2:21.89), 1600m (5:07.93), and 3200m (11:08.38). At the Sanger Spring Classic, she took the line in all three events.
Feyi Olukanni - Clovis East (Throws)
The junior already has the section lead in the shot put (41-1.25) and the No. 3 mark in the discus throw (135-7). Both are PRs and significant improvements from her best during the abbreviated 2020 season.
Miliana Perez - Clovis North (Distance)
Right there with Sundgren and Nyberg among the section best distance runners, Perez, a junior, already has a section-best 3200m of 10:57.56. She won all three of her races during the shortened cross country season. As a freshman in 2019, Perez placed fifth at the CS cross country finals and seventh at the State Meet.
Isabella Rigby - Liberty (Throws)
Rigby, headed to Cal Poly SLO, was ninth at the 2019 State Meet in the discus throw as a sophomore, has a best outdoors of 148-0. She opened her 2021 season with a 38-8 shot put PR and a state-leading 145-10 discus throw at the Sanger dual.
Sydney Sundgren - Buchanan (Distance)
The sophomore proved to be the section's top distance runner during the abbreviated cross country season and is eyeing sub-5 for 1600m and 10:30 for 3200m as the 2021 outdoor season rolls out. She ran a section-leading 5:04.67 for 1600m at Sanger.
Mia Torrecillas - Bakersfield Highland (Distance)
The freshman won all three of her winter cross country races while running the section's No. 2 time for 2-miles (17:49.80) and No. 3 time for 5K (18:24).
Rebecca Vander Poel - Liberty (Sprints)
As a sophomore in 2019, the Boise State-bound Vander Poel was second in both the 200m and 400m at the CS Masters meet. She opened 2021 by stretching her legs with a 2:29.42 rust-buster for 800m.
Tatum Zinkin - Clovis North (Sprints)
Zinkin, a junior, posted section-leading 400 (58.88) during abbreviated 2020 season, is warming into 2021 with a 59.61 quarter and 2:20.72 clocking for 800m. As a freshman in 2019, she placed second at CS Masters in the 800m (2:16.95).
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