PREVIEW It's Condensed But Meet of Champions Is On!

In going back and forth between the Los Angeles County health officials and trying to jump through the hoops of hosting some type of version of the 2021 Meet of Champions Distance Classic, meet director Tim O'Rourke has been allowed to conduct a condensed and limited version of the annual event. 

So, rather than the traditional location of Azusa Pacific University, the COVID-19 Pandemic version of the MOCDC will take the line Saturday night at Arcadia High. The usual dawn-to-well-past-dark event has been reduced to just eight races beginning at 7:30 p.m. with the event scheduled to conclude around 9 p.m.

Yes, just eight races. But this version, as brief as it might be, is loaded with some of the top talents in the Southern California prep running scene.

The meet will open with Boys' 800 meters starring Golden Valley senior Antonio Abrego.  The University of Iowa-bound Abrego is coming off a head-turning effort last week in rolling to a new personal best in 1:52.40.  What invitational you might ask?  Well, that's just it ... it was in a dual meet!  As he fought off the wind, the closest competitor was more than 20-seconds behind.  Abrego, a 2018 Masters Meet qualifier, will be pushed this time around as he pursues the meet record of 1:50.16 (Valencia's Sean Krinik, 2010).

Pasadena junior Isaiah Givens, who is one of the most improved California harriers over the past two seasons, will lace up his 4:07.06/8:59.64 talent and bring it over to the 800. While this may be Givens' first real competitive half-mile, Great Oak's Mateo Joseph brings serious wheels to the race -- 1:55.77, sub-50 for 400 meters!  Joseph posted that personal best last weekend. It has been over 14 months since we have seen the mega talent perform in person on the track.  

Sanger junior Emanuel Salas will make the trip from the Central Valley, bringing along his 1:54.86 personal best from two weeks ago. Salas is coming back from a 9:13.53 performance in the 3200-meters last weekend at the Buchanan Distance Classic.

While the Newbury Park distance juggernaut has been decimating all previous notions and expectations of what a program can do on the 1600-meter and 3200-meter level, sophomore Aaron Sahlman takes to the track to also push for a sub-1:55 clocking. With a 4:14.06 attached to his resume, he is coming off a 1:57.16 in last week's dual meet.   

Crescenta Valley junior Rowan Fitzgerald is fresh off his 4:13.53 performance from last week at the Laguna Beach Distance meet while Arcadia's Quinn Hettich will look to defend his home turf, after a solid 1:57.34 effort in a dual meet two weeks ago. Fitzgerald looks to improve upon his 1:57.44 best.    

The meet record also figures to be under assault in the Girls 800 meters. Mia Barnett is coming off of one of the monster performances ever in California state history with her 9:52.23 eruption that catapulted her all the way to fourth on the all-time 3200m list. Here, she is looking to take down the 2:09.07 meet record for 800m. The Crescenta Valley and University of Virginia-bound senior emerged with a six-second personal best a month ago in a solo performance of 2:09.49 at the Don Green Invitational at Moorpark HS. This will be her first two-lapper since that race and the 2010 meet record, held by Redondo Union's Chloe Curtisis very much in jeopardy! 

But, unlike last week where she lapped quite a few runners, Barnett will not be alone on the Arcadia oval! 

Making the trip down the hill, La Canada features a trio of tremendous talents. Senior Ellaney Matarese has been rolling as the Harvard-bound senior started the season with a 2:11.04 personal best.  She recorded a 4:59.46 effort two weeks ago and plans on keeping Barnett as close as possible all throughout.  Her freshmen teammates are younger sister Katelyn and Arielle McKenzie, who has been successful at the age-group level for several years.  McKenzie sped to a 2:15.80 effort two weeks ago. 

Coming up the freeway from the South Bay are Megan Gonzalez of West Torrance and Dalia Frias of Mira Costa. Gonzalez is coming off a huge personal best of 5:03.93 in the 1600-meters and looking to improve upon her 2:14.59 best.  Meanwhile, the intriguing entrant to the field is the junior Frias. After qualifying for the California State Meet in the 1600 as a freshman in 2019, she looked sharper than ever with her 4:48.75 personal record last weekend!  She comes in with a lifetime best of 2:22, but her talents indicate otherwise!  

There will be two heats of the boys' 1600-meters with the second heat featuring several boys shooting to go under 4:15 for the first time! Redlands East Valley senior, Simon Opsahl, finished strong last weekend against the collegiates in his 3:57.07 effort in the 1500 meters. While that converts to a sub-4:15, he aims to imprint it on his resume for good this Saturday.   

But Opsahl will have to manage to hold the tremendous aerobic capacity of pack of Newbury Park's finest.  Sophomore Lex Young rolled to a 4:17.53 last month in Arizona but came back to become ANOTHER Panther to break 9:00 for the 3200-meters. Teammate, Nicholas Goldstein, a senior bound for Furman University, also shined in Arizona with a 9:00.50 performance while he also looks to better his 4:18.63 personal best. Newbury Park junior Daniel Appleford is coming off a solid 4:22/9:35 double in a dual meet last week as well!  Also joining the party with his teammates is sophomore Aaron Cantu, who raced to a 4:22.77 for the full mile last month.  

Laguna Beach senior Mateo Bianchi is headed off to UCLA this fall. But first, he looks to challenge this field as he comes back a 9:19.93 performance last week in the longer distance.  Bianchi's best came back during his sophomore year in 2019 with a 4:22.35 -- he is much stronger some two years later!  Also pushing to use the brisk pace and break 4:20 are St. John Bosco junior Christopher Chavez (4:24.73 two weeks ago), West Torrance's Joshua Murray, and the Great Oak duo of Austin Montez, and Kyle Reden.  Reden is ready to go as evidenced by his 1:56.46 personal best this week!  Also watch for Agoura's Ethan Godsey, who made himself comfortable with the Newbury Park gang in his 4:21.02 effort at their dual meet last week.  

The Girls 1600 meters is headlined by Great Oak's Brianna Weidler.  Before she heads off to UC Davis this fall, she wants to join that elite sub-5:00 minute group. Weidler ran 5:01.26 last weekend and hopes to use the relatively younger field to that goal.  Alexis Fernandez of West Ranch is back and looking sharp after her 5:13.3 effort last week in a dual meet. Fernandez looks to better her best of 5:04.43 from 2019 while newcomer freshman Payton Godsey of Oaks Christian looks to crash the party. She rolled to a 5:04.52 debut two weeks ago!

Mira Costa sophomore Anna Chittenden is next in line in that Mustang ring of honor and is coming back from her victory in the rated section of the Laguna Beach Invite last weekend.  Her time of 5:10.24 established a new best for her while Saugus' Isabella Duarte looks to improve her best of 5:12.81, established in a recent dual meet.  

A Newbury Park trio is also entered.  Last month at the Sundown Track Series, sophomore Ailish Hawkins and junior Morgan Nygren set new standards for themselves as both break 5:09 while freshman teammate Danielle Brotcke looks to stay as close to her teammates in shooting for a sub-5:10 effort.   Finally, do not dismiss the Valencia senior, Sydney Makar, who opened up the 2020 season with a sub-5:10 performance before the shutdown.  

Another meet record could be in jeopardy as we glance at the Boys 3200 meters!  And, of course -- no one prep group has EVER mastered the distance like Newbury Park has! Can sophomore Leo Young become the third boy in meet history to eclipse the 9-minute benchmark for the event?   From what we've seen over the past two seasons, we are NOT discounting it. Young rolled to a 4:14.06 several weeks ago and looking to move his name up the school record list for the event. 

Mira Costa's Colin Beale went 4:19.25 and sharper than we've ever seen him while Clovis sophomore Christopher Caudillo has been in the zone this spring. Caudillo is coming off a 4:17.25/9:17.25 double last weekend at the Buchanan Distance Classic to establish a new level for him.   

Junior Jaden Wiley from Hart was one of the top freshmen in the state in 2019 with a 9:26.35 while keep an eye for Redlands East Valley's Matt Hornung. The senior is coming off 4:00.53 effort for the 1500 meters, displaying that he is a sub-4:20 miler. Meanwhile, JT McCoy of St. John Bosco joins in after running 9:20.03 for a new best two weeks ago.   

The limited field of girls for the 3200 meters is headlined by Saugus' Hannah Fredericks.  The senior is on a roll as of late as she eclipsed the 4:30 standard for the 1500 meters while competing against the collegiates last weekend.  In proving that she is a sub-4:50 athlete, she is also coming off a sharp 2:15.80 personal best this past Wednesday.  All indicators point to her improving upon her 10:45 best for the event. 

Sierra Burror of Bishop Union looks to be the one that will challenge Fredericks. Coming off a 5:13/11:09 performance last weekend at Buchanan, expect Burror to be much fresher with this being her only race along with her staying with Fredericks to improve on her 10:57.99 best from the shortened 2020 season.  Clovis sophomore Emma Ruvalcaba will lace it up with Burror for the second weekend in a row as she finished just behind her with an 11:11.99.  

As we glance at a field loaded with sophomores that never really got anything from the shortened 2020 season, Great Oak will feature Kelli Gaffney, Ameya Teli, Aishling Fabian, Joelle Upshur, and Hannah Miller.  All five sophomores expect to lead their cross country squad to another CIF-SS Division 1 title this fall and all look to go well under the 11:30 threshold this Saturday.  Meanwhile, the Mira Costa duo of Ella Parsley and Heather Jensen both eclipsed the 5:20 mark last weekend and Oaks Christian freshman Grace Geyer will debut her talent in this event.  Geyer looked great in a 2:28/5:19 day in last week's dual meet.  

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