RECAP 2021 Meet of Champions Shines Under the Lights

Antonio Abrego leads the parade in the boys 800-meter run at the Meet of Champions. (Daniel Hernandez photo)

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In a late decision, the Meet of Champions witnessed one new meet record with several top-five performances!

After initially having to cancel the 2021 version of the Meet of Champions, meet director Tim O'Rourke was approached by connections within the Arcadia High School staff about being able to include a condensed number of entrants on the back end of the Pacific League Meets.  Held every Saturday, the league has been hosting sprinters and field events athletes in the mornings while allowing distance runners to compete in the late afternoon.   

With an overwhelming majority of athletes posting lifetime bests, the sparse crowd and atmosphere under the lights of Arcadia High provided the much-needed background for the athletes to perform. It was not the 15-hour meet that we are accustomed to but that same Meet of Champs atmosphere paved the way for success.    


Kicking off the action, Golden Valley's Antonio Abrego did not disappoint in his wire-to-wire 1:52.05 victory in the 800 meters!  Abrego's personal best also paced the field to post five of the top six times in California.  It was also the first time in meet history that four individuals ran under 1:54 in the same race with Abrego's effort being the fifth fastest in meet history.  

Taking it out from the gun to assume the pole position, the University of Iowa-bound Abrego paced the group through with a sub-53 second first lap.  Despite strong pushes on the back straightaway of the track, Abrego surged away from the pack.  Pasadena junior Isaiah Givens was second all throughout and with his first competitive 800 meters ever, he debuted with a 1:53.01.  Givens' performance was the eighth-fastest in meet history while he is now listed in the top three for California in all three distance events!  

With a huge surge down the stretch, Sanger junior Emanuel Salas moved from fifth up to third with a 1:53.05.  Great Oak's Mateo Joseph crossed with the fourth-fastest mark in school history in 1:53.63.  Meanwhile, Cormac Carew of Mira Costa posted his best performance to date with his 1:54.52.  Newbury Park sophomore Aaron Sahlman also broke 1:55, as his 1:54.83 clocking moves him into the top-40 on the all-time meet list.  

With electricity in the air, Crescenta Valley's Mia Barnett was going after the meet record and she accomplished just that!  Her 2:07.31 eclipsed the MR rather handily while moving her up to No. 25 on the all-time California list.  Coming off her epic 9:52.23 performance for the 3200 meters a week earlier, the University of Virginia-bound Barnett left no doubt who was going to win the race.  She propelled herself through the first lap at 62.1 with only Mira Costa junior Dalia Frias within 10 meters of her. Similar to what we saw at the Sundown Series Mile last month, Barnett moved away from the field on command to move up to third in the United States with the two-lap effort.  She still continues to sit atop of the national rankings in the 1600 and 3200.  

Frias was coming off a 4:48.75 effort in the 1600 meters from the previous week.  In breaking 2:20 for the first time, the junior posted a 2:10.44 to move up to fifth on the all-time meet record list!  Not too shabby for a girl considered more of a 1600/3200 type as she also set a new school record.     

Harvard-bound Ellaney Matarese closed well for third in 2:12.43 and moving her name up to 14th on the meet record list.  Her teammate, freshman Arielle McKenzie, posted a nice personal best of 2:13.57!

For the boys 1600 meters, a quartet of Panthers from Newbury Park planned on dominating the action.  But, it was the Laguna Beach senior Mateo Bianchi who sat back before emerging with a lead that he would not give up over the final 200 meters.  The UCLA-bound senior brought home the 4:11.82 victory in holding off Newbury Park sophomore Lex Young, who also posted a personal best of 4:12.66.  

Young brought the pack through the first lap at a brisk 61.8.  But the crowd was content to allow Young and his teammates to take responsibility for the pacing.  With back-to-back 65-and-change laps, eight boys remained as a congested pack going into the last lap.  Bianchi surged to the outside and got just ahead of Young going into the final curve.  Despite a slight trip between the two, Bianchi held off a fast-charging Young with a sub-59 second last lap.  

The gritty senior from Great Oak, Austin Montez posted a huge personal best in 4:13.56 with a nice kick over the last 150 meters.  Joshua Murray of West Torrance sat back most of the race but emerged with a sub-61 second last lap for a 4:13.77.  Nicholas Goldstein of Newbury Park also posted a new lifetime best of 4:14.16.  Agoura's Ethan Godsey came in with a 4:21 lifetime best and went home with a 4:14.60!   Meanwhile, the underclass duo of Daniel Appleford (4:15.51) and Aaron Cantu (4:17.58) provided more evidence of why Newbury Park is the top distance team in the United States!   Cantu, a sophomore, is the sixth underclass boy in the program to break 4:18 in the past several months!  

The girl's version of the 1600 meters did not pose quite the depth of the boys, but still witnessed the majority of the field post new all-time bests while boasting the closest event of the evening!   A relative unknown, Valencia's Sydney Makar and Great Oak's Brianna Weidler provided the fireworks over the last 150 meters.

Oaks Christian freshman Payton Godsey took the group through with a 77-second opening lap.  Makar moved around for the lead at 700-meters into the race but with the entire pack of eight all in a one-second bubble at 2:34 at the halfway mark.  Along with Weidler,  those three all battling for position, going into the final lap at 3:49 as they picked up the pace with a 75-second third lap.  But, that's when the real race began!

With 200 meters, Newbury Park sophomore Ailish Hawkins joined the trio as they all continued to battle with Makar out front.  As Weidler whipped off the curve and around Godsey, she moved alongside Makar with 50 meters to go and the crowd pushing for a sub-5-minute race!  Crossing the line in unison, the UC Davis-bound Weidler outlasted Makar, 4:59.28-4:59.37!  Rejoicing together for new personal bests, Godsey also improved her best with a 5:00.13.  Hawkins finished with a best of 5:01.68.  Saugus' Isabella Duarte improved to a 5:06.03, just ahead of Newbury Park's Morgan Nygren at 5:06.79. 

The boys 3200 meters featured the largest field of the event with several boys hoping to add a sub-9:10 onto their resume.  Like the 1600 meters, a sophomore from Newbury Park assumed most of the pacing up front. This time around, it was Leo Young, who brought the group through with a fast 62.3 split for the eight-lap affair.  Through the next two laps, Clovis sophomore Christopher Caudillo joined Young with Matt Hornung of Redlands East Valley shadowing the pair.  

As they slowed it down with a pack of nine crossing three laps at 3:25, Hart junior Jaden Wiley took over the pacing bringing a group of five, that now included JT McCoy of St. John Bosco, through at 4:34.  After another 70-second lap, Young regained control and surged on the field with a 68-second lap that earned him a 10-meter lead. Continuing to expand upon that lead, only Caudillo of Clovis would be able to match Young, albeit from 20 meters behind!   Leo Young closed with a 65-second last lap to become the seventh boy from Newbury Park in the past year to eclipse the 9:05 mark!  His 9:03.38 moved him up to ninth in California and is the seventh-fastest mark in meet history.  

Meanwhile, the sophomore Caudillo looked strong as well with a 9:08.63 effort, elevating him into the top-25 on the all-time meet list!  Hornung improved by over 25-seconds in his 9:14.92 effort while Max Burton came up huge over the last lap to move up to fourth place with his 9:18.55.  McCoy's broke 9:20 for the first time in crossing in 9:18.85 while West Torrance' Conor Gibson finished at 9:20.13.  Leading for a little bit, Wiley came home with a nice personal best as well in running 9:20.31. 

The final gun on the evening came for the girls 3200 meters.  Only two girls in the field had ever eclipsed the 11-minute standard but the conditions had been producing personal bests all night long.  

Coming down from Bishop Union, Sierra Burror took the group through the first two laps.  But once that third lap hit -- it became the Hannah Fredericks show.  She came in with a 10:45.7 best and was the heavy favorite.  Coming off a sub-4:50 performance the previous week, she took complete control of the race in crossing at 5:14.  Burror continued to hold on to second place, coming through at 5:25 while Oaks Christian freshman Grace Geyer going along in her shadow.  

Fredericks had to go solo the rest of the way, running away with a 10:29.33 victory and joining a very exclusive group of Saugus runners to ever break 10:30!   This was the eighth-fastest mark in meet history and even more commendable as she ran alone the final five laps!   Burror ran to a new personal best with a 10:54.19. 

Meanwhile, staying back for most of the race, Mira Costa's Ella Parsley came through with a huge 11:02.78 breakout!  She mentioned to us afterward that he had never gone under 11:40!   Clovis' Emma Ruvalcaba shined with an 11:10.20 while the Oaks Christian freshman closed with an 11:19.55.  

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