SAN DIEGO -- Any normal year, the CIF-San Diego Section track and field prelims would be a torrent of established stars making sure they advanced to the section championships as well as youngsters getting their first real taste of big-time competition.
There is nothing normal about this season in many ways.
For one, while the section prelims used to be the first step toward the state championships, there is no official state championship this year. There have also been no major invitationals in the county this year.
Because of Coronavirus restrictions, the San Diego Section opted to go up to three divisions at three sites all at the exact same time, leading to divisional championships the following Saturday, again at the same sites on the same time schedule.
As a result, as of right now, for the first time in section history, the best of the best will not meet head-to-head, which is only slightly better than last year when they didn't have track championships at all.
Momentum appears to be growing among the coaches, however, to have a Masters-type championship on June 19, four days after it is believed the state will be opened, allowing for the kind of crowds that these championships usually attract.
In the meantime, the focus now turns to the three sites this Saturday with field events starting at 9 a.m. for the girls with the first running event at 10. The boys will take the field at 2 p.m. with the first running event at 3.
Here is a look at the three divisions:
DIVISION I at Del Norte High
Helix junior Adren Parker was pushed to his section-leading 48.12 in the 400 by Grossmont's Xavier Bradford (49.92) in their dual meet and they both figure to coast through and advance to another showdown in the finals along with the likes of Otay Ranch's Haydn Brotschi (50.13).
Mission Hills will put its sprinters, led by senior Kyle Smith (10.82 and 21.98) and junior Lamar Smith (10.97 and 22.28), on display and in the hurdles, Poway senior Maxwell Jefferson (15.16 legal, 15.06 wind-aided and 38.27) figures to be one to watch.
Poway's Camren Willis tops the field events where he leads the section in the long jump (23-5.25) while El Camino's Hawkin Miller (53-2 and 153-6) and Rancho Bernardo's Deven Martin (47-8.50 and 161-4) figure to be right there in both weight events.
Distance running in the North County is among the best and these events figure to be highly competitive with the likes of Del Norte's Hannah Riggins (2:13.54 and 4:59.22) and Poway's Tessa Buswell (2:14.68 and 4:57.89) topping their events and Torrey Pines' Annika Salz (10:35.93) getting ready for a possible finals showdown with Mira Mesa's Mallory Asis (10:38.40) in the 3200.
Individually, though, the spotlight falls on the jumps and pole vault.
State triple jump leader Elise Miller of San Pasqual (41-1 and 19-4 long jump) has her sights set on the section record in the longer event while Rancho Bernardo's Ashley Callahan would love to breeze through and get familiar with the facility in hopes of topping 14-feet or higher in the finals. Right there with her, however, will be Del Norte's Allison Leigh (13-8).
Del Norte's Noelle Elkinton (43-10 and 162-3) will be competing on her home facility while Poway's Alyssa Bean (24.91 legal, 24.66 windy 200, and 56.85 400) will display her speed against the likes of Vista's Summer Sergeant (12.16 and 24.70).
Look for San Diego High's Charlize James to seek to regain her state lead in the 100 hurdles after going 14.25 at Arcadia.
DIVISION II at Mt. Carmel
Cathedral Catholic and La Costa Canyon are loaded and will feature many of the individual standouts like LCC's Garrett Brown who leads the state pole vault by a whole foot with a 17-1 clearance and the Dons' Bryce Brock, who leads the section in both sprints at 10.56 and 21.49.
Brock will get to see the individual who figures to be in the mix in the 100 finals, Valhalla's Ian Lipsey, as well as pull for his teammate Rex Haynes, who posted a 22.32 in the 200 last week. Both will try to show their wares in the 4x100 relay where the Dons have gone 42.20.
Elsewhere, LCC's Tyler Holl leads the section in the 110-highs at 14.68 and is a step behind Jefferson in the 300 hurdles at 39.06.
The Imperial Valley figures to provide some spark in the weight events where El Centro Southwest's Guillermo Lopez (54-0 and 148-7) is one of the favorites in both events along with teammate Gilbert Venegas (47-10) in the shot. Morse's massive Courvosiea Irby (164-7) is the section leader in the discus.
The newest state leader, Scripps Rancho junior Aaliyah McCormick, tops both hurdle events coming off California bests of 14.10 in the 100- and 43.12 in the 300-meter event. But she should have company, especially in the longer race, where Cathedral Catholic's Kapiolani Coleman, the Arcadia winner at 43.51, is waiting.
Speaking of state leaders, University City's Katriina Wright, who ran 54.24 at Arcadia and 53.93 to win the State Meet in 2019, tops the 400. However, she has been slowed by an adverse reaction to the Covid-19 shots. If she's healthy, a rematch with Cathedral Catholic's Aryana Boostani (24.84w) in the 200 next week will be a good one.
West Hills' Brandy Atuatasi leads the section and is second in the state in the discus at 162-3 and she'll be looking to inch closer to the section record of 167-3 by Mt. Miguel's Laulauga Tausaga in 2016. She also had a 45-1 ½ in the shot two years ago but a wrist injury has limited her to two meets.
DIVISION III at Valley Center
(Smaller enrollment schools)
There should be some fun races in this newest division, especially in the distances.
Sage Creek's Bryce Gilmore (4:23.74 and 8:58.82) will get to toe the line against Classical's Joel Gomez (a converted 4:14.91 in the 1600) and Francis Parker's Kenan Pala (9:02.92), which should produce sizzling times.
Others among the section leaders to watch include Santa Fe Christian distance runners Mark Trammell (9:26.45), Alex Bobowski (9:27.90), and Ryan Todd (9:32.56) in the 3200 and Sage Creek's Ben Kaplan in the high jump (6-5).
Clearly, enrollment size doesn't stop teams from having top-notch athletes.
The Sage Creek girls' distance-running crew of Malia Leupold (2:16.68), Kaya Scuba (5:03.82), and Stormy Wallace (5:07.58 and 10:43.99) is as good as any in the section, and maybe the state, and they'll get to meet the likes of SFC's Revere Schmidt (11:16.93) and Christian's Alaina Zamorano (2:14.96).
In the sprints, there is none faster in the section than Madison's Aysha Shaheed (11.76 and 24.73), the defending champ in both events, while Bishop's Madeline Cramer is second only to Wright in the 400 at 56.27. Even there she'll be pushed by Crawford's Saniyah Starks (57.26).
The high jump features the section's top two competitors in Maranatha's 1-2 punch of Julianna Holm (5-7) and Kelly De Jong (5-6). DeJong, just a freshman, is also a 12-foot pole vaulter. In the weight events, Christian's Miranda Nichols (40-3 and 126-8) and Valley Center's Jordan Roche (37-10 and 117-9) should have a good battle.
The horizontal jumps aren't lacking either with North County High Tech's Brianna Gibson (18-7 and 38-11) among the leaders with Sage Creek's Elizabeth Hatton (18-2) at home to challenge in the long jump.
Photos by Angel Pena, Clark Kranz, Daniel Hernandez, DeAnna Turner, and Jeffrey Parenti.
Steve Brand is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA and serves as the San Diego Section editor.