BAKERSFIELD -- The CIF Central Section's South Area Meet at Liberty High School on Friday offered all track and field athletes chances to qualify for the upcoming section championship meet, but for many, this event carried extra special significance.
Liberty athletes won 11 events on Friday, including three of the four relays, in what was the final high school home meet for many Patriot standouts.
Seniors Faith Bender, Bella Rigby, and Rebecca Vander Poel each performed well in their respective events. Bender won the discus (163 feet, 9 inches) and improved her season-best mark in the shot put (46-6.50). Rigby was second to Bender in both events with a 162-0 and 37-2.50, and Vander Poel won the 200 meters (25.69 seconds), 400 (58.59), and ran the anchor leg of the winning 4x400 relay (4:07.96). All three athletes are college-bound - Bender will be at Arizona State, Rigby is going to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Vanderpoel to Boise State, but there was acknowledgement of what was happening.
"Those senior girls, I think the reality that this is their last high school meet, it's always special to be here at home," Liberty Head Coach Ryan Renz said. "We host a lot of meets. They've had some special moments here so I'm sure as they were out there going through it, 'hey this is it, the last time I'll ever compete here.' They've had great careers, we've had some great girls here."
It was equally telling that Bakersfield's Garces Memorial senior Zach Buckey's high school finality set in despite tossing a winning personal-best discus mark of 190 feet. Buckey heads to Stanford University this weekend as he begins preparation for school and to play football. Buckey, who on Thursday was awarded the city of Bakersfield's prestigious Mayor's Trophy, an honor recognizing outstanding athleticism, academics and leadership and community service efforts, competed in the Area meet Friday seeking to break Chris White's 2003 Garces discus record of 191.
"It felt good, a good throw coming out," Buckey said of the PR mark throw. But he quickly transitioned to gratitude for his high school experience and those who have supported him. "This is it for me, so I just look back and it's been a great year, great blessing. I've been mentored by the best people throughout the year and I'm really thankful for all I've had."
Buckey won, but won't compete in the section final. His younger brother, Grant Buckey, a sophomore at Liberty, will after taking third in the discus (158-8).
The section championship, taking place at Buchanan High's Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis June 19, is definitely in the plans of several competitors who demonstrated their prowess on Friday.
Take Liberty freshman hurdler/sprinter Bella Turner. She had personal-best times in the 300 hurdles, winning in 45.64, and as a third-place finisher in the 100 hurdles (16.05). Turner ran the second leg on Liberty's 4x400 winning relay and was its anchor on the 4x100 relay that finished third. Another young Liberty girls standout, sophomore Emma Fredrick, won the long jump (16-9) and the triple jump in 34-10, both of which are PR marks.
Renz knew he had a young boys' team, but he received maximum effort from his all-underclassmen relay teams as they won both the 4x100 (Jamel Davis, Ethan Mahanke, Ermiah Harrison and Austin Pratt) and 4x400 (Harrison, Pratt, Davis, Mahanke) races. Pratt and Mahanke also each qualified in an individual event.
Luis Ramon-Torres, a senior from Bakersfield Stockdale High, swept the boys' 110 and 300 hurdles events, setting a PR in the 110 (15.15) and taking the 300 in 40.82. He also finished second in a tight 100-meter dash in 11.08, in which Shafter's Devon Sundgren won in 11.05 and Bakersfield High's Tylin Rogers was third in 11.09.
Bakersfield Highland seniors swept the top three qualifying spots in the boys' 1,600 and 3,200. Jacob Yagers won the 1,600 in 4:17.57, followed by Matthew Berry in 4:24.01 and Jacob McNitt at 4:26.48. In the 3,200, McNitt and Yagers switched spots. McNitt won in 10:04.40, Berry was second in 10:07.46 and Yagers finished in 10:10.43. On the girls' side, Highland freshman Mia Torrecillas won the 1,600 in 5:09.05 and was second in the 3,200 in 11:16.34. She battled Bishop Union senior Sierra Burror, who is headed to Cornell University, in both races. Burror won the 3,200 (10:53.66) and was second in the 1,600 (5:10.70). In the 800, Highland's Neyda Martinez won in 2:25.90.
Bakersfield High junior Mia Bolton won the 100 meters in 12.11 and ran the anchor leg on the winning girls 4x100 relay, which won in a time of 49.99. Bolton's brother, Mallik Bolton, won the 400 in 50.18 and helped Bakersfield's 4x400 relay rally to a third-place finish and the final qualifying spot (3:34.34) with a huge performance as its third runner.
Two more Driller standouts were Brooklyn Ford and Samiyah Walker. Together, Ford and Walker ran on the winning 4x100 relay. Ford finished second in the long jump (16-6.75), third in the 200 (season-best 26.96) and ran on the second-place 4x400 relay (4:10.26). Walker was third in the triple jump (34-0) and long jump (16-5).
In other results, Stockdale senior Jaztyn Greer won the 100 hurdles (15.37) and was second in the 300 hurdles (47.20); Bakersfield South's Marcell Avery won the 200 in 22.56; Daniel Hall won the 800 (1:59.13); Independence's Aubrey Olsen went 10 feet to win the girls' pole vault; Shafter's Nicholas Godbehere, whose top mark this season is a 61-9.75, won the shot put in 59 feet even; Frontier boys athletes won three field events: Timothy Brown cleared 11-6 in the pole vault, Amandeep Momi went 5-8 to claim the high jump and John Appleton's 22-2 enabled him to take the long jump; Deon Brown of Bakersfield West won the boys triple jump in 47-2.
One aspect of the area meet, too, is the depth and the multi-event capability of several athletes who qualify for the section meet, yet don't win an event. A few who exemplify this includes Liberty juniors Luke Wattenbarger, who finished second in the high jump (5-8), long jump (21-6) and triple jump (42-3), Jason Oliver, who was second in both the 110 and 300 hurdles (15.61, 41.92, respectively) and Andrew Trottier, runner-up in discus (158-11) and shot put (54-2 PR). Highland's Julie Johnson qualified in four events - second in the 100 hurdles (16.03), second in the 200 (25.76), third in the 100 (12.43) and was on the third-place 4x400 relay (4:19.43).
Friday's meet concluded four Central Section area competitions to determine the section championship field. The top three at each area meet event comprise the top 12 boys and girls spots. The remaining six to get 18 participants per event field is determined by the next best times, heights and distances.
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA.
Photos by Ryan Blystone.