Big smiles, sounds of laughter, joyful kidding, and all-around good vibes resonated for four young men in an area located just behind Clovis East High School's stadium.
Typically a place many athletes use as a warm-up space between events, at this moment it was celebration central. Correction, it was a Central celebration.
"We finally got it," said a beaming Tarver, of the accomplishment.
"Finally" came at the CIF-Central Section North Area qualifying meet on June 9. "Finally," was about a year in the making for the Grizzlies' program. The foursome's performance snapped a five-year-old mark of 41.49 that had been set in the 2016 CIF-State Meet preliminaries by two seniors and two juniors.
The 2021 record holders? Conley and Johnson are sophomores. Tarver and Walker are juniors. In other words, the June 9 celebration may not be the lone record-setting celebration this month, or even next year. The 2021 edition still has two more opportunities to lower it, perhaps below 41 seconds. It's certainly not a stretch.
"That's our goal now," the group said during a Zoom interview earlier this week. "We've just got to keep working hard as a team."
That's the right attitude your coach wants to hear from his athletes.
"It's definitely a blessing having these guys," says Central sprints coach Cedric Pulliam. "All of them are hungry. Even in practice they're competing with each other. So when they are pushing each other, you know it can only get better. Staying focused, they're not satisfied. They just look forward to the next (meet)."
That won't be a problem, especially now. There's already strong competition locally from schools such as Buchanan, Clovis, and Clovis North. This Saturday, June 19, Central and other locals will see additional area teams at the CIF-Central Section Masters Meet on Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium track.
Central will then be at the June 25-26 alternative state meet in Arcadia, an event that was scheduled soon after CIF State officials decided in late April to cancel its championship for the second straight year. Central's opposition will grow again -- assuming all compete at the year-ender meet -- from Southern Section teams Rancho Cucamonga (41.20), Upland, Long Beach Wilson, and Long Beach Poly, along with Central Section's Clovis North and San Joaquin Section's Rocklin. Each school's relay team has run under 42 seconds.
"The competition will help us push our time down, push us each to get faster. We want the competition because it will be a great race, a close race," Conley said.
That "hunger," as Pulliam describes it for his relay team, is true.
"We're going to outwork everybody. No matter how much others practice in a day, we're going to outwork you. That's our main goal," Tarver said.
The Masters Meet is first and foremost on the mind this week.
"We'd definitely like to get to that, under 41," 12-year Central head coach Gary Davis said. "And Buchanan's track is one of the fastest in the state."
The team's chemistry has soared ever since Conley, Tarver, Johnson, and Walker were put together. Conley, the only one who plays football in addition to track, didn't join the relay until the April 21 Central-Buchanan dual meet because of a COVID-19-influenced football season this spring. The foursome ran 43.19 with Johnson and Tarver in the second and third positions, respectively. On May 1 at the West Coast Relays, with Walker and Johnson in the third and fourth spots, they went 42.22. Then came a string of sub-42 times at the Arcadia Invitational (41.90), Sanger Metric Classic (41.64), and the TRAC Championship (41.58). In the latter meet May 28, the Conley-Tarver-Johnson-Walker order was a success. Getting the school record cemented this winning formula.
"There's great chemistry between us," Tarver said. "We're all brothers. We get along very well. We come up with different ideas to make each other better. We all want to win, but without team chemistry, we really wouldn't go far."
- 100m PR 10.65 (0.9) ranks CA No. 9 for wind-legal marks (No. 21 all conditions)
- 200m PR 21.57 (2.7) ranks CA No. 17 (tie) all conditions; 21.71 (1.0) No. 17 wind-legal
- 100m PR 10.53 (2.0) ranks CA No. 4 for wind-legal marks (No. 7 all conditions)
- 200m PR 21.42 (0.5) ranks CA No. 5 for wl marks; 21.25 (2.1) ranks CA No. 5 ac
- Arcadia long jump champion 23-6 (2.1) ranks CA No. 5 ac
- 200m PR 21.11 (2.4), CA No. 2 all conditions; 21.50 (1.0) for 2nd at Arcadia CA No. 7 wind-legal
- 400m PR 47.58 to win at Arcadia is CA No. 2
All four athletes have known each other for much of their lives, either as teammates or rivals at local elementary and middle schools. They've played other sports in their youth. Tarver started track in fourth grade but also did soccer and football. He focused solely on track entering high school. Johnson did football, basketball, and track growing up. Walker seemingly did "every sport in the book," but took to track in his fifth-grade year and has three middle school valley records to his credit. Conley ran track, played basketball but his love for football continues in high school where he's a wide receiver and defensive back. He has successfully balanced two sports at Central. "It's helped me get in shape, get bigger and stronger," he said.
The multi-sport mentality has truly shown up within track. Tarver runs the 100, 200 and does the long jump in addition to the 4x100 relay. Walker competes in the 200 and 400 and both 4x100 and 4x400 relays. Conley does the 100, 200 and both relays, and Johnson is a 200 and 400 runner as well as both relays.
"Running the 100, I see my time and it shows me how much I'm progressing and helping my team in the relay," Tarver said. "The 200 strengthens me for both the 100 and relay."
Everything these four do contributes to the whole.
"We have a really great group of athletes," Davis said. "Our football team won state in 2019, our athlete pool is very good. We have a feeder program from elementary and junior high so we've seen these athletes since third grade and on. We've been lucky with athletes with speed. This relay team could have had Xavier Worthy, who was seventh in the 100 at the 2019 CIF-State Meet as a sophomore. He finished high school early to go to Michigan for football (he recently transferred to Texas). He ran a 10.65 in the 100."
Even without Worthy, Central's relay team fully understands what it must do to succeed.
Conley knows the importance of being explosive at the start and handing the baton to Tarver, whose role is to give the team a solid lead. Once he delivers the baton to Johnson, the latter is running his all and is responsible for the most important exchange. Walker's anchor role is clear: "I need to bring it home and finish strong."
It happened perfectly in a school-record time the last meet, but it should be fun to see how low it could go by the end of June. Another Central celebration could be on the schedule.
Ryan T. Blystone is a freelance writer and regular contributor to MileSplitCA.