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CLOVIS -- By name, Saturday's season-ending high school track and field meet was not the CIF State Championships, which is traditionally held at Buchanan High School's Veterans Memorial Stadium in late May/early June.
Instead, the CIF-Central Section Masters Meet at Buchanan became the way to crown Central Section champions, or "valley" champion, as it is often called. Due to CIF State officials' decision in late April to cancel its showcase championship for the second straight year, the official CIF-recognized meet season concluded with Saturday's action.
For many athletes, recognition as an individual, relay or team Central Section champion was realization of a major accomplishment, and those celebrating were just as enthusiastic.
"The smile was for these last two years I told myself I want to win at the valley championship," said Buchanan High senior standout Lauren Fowler, explaining a big grin of happiness on display as she crossed the finish line in her 100-meter victory. She did it by securing her state-leading 100 time in 11.63 seconds.
"Since there was no season last year, it's something that's been haunting me," she continued. "I came in wanting to win the 100 at Valley, it was my biggest goal."
But Fowler, who will head to the University of New Mexico in the fall, didn't stop there. She was on the winning 4x100 relay (47.14 seconds) and finished second in the long jump (18-feet, 11.50 inches), all under a very hot, 109-degree late afternoon start. When the sun went down later in the evening and a breeze helped to cool things off, Fowler remained hot, setting a personal-best time of 24.02 to win the 200.
Fowler's success, along with individual wins by seniors Helen Chu in the triple jump (37-10.25) and Alexa Dandridge in the 300 hurdles (43.44), and plenty of scoring depth, helped the Buchanan girls' team capture the CIF-Central Section Masters team title.
"We adjusted our training when they announced the cancellation of the State Meet and we told them this was going to be our championship event," said Buchanan Coach Brian Weaver.
Clovis North was second place in the girls' team standings, winning three individual events and the 4x400 relay. Junior Takiya Cenci won the 400 (55.25) -- the Broncos swept the top three places in the event -- and was on the winning 4x400 relay. Junior Miliana Perez won the 1600 (4:53.56 seconds) and sophomore Peyton Bitter went 5 feet, 5 inches, and won an extended jump-off tiebreaker with Sierra Pacific's Gardenia Quezada to claim the high jump title.
On the boys' side, Central High edged Clovis for the Central Section Masters team title by a fraction of a point. It was a solid effort by a small but effective group of athletes, led by junior Jeremiah Walker's victories in the 200 (21.02) and 400 (48.50) and running on both winning 4x100 (41.52) and 4x400 (3:20.05) relays. Sophomore Terrell Johnson was on both winning relays, sophomore Imari Conley was on both winning relays and was fourth in the 100 and fifth in the 200, and junior Cameron Tarver was on the 4x100 relay, finished second in the 100, 200, and in the long jump. Senior Devin Kelly won the triple jump (47-1) to give the Grizzlies five event victories.
"We were well-rounded with our points," said Central Head Coach Gary Davis. In addition to the overwhelmingly expected success in the sprint events, Davis was very pleased in other areas. "We got more points than expected in the hurdles, Devin won the triple jump at the end of the meet and there was a tie in the pole vault so they gave everyone a share of a point."
Senior Lawson McAlister, a Central football player who came out and ran hurdle events, finished second in the 110 hurdles and third in the 300 hurdles. Senor Cyreese Riley's eighth-place finish in the 110 hurdles also garnered a point. Junior Guillermo Lopez had a fifth-place showing in the 1600 race to provide a few more crucial points.
The team title win was sheer joy as Central athletes, coaches and fans celebrated. But executing in the sprints, where the bulk of the points needed to come, was critical.
"Our team poster says 'Stronger Together,' it's a mindset that was needed," added Central sprints coach Cedric Pulliam. "The (sprinters) really stepped up, they executed and got it done. We were telling them, 'We don't care about times, we care about places, and to just win."
Runner-up Clovis, with four individual wins, was led by junior Nathan Johnson winning the 100 (10.52) and the long jump (22-9.25). He also finished third in the 200 and was on Clovis' fourth-place 4x100 relay. Fellow Clovis individual title winners were sophomore Christopher Caudillo in the 3200 (9:22.37) and senior Ayden Merrihew in the discus (171-9). Both athletes were second in an additional event, the 1600 and shot put, respectively.
In addition to the team champions and runners-up, several individuals completed their CIF seasons with a section masters title.
On the boys side, Buchanan senior Bo Olsen won the 800 (1:57.35) and 1600 (PR time of 4:11.04); Bakersfield Stockdale's Luis-Ramon Torres swept the 110 and 300 hurdles titles in 15.13 and 39.89, respectively, both PR times; Shafter junior Nicholas Godbehere kept up his winning ways with a 60-11.50 mark to win the shot put; Clovis North senior Cyprus Rice, who is heading to Long Beach State, won the pole vault in 15-5, though he attempted to PR with a few chances at 16-5; and freshman Malachi Carrasco of Selma High won the high jump at 6-5, even though he did have three attempts at 6-7.
Title triumphs on the girls' side were turned in by Bakersfield Liberty senior Faith Bender in the discus with a top mark of 169-2 that came on her final throw; senior Kennedy Jennings from Fresno Edison won the 800 in 2:13.27; Bishop Union senior Sierra Burror, who will head to Cornell, won the 3200 in 10:47.68; junior Daniela Ruelas of Arroyo Grande captured the 100 hurdles in a PR time of 14.58; junior Feyi Olukanni of Clovis East won the shot put title on her final throw of 40-7.25 inches; sophomore Sydnie Vanek of Clovis went 19-3.50 to win the long jump; and San Luis Obispo senior Helen Hoadley, who will head to University of Hawaii next, won the pole vault with a top mark of 11-2 inches. She had three attempts at 11-8 as well.
Much like the Central boys' team title, the Buchanan girls' title was significantly aided by the depth beyond those who won their events. The scoring system gives points to the top eight in each event.
A few of Buchanan's point-getting highlights came in distance and hurdle events. The Bears had four runners in both the 1600 and 3200 races earn points. Sophomores Sydney Sundgren and Grace Hutchison were second and third in both the 1,600 and 3,200. Senior Morgan Hutchison was fourth in the 3,200 and sixth in the 1600. Junior Kaylee Elliott was seventh in the 1600 and sophomore Caroline Mendyk was eighth in the 3200.
Dandridge's win in the 300 hurdles was a PR and she also posted a PR as runner-up in the 100 hurdles. She ran on the winning 4x100 relay. Senior Delaney Custer was fourth in the 100 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles and ran on the second-place 4x400 relay. Chu won the triple jump, but she was also third in the long jump and seventh in the 100 hurdles. Junior Maddie Passmore was second in the triple jump, fourth in the long jump, and ran on the winning 4x100 relay. Junior Chinyere Egbuziem was fifth in the discus and sixth in the shot put. Freshman Jemma Nelson was eighth in the 400 and ran on the 4x400 relay.
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA.