REVIEW 10 Things from the 2021 CS Track and Field Season

Among the many stars in the Central Section this past outdoor season are (l-r) Nathan Johnson, Takiya Cenci, Lauren Fowler, Jeremiah Walker. (Photos by DeAnna Turner)

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Highlights from a stellar 2021 outdoor season in the Central Section.

Items are listed alphabetically.

1. Faith Bender (Liberty/SR)

The Arizona State-bound throwing star overcame a back injury that threatened her season to post the best discus throw in the U.S. (173-9) and the top shot put in CA (49-0.25, U.S. No. 13). She limited her competition in the shot put but continued to excel in the discus throw, winning titles at CIF-CS Masters (169-2), CA State Championships (172-8), and Outdoor Nationals (168-4). She threw her PR in prelims for CA State Champs.

2. Boys Sprints

Only the massive Southern Section has more depth in the boys sprints than the Central Section. The spring season in 2021 proved to be a breakout year for a handful of top-end sprinters in the CS, who seemingly were taking the line against each other nearly every weekend. Nathan Johnson (Clovis), Cameron Tarver (Central), Jake Parnagian (Clovis North), and Jeremiah Walker (Central) are all juniors who are ranked among the state's top-10 in the sprints. Walker is No. 2 in the 200m and No. 1 in the 400m. (More on him below.) Johnson, Tarver, Parnagian, and Central sophomore Imari Conley, a top-20 sprinter, took the line against each other a handful of times in the short sprints. Johnson came out with three non-dual 100m titles, including at CS Masters. His 10.49 (2.5) to win at West Coast Relays, was the top all-conditions 100m in the section (CA No. 5 overall), and his 10.52 (1.4) to win at Masters is CA No. 4 (wind-legal). Tarver's 10.53 (2.0) to win at TRAC, ranks CA No. 8 (ac) and No. 6 (wl). He also won at CIF-CS North Area Regional, where he swept the 100m and 200m. Conley got into the mix, winning the 100m at Gateway with a 10.65 (0.9) PR.

3. Sierra Burror (Bishop Union/SR)
It's a five-plus-hour trip around the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Buchanan High School in Clovis. Regardless of the logistical challenges, the Cornell-bound senior still found a way to compete in 17 meets between the end of March (at a Sundown meet outside of Phoenix) and the first of July (where she ran her 5K PR of 17:21.30 at Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, Oregon). The challenges of the long season seemed to play to the strengths of the distance specialist. Burror closed out the season with a 3200m title (10:47.68) and a 1600m PR (5:06.14) at CIF-CS Masters, a 3200m PR (10:40.85) for fourth at CA State Champs, and that 5K PR at Outdoor Nats.

4. Christopher Caudillo (Clovis/SO)
Caudillo emerged as one of the top distance runners in the state and one of the elite juniors in the country. His 8:51.98 PR for 3200m from Arcadia ranks U.S. No. 17 overall and U.S. No. 2 in the 2023 class behind only Newbury Park's Lex Young. His 1600m PR of 4:09.67 to win at the CIF-CS North Area Regional, ranks U.S. No. 3 in the class, CA No. 9 overall, and No. 2 in the class. He swept both distances at the North Area meet and won the CIF title in the 3200m at CS Masters (9:22.37). He won the open mile at Arcadia in 4:15.49, the third-fastest time at the deepest invitational in the state this season.

5. Takiya Cenci (Clovis North/JR)

Throughout the spring and into the summer, Cenci earned her spot on the very short list of the state's elite long sprinters. She started the season running sub-55 for 400m and made it a habit, dipping under that mark six times in her final nine races, including West Coast Relays (54.75, 1st), Arcadia (54.84, 2nd), North Area (54.36 PR, 1st) and CA State Champs (54.71, 1st). Her 400m PR ranks CA No. 3, No. 2 among returners for 2022, and U.S. No. 16 in the class. Her all-conditions 200m PR of 23.96 (2.8) to win at TRAC ranks CA No. 2. No review of her stellar season is complete without recognizing the impact she made on the team's relays. The Clovis North 4x400m relay team ended the season with the No. 1 time in the state, 3:47.68, and the 4x100m relay team ranked 11th, 41.20. That 4x4 team that included Tatum Zinkin, Tiara Adeniji, and Maya Cordoba, broke a school record in placing third at Outdoor Nats with Cenci splitting 53.86.

6. Central Section

No other section in the state functioned as close to business as usual during the outdoor track and field season as did the CIF-CS. Schools, especially those in Fresno County, held meets from early April through the section championships on June 19. The West Coast Relays, held May 1 at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium, attracted 63 teams from six of the state's 10 sections. While other sections canceled or scrambled to conduct an altered post-season, the CS held area regional meets and a championship Masters meet as it did pre-pandemic. Kudos to CS leadership as well as coaches/meet directors who made it happen for the athletes, including but in no way limited to Brian Weaver at Buchanan, Dustin Marzolf at Clovis East, and Sean Marzolf at Sanger. 

7. Lauren Fowler (Buchanan/SR)

A rare holdover from the Buchanan girls CIF-State championship team in 2019, Fowler emerged as one of the state's most versatile athletes in the sprints and long jump. The University of New Mexico recruit ran PRs to win the CS Masters title in both the 100m (11.63/1.7) and 200m (24.02/2.1). Those times rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the state. She also anchored the section-winning 4x100m relay (47.14). Although two inches short of her PR, Fowler went 19-2 to win the long jump at CA State Champs. It was her third 19-plus jump of the season. 

8. Girls Distances

A collective shout-out to the trio of senior Kennedy Jennings (Edison), junior Miliana Perez (Clovis North), and sophomore Sydney Sundgren (Buchanan). Jennings became what we believe is one of only three athletes statewide to win a third section event title over the last four years. Jennings won the 800 meters at CS Masters as she had also done in 2018 and 2019. She also won the North Area title in a PR time of 2:11.77, which ranked CA No. 12. Perez won the 1600m title at CS Masters, ran the state's No. 5 time of 4:48.51 to win at TRAC, and also ran the state's No. 11 time for 3200m (10:34.36). Of her 1600m races, Perez also won at North Area, was second at Gateway, and third at CA State Champs. Sundgren won the 1600m in her first 10 CIF-season races this spring. She ran her PR of 4:49.67 at North Area, a time that ranks CA No. 8 overall and No. 1 in the class of 2023. Her 10:25.25 PR for 3200m from Arcadia ranks CA No. 5 and also No. 1 in the 2023 class. Nationally in the class, Sundgren ranks U.S. No. 6 for 1600m and No. 7 for 3200m. It also should be noted that Clovis North junior Tatum Zinkin ranks CA No. 7 in the class for 800m (2:14.37), Clovis East sophomore Erica Nyberg ranks CA No. 2 in the class for 1600m (4:54.20), and Buchanan sophomore Grace Hutchison ranks CA No. 3 in the class for 1600m (4:55.46) and No. 3 for 3200m (10:40.83). 

9. Bo Olsen (Buchanan/SR)

It's easy to envision the Energizer Bunny when watching Olsen kick it into overdrive during an 800m or 1600m race. The Fresno Pacific recruit closed his season with six consecutive invitational/post-season victories in the 800m which also included a 1600m double at both the league (TRAC) and CS Masters meets. He also won 800m titles at Gateway (PR 1:53.10, CA No. 4), Sanger Metric, North Area, and CA State Champs. His 4:11.04 victory for 1600m in triple-figure heat at the section championship is a PR that ranks CA No. 14.  

10. Jeremiah Walker (Central/JR)

No listing of elite performances during the 2021 outdoor season is complete without the accomplishments of this sprint star. He ran the state's No. 1 time in the 400m (47.43), No. 2 time for 200m (21.02/1.9), anchored the No. 2-ranked 4x100m relay team (41.25), and anchored the No. 7-ranked 4x400m relay team (3:20.05). Walker swept the 200m/400m at both the TRAC finals and CS Masters. Seven times he won the 400m, including at Arcadia and CA State Champs. And, at the CIF-CS Masters meet, an event that began with a temperature around 108 degrees, Walker won the 200m running his PR, won the 400m (48.50), anchored the winning 4x1 team (41.52), and closed out the night as the temperatures were finally dipping under triple-digits by anchoring the winning 4x4 team (3:20.05). That he had enough left to return a week later to compete at CA State Champs in SoCal and run 47.43 at prelims and 47.64 to win the 400m title speaks volumes about this special talent. 

Inserted photos by DeAnna Turner, Raymond Tran.