PREVIEW: Top Returning Boys in the Southern Section

2022 Southern Section Track and Field - Top Boys To Watch

The Newbury Park duo of Colin Sahlman, left, and Lex Young lead a deep group of distance runners among a stellar list of returning outstanding track and field athletes in the Southern Section heading into the 2022 outdoor season. (Raymond Tran photo)

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As we are only two weeks away from the official start of the 2022 Track & Field season in the Southern Section, we highlight the Top 20 Boys To Watch! 

With the wealth of talent in the Southern Section returning for this season, it was a challenge to condense our list to only twenty - so here we go!  

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Daniel Appleford (Newbury Park/Sr.) - Distances
The first of FIVE Newbury Park distance runners on our list, based on accomplishments alone, this senior has already posted a 9:00.97 for the 3200 meters in mid-January! Seemingly overlooked, Appleford's resume deserves its own headlines!  He is well on his way to improving upon his 8:56.77 lifetime best from 2021 and during any other year - would be garnishing more headlines and attention.       

Delaney Crawford (Upland/Sr.) - Sprints/Hurdles
The University of Virginia-bound senior is back at Upland (spent the Fall semester at Corona High as their starting quarterback), with plenty of motivation to make up for missing the 2021 postseason due to a pulled hamstring at the CIF-SS prelims. Crawford is the top returner in the nation for the 300 Hurdles (36.64).  He also boasts 10.55w and 21.49 bests in the shorter sprints to complement his 14.60 wind-legal best in the 110 Hurdles. He, along with his Upland teammates, will look to improve upon their State Record in the Shuttle Hurdles (57.75).  (Photo above) 

Jai Dawson (Dana Hills/Sr.) - Distances
The defending 3200-meter champion for Div. 2, but yet, the headlines on his resume point more to his 800 (1:53.79) and 1600 (4:09.26) accolades.  He was the runner-up for the 1600 meters in that exciting Div. 2 final, where he was interfered with, in the last ten meters of the race.  He returns with the fifth-fastest times in California for the 800 and 1600. Dawson's 1:20.07 performance in the 600 meters at the Winter Championships already shows that he is in sub-1:53 fitness! 

Isaiah Givens (Pasadena/Sr.) - Distances
Matriculating to the University of Colorado this Fall, Givens comes into the 2022 season looking to bounce back from a frustrating Cross Country season. His 8:53.29 best for the 3200 meters if the fourth fastest returner in California while his 4:08.43 for the full mile is third best.  But, what is overlooked by most is his 1:53.01 being the top returning time in the state for the 800 meters!  Givens is ready to unleash after putting up one of the top distance resumes of any underclassman in state history in 2021.    

Kai Graves-Blanks (Upland/Jr.) - Hurdles 
The defending Division 1 champion for the 110 Hurdles, the senior went on to the Brooks PR meet to record a lifetime wind-legal best of 13.91.  Graves-Blanks also placed third at the divisional finals for the 300 Hurdles and returns with a best of 38.60, good enough as the third-fastest returner in California. For the high hurdles, he owns the fastest time under all conditions.  He is part of the hurdling quartet that will look to go after the national Shuttle Hurdles record while also playing a huge role in both of the team's relay squads which expect to rank amongst the best in the state.   

Patrick Ize-Iyamu (Chaminade/Sr.) - Sprints
The senior captured the invitational race at the 2021 Arcadia Invite with a wind-legal 10.47, but unfortunately, a late-season injury sidelined him from the postseason. He also rolled to a 21.51, third-place finish for the 200 meters. One of several that shocked us during their freshman season of 2019, we expect the University of Oregon-bound Ize-Iyamu to shine once again in the postseason. He placed third at the Div. 3 finals and surprised many with his fourth-place finish at the CIF-SS Masters Meet and qualifying for the State Meet - as a freshman.    

Seth Johnson (Cajon/Sr.) - Hurdles/Jumps
Headed off to UC Berkeley, the multi-dimensional senior qualified for three individual events at the 2021 CIF Division 1 final. He comes into the 2022 season as one of the section top high jumpers (6-6.75 best), long jumpers, and 110 High Hurdlers. Johnson's 14.10 clocking in the high hurdles is the third-fastest wind-legal returner in the state while his 39.08 best in the 300 Hurdles also places him as the fifth-best returner in California. His 22-3 wind-legal best in the Long Jump places him third in the section. Just missing qualifying in four events, he placed second in the 110 hurdles and Long Jump to go along with a third-place finish in the High Jump to earn 22 points all by himself at the 2021 Division 1 finals.  Johnson served notice with his dominating performance in the Pentathlon at the Winter Championships.  

Jaelen Knox (Long Beach Poly/Sr.) - Sprints
Unheralded until the Winter Championships, Knox came to our attention in 2019 as a freshman when he ran a wind-legal 21.69 to capture the Moore League Frosh-Soph title. So, not eligible to compete in the post-season as a freshman and not competing as a junior at their league finals, Knox reemerged last weekend, pushing Max Thomas all the way to the finish in both the 150m (15.99) and 300m (33.59). Both marks validate that Knox is well on his way to a sub-21.50/48.00 season.   

Rayshon Luke (St. John Bosco/Sr.) - Sprints
Similar to Knox, the unpredictability of the past two seasons has put Luke off the radar.  But when announcing his intent to play football at the University of Arizona this fall, Luke made it abundantly clear that track is his favorite sport and is ready to reemerge as one of the top talents in state history, as we witnessed in 2019 when he was a freshman, in 2022.  Reminded of his smooth, effortless stride on the second leg of St. John Bosco's sprint medley relay at the Winter Championships, remember that Luke ran a wind-legal 10.55 at the California State Prelims to establish the California State freshman record for the event before placing fifth the next day in 10.59 - as a freshman.  

Cade Moran (Murrieta Mesa/Sr.) - Throws
The University of Michigan-bound returns as the top Shot Putter (63-1.75 best) and Discus (177-7) thrower in California!  The defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion, he is fifth in the United States coming into the 2022 season in the Shot Put.  He captured the Shot Put (61-9) and Weight Throw (62-9.5) at the Winter Championships last weekend.  (Photo below)   

Camryn O'Bannon (St. John Bosco/Sr.) - Jumps/400
Not only is the senior one of the top horizontal jumpers in California but what is hardly ever seen, he's also one of the top 400 meter specialists in the Southern Section as well!  He captured the Long and Triple Jump titles at the Div. 3 finals in 2021 while placing second in the 400 meters (48.98 best).  As the top wind-legal returner in both jumps, O'Bannon captured both events at the Winter Championships while he also anchored his school's Sprint Medley Relay team as their 1:31.71 is already one of the top ten times in state history for that relay!

Hunter O'Brien (Roosevelt/Sr.) - Pole Vault
Obrien comes into the season as the state's top returning pole vaulter, but stole the attention away from the track at the Winter Championships when he cleared 16-1 and threatened the meet record.  The senior is one of the favorites for the State Championship in late May.

Roderick Pleasant (Serra/Jr.) - Sprints
Unheralded until May of 2021, the junior exploded onto the national radar with his performances at the State Meet last June.  Seemingly not pushed by any competition until that meet, he ran to a new sophomore California State record in his 10.32 performance in the 100 meters.  But, he elevated to another stage when he rolled to the 20.59 wind-legal win for the 200 meters, setting another sophomore-class state record!

Colin Sahlman (Newbury Park/Sr.) - Distances
Headed off to the University of Northern Arizona, he was the California Gatorade Athlete of the Year in 2021 and just earned, for the second time, the same distinction for this past Cross Country season. Coming into the season with greater expectations as he ran a 4:03.58 for the 1600 meters and 8:43.42 for the 3200 meters. Most overlook that he has also run 1:53.20 for the 800 meters as well.  Sahlman is going after the all-time state record of 8:31.42, held by German Fernandez (2008), and all signs point there as he just ran the indoor Mile in a blazing 3:58.81, to become the third-fastest ever in national prep history! 

Aaron Sahlman (Newbury Park/Jr.) - Distances
The junior opened up his season with an outstanding 1:53.03 in the 800 meters several weeks ago!   The 'half-miler' of the group is coming off a monster Cross Country season where, any other year, on any other team - he would be THE headliner. As a sophomore, he ran a 4:09.30 for the full mile and returns as one of the top boys in the nation for the event.  He just rolled to an 8:01.92 to run the fourth-fastest indoor 3000 meters in national prep history!

JeyQuan Smith (Cajon/Jr.) - Sprints/Jumps
The junior was one of the top sophomore short sprinters in the state in 2021, where he rolled to wind-legal best of 21.39 for the 200 meters.  He placed third at the Division 1 finals for the 100 meters (10.57w).  Also, one of the top returning long jumpers in the division, Smith will play a huge role in the battle for the 2022 Division 1 team title between Upland and Newbury Park.  

Max Thomas (Servite/Sr.) - Sprints
Headed to the University of Southern California, Thomas is the defending 100 and 200 meter champion from the 2021 Div. 3 finals. At the most recent Winter Championships captured titles in the 150 meters (15.90) and 300 meters (33.52). Passing up soccer this year and returning with 10.52 and 21.35 wind-legal bests for the shorter sprints, Thomas will move up and focus on the 400 meters this Spring!  Despite being the third-fastest returner in the state for the 100 meters, Thomas exhibits the aerobic strength to be a sub-47 second quarter-miler - and be undoubtedly be one of the favorites for state titles in both longer sprints!     

Zaire Waring (Culver City/Sr.) - Sprints/Hurdles
The senior returns with the top marks in the 100, 200, 400, and 300 Hurdles for Division 2.  Waring is the defending champion for the 400 meters, which he threw down a 48.36 lifetime best last Spring. What vaults him onto our list is that he has also run 39.30 for the 300 Hurdles along with wind-legal bests of 21.81 for the 200 meters and 10.89 for the 100.  To boot, he is also an accomplished high hurdler!  The question that will pose itself for the 2022 postseason, like in 2021 - what events would he do?

Leo Young (Newbury Park/Jr.) - Distances
Yes, he was not the fastest underclassman on his team in 2021, but his 4:07.66 for the full mile, complimented by his 8:55.82 for the 3200 meters ranks him as one of the top distance runners in the nation!  Still only a junior, he comes in as one of the best resumes in Southern Section history and will play a huge role in his squad's assault on the national record for the 4x1600 Relay this Spring (they go after the national indoor record next month). To further cement the expectations, Leo is also coming off a Cross Country season that saw him the third-fastest time EVER in State Meet history for the Woodward Course 5k!    

Lex Young (Newbury Park/Jr.) - Distances
If the debate around the dinner table revolves around which of the Young siblings is the best - well, we're NOT here to settle that one just yet!  After what they accomplished this past cross country season, setting a precedent unlike anything we've ever witnessed, the elder Young (Lex is older), has already eclipsed 4:09 for the full mile two weeks ago and battled, teammate, Colin Sahlman all the way to the finish in that epic 3200 meters at Arcadia last Spring to establish a new sophomore class California state record of 8:43.71. Lex just missed his older brother's national record for the indoor 3000 meters in roaring to a 7:57.06, which equates out to a sub-8:32 for the full 3200 meters!   

For those of you keeping score, this group at Newbury Park could capture the Division 1 title with just their distance runners...  stay tuned!  

Jaelon Barbarin (Simi Valley/Jr./sprints), David Brok (Los Alamitos/Sr./pole vault), Leroy Crook (Long Beach Wilson/Sr./sprints), Logan Davis (Marshall/Sr./sprints), Elijha Ellis (Golden Valley/Sr./jumps), Chase Farrell (Oaks Christian/So./sprints),  Liam Gair (Villanova Prep/Sr./sprints), Gavin Hanes (Ramona/Sr./hurdles/pole vault), Nikolas Iwankiw (South Pasadena/Sr./throws), DeQuan January (Upland/Sr./hurdles), Adam Laycock (Westlake/Jr./throws), Leland Lieberg (St. Francis/Sr./jumps), Xai Ricks (Long Beach Poly/So./middle distances), Dario Rock (St. Francis/Sr./hurdles), JC Stevenson (Great Oak/Sr./triple jump), Jason Thompson (Harvard Westlake/Sr./sprints/jumps), Jordan Washington (LB Jordan/So./sprints)

Extra Note - Mater Dei's Domani Jackson tied the all-time California state record of 10.25 for the 100 meters in 2021 and established a new state junior class record for the event. But Jackson has enrolled early at USC to participate in spring football practice and is skipping his senior year of high school track.   

Photos by Daniel Hernandez and Raymond Tran