The 15th edition of the Saddle-Up Invitational, hosted by Vista Murrieta High School, is ready to roll with some of the top talents in the Southern Section. Traditionally, it boasts some of the top results across the board when compared to other early-season invites!
PREVIEW - BOYS
Among the numerous headliners, Cajon's boys will open their season led by Seth Johnson. The UC-Berkeley bound senior is one of the more multi-talented boys in California after qualifying for the 2021 Division 1 finals in three individual events (110 hurdles along with long and high jump). He is the Division 1 CIF runner-up in the 110 hurdles while he will also look to improve upon his 39.08 best in the 300 hurdles.
Johnson is not alone for Cajon. Junior Jeyquan Smith is one of the top returning sprinters in the state while the Cowbosy rank as one of the top overall squads in the Southern Section. We will get an early-season glimpse of what their 400 relay crew can do against the likes of Great Oak and Vista Murrieta.
Fresh off of jumping into the statewide spotlight, Covina senior Kerry Smith roared to a wind-legal 22.11 performance in the 200 meters, after he rolled to a 48.89 for the 400 meters. Covina's Smith vs. Cajon's Smith in the 200 meters will be one of the premier battles to watch!
Great Oak will boast the continuous depth of their distance program as Mark Cortes and Nick Gaffney will headline in the 1600 meters with Brandon Wilk and Ramses Cortes focusing on the 800 meters. Aiden Pastorian (55-10.5 best for the shot put) will represent the Wolfpack in the rings, as one of the Southern Section's best in both throws.
South Pasadena will be sending their throwing duo of Nikolas Iwankiw and Noah Leider as the two were catalysts behind their program's CIF-SS Division 3 team title in 2021. Iwankiw opened up his season with 56-7.5 and 171-2 performances in the shot put and discus, respectively, as he steps into the rings as one of California's best.
La Quinta's Ryan Henderson was one of the greatest surprises last postseason as he placed fourth in the 800 meters at the Div. 1 finals as a sophomore, coming into 2022 with a 1:56.18.
PREVIEW - GIRLS
On the girls' side, Kailah McKenzie of Orange Vista, like Seth Johnson of Cajon, is one of the top jumpers/short hurdlers in California. The two share similar resumes but this weekend, McKenzie will take the week off from the 100 hurdles, where she was the Division 1 runner-up a year ago. Rather, she will focus on the 400 relay and the open 100 meters. In the 100 meters, she will face off against two-time CIF-Southern Section D-3 finalist, Trinity Barnett of Rancho Mirage.
Maranatha (SS) sophomore Kelly DeJong shined last month at the Winter Championships with 5-0 in the high jump and 11-7 in the pole vault.
Great Oak's distance runners will be well represented with Kali Kraus leading the way in the 1600 meters, and Meilani Castillo and Divine Torza facing off in the 800 meters. Meanwhile, in the field events, DeAna Davis is the top seed in the discus (115-1 best) where she was a D-1 finalist in 2021.
The hometown crowd of Vista Murrieta features Aspen Fears in the pole vault. The sophomore was one of the top freshmen in the state in 2021 and is coming in, fresh off a 12-0 performance this past week.
Also for the host school, Isabella Smith, coming off a monster cross country season, is the favorite in the 1600 meters. Arlanna Fowler comes in as one of the top returning triple jumpers in the Southern Section while Alyssa Alumbres and Kaila Robinson in the long jump are the foundation why the Broncos are ranked high in our Division 1 team rankings!
Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA with a focus on the Southern Section.
Photos by Lizette Adams, Daniel Hernandez, Angel Pena