102nd CIF-STATE TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
CLOVIS -- Imagine, if you will, what it truly means to experience the thrill of winning a CIF-State Track and Field team championship. It's a monumental feeling. It is such an overwhelming bundle of emotions, so unique and yet so permanent, that you're not going to forget it for the rest of your life.
That's especially true if your name is Alexis Faulknor. She knows. It's not something she has to imagine at all. In 2012, she lived it. Faulknor was a senior when she and her teammates from Gardena Serra High School won the program's first-ever girls' state track team championship. Talk about memorable!
Ten years ago, it was Faulknor who was winning an individual state title in the long jump (20 feet, 3 inches on her final attempt) and running anchor on Serra's winning 4x100 relay that went a blistering 45.92 seconds. Together, she helped account for one-third of Serra's 60 team points that year.
Fast forward to 2022. Faulknor is once again standing on the Veterans Memorial Stadium infield at Buchanan High. She's just concluded her first year as head coach at Serra and she's beyond thrilled seeing history repeat -- only the names have changed.
Last Saturday night, Serra got wins in the 4x100 relay, 200, and supporting point-placings in the 200 and 100 to score 37 points. It was enough to edge runner-up Clovis North, which finished with 32 after closing out the meet with a win in the 4x400 relay. Long Beach Wilson was third in the team standings with 28. The state team title was Serra's third in program history, the first since 2018.
"I am so happy, so proud of my girls," a jubilant Faulknor said. "Every day we meet and I express to them how proud I am of them, proud to be their coach and proud to be an alumna of Serra. They worked so hard. They are all so amazing!"
Training began in August under the direction of Faulknor and her staff, which includes her father. It was at this time that her young, but talented girls' team learned all about their coach and her determination to win. Beyond her high school success, she also had an impressive college resume with All-America accolades and record-setting performances with USC's track program. She had been an assistant coach at Narbonne for one season, but when Serra's job came open, she jumped at the chance to give back where she was familiar.
As a Serra alumna, she had the credibility and ability to impart advice to get buy-in and get the most out of the athletes. She had experienced something magical in 2012 and it was her goal for the 2022 team to know they could attain it too if they were willing to work hard, listen, focus and execute.
Certainly, she and her 2012 4x100 relay teammates Jade Pavajeau, Renetia James, and Maya Brown had it while breaking the 46-second mark to set a state title-winning day in motion. A decade later, the 2022 foursome of junior Brazil Neal, sophomores Mia Flowers and Jaiya Fletcher, and junior Jordan Washington proved it by going 46.08 to win the same state relay title event.
She told us about coming here 10 years ago and winning a state title," said Neal, a multi-event sprinter, of Faulknor. "We've been training since August and giving our blood, sweat, and tears to do this. I'm so happy right now."
Faulknor's support for her athletes helped them prepare to be at their best throughout the season, especially against top-tier competition.
Following the Del Ray League finals, Serra's CIF quest began with dominating performances in the Southern Section Division 4 preliminaries. The next week, Serra swept both the boys' and girls' Division 4 titles and the CIF-SS Masters Meet was where their state title hopes would be measured.
There was not a guarantee in coming to Clovis that they'd be returning with a state championship trophy in tow. Friday's preliminaries meet and their performances, however, provided a pathway to have a shot of accomplishing the ultimate prize.
Serra's 4x100 performance against an ultra-competitive field led by pre-race favorite Golden Valley, St. Mary's, Carson, Long Beach Poly and Culver City, put their goal in motion. Neal won the 200 and was second in the 100. Washington was third in the 100 and sixth in the 200.
"It feels amazing," said Fletcher after the 4x100 relay win. "We've worked so hard to get to this moment."
Listening to their coach and executing on the track resulted in them realizing a dream that came true.
"I have chills," Neal said. "And now we're going to be in the state meet program forever. 2022 State Champions, Serra."
It's a unique feeling they all know now -- just like their coach.
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit
Photos by DeAnna Turner, Daniel Hernandez, Pat Rhames, and Dan Tyree