TRACK AND FIELD San Diego Section Year in Review


San Diego HS senior Charlize James (left) won the 100-meter hurdles title at the CIF-State Championships with Cathedral Catholic junior Kapiolani Coleman (right) placing third in this event and winning the 300m hurdles title later in the meet. (Pat Rhames photo)

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When the absolute sure thing, virtually guaranteed, is yanked away, it's hard to call it a highly successful track and field season.

But two gold medals and two San Diego Section records from completely different athletes, not to mention five state-leading performances, would certainly qualify as successful.

For years, though, the biggest memory of the 2022 state championships for San Diego Section athletes, coaches, and fans will be the highly disappointing disqualification of section record-setting and state-leading 100-meter hurdler (13.61) Aaliyah McCormick of Scripps Ranch.

Even more than the 2-1 vote by the judges that sent McCormick, a senior, to the sidelines, the way the situation was handled was criticized from all corners.

A quick review of the first heat of the short hurdles saw a clean start but at the first hurdle, depending on who was talking, McCormick either got bumped when Arroyo Grande (CS) senior Daniela Ruelas went out of her lane and crossed over into the No. 1 seed or McCormick impeded Ruelas.

The officials met and it was determined that McCormick had impeded Ruelas, who not only was excused but was given a special opportunity to run at the end of the prelims, qualifying for the finals, which meant she not only might have bumped McCormick out, but also the No. 9 finisher from the prelims.

Apparently, there was never any discussion about allowing McCormick a second chance like Ruelas. From the very beginning of the dispute, McCormick said she expected a recall gun and vehemently claimed she was the one who was fouled.

Even with the bump, she ran 14.16 and would have qualified on time.

Salt was rubbed in the wound when Ruelas finished fifth and got to celebrate on the victory stand.

The fact nothing but the judges' decision could be considered was especially egregious to McCormick's coach and mother, who argued vehemently they had photos and video that supported their claim that Ruelas went out of her lane.

Balancing that was a big win in those 100-hurdles by San Diego High senior Charlize James who had run 13.67 in the prelims, the second-fastest time of the season in the state behind only McCormick's SDS record 13.61. Although she injured her foot crashing into the next-to-last hurdle and was unable to run the 300-meter event, it was still a bright spot.

That's because Cathedral Catholic junior Kapiolani Coleman, the season-long leader in the 300s off her 42.19 at Arcadia, gave the section a sweep of the hurdles with her State championship performance of 42.23.

Coleman ran that sizzling time at Arcadia but toward the end of the season, another junior, Karina Janik, of Torrey Pines, had beaten her twice and there was some question if she'd be able to step up.

There wasn't really any doubt in the championship, though, as she took the lead and held it impressively wire-to-wire.

Janik indeed proved she'll also be one to watch next year as she placed third in 42.67 and her twin sister, Dominika, was seventh in 43.70.

The other San Diego Section record to tumble was an old one as Helix junior Adren Parker ran 46.82 in the 400 prelims, losing his heat by 0.01 to eventual champion Jeremiah Walker of Fresno Central (CS). That time eclipsed the 46.85 run by Morse High's Lydell Burston in 1996.

Parker finished fourth in the finals in 47.68.

Ironically, Burston, who had predicted earlier in the season that Parker would erase his 22-year-old record, was in the stands watching his freshman son, Laurence, run the 4x400 relay where Parker was clocked at 45.8 on his anchor leg as the Scotties placed fifth in 3:15.79.

The 6-2, 185-pound Parker is also a defensive back on the Helix football team.

Elsewhere, while there were no more gold medals unlike in 2019 where the section bagged a record seven, there were some quality performances if not in this meet, during the season.

Steele Canyon's Leon Gillis, co-leader in the state in the high jump at 6-9, cleared the starting height of 6-5 and placed second when only the other state co-leader, Cajon's Seth Johnson, was the lone high jumper to clear anything but the starting height-6-7.

Clearly starting at 6-5 bothered most of the jumpers, five of whom couldn't even scale that.

"I just couldn't get into a rhythm," was how Gillis put it.

Similarly, in the girls' pole vault, co-state leader Lexi Evans of Scripps Ranch (14-0) uncharacteristically struggled with single misses at 12-5, 13-5, and 13-9 before missing all three attempts at 14-1. Dublin (NC) sophomore, Jathiyah Muhammad, conversely, did not bump the bar until it rested at 14-1 and earned the gold medal.

In all, though, the San Diego Section qualified seven vaulters -- four of them at-large berths -- and six advanced to the championships where in addition to Evans' silver medal performance, Del Norte senior Allison Leigh was fourth, Poway junior Evangeline Thomson was fifth, La Costa Canyon sophomore Iliana Downing was tied for eighth, San Dieguito senior Quincy Hansen was tied for 10th and the prelim leading qualifier, Fallbrook senior Rose Wagner, was 12th on misses.

Other victory stand performances included:

San Marcos senior Levi Taylor was fourth in the 1600 at 4:12.32, Francis Parker senior Kenan Pala placed fifth in the the 3200 at 9:01.57, Eastlake senior Justin Cardoza was tied for fifth in the high jump at 6-5, and El Centro Southwest senior Guillermo Lopez placed fourth in the shot put at 58-5.50.

For the girls, who qualified in a whopping 32 events, walks up the victory stand included Coleman getting up for third in the 100-meter hurdles at 14.14, McCormick placing fifth in the 100 at 11.80, Poway senior Alyssa Bean was fifth in the 400 at 55.85, her sophomore teammate Tessa Buswell was sixth in the 800 at 2:13.75, Del Norte junior Hannah Riggins was part of that sensational girls' 1600, placing fifth in 4:46.97, La Costa Canyon sophomore Gioana Lopizzo was sixth the 3200 at 10:30.93, Poway's girls were sixth in the 4x400 at 3:55.37, Scripps Ranch junior Lizzie Tarczy tied for fourth in the high jump at  5-4, and Cathedral Catholic senior Kennedy Clarke, the state leader in the shot at 47-5, was fifth in that event at 41-2.50.

Naturally, the howling wind played a role in many of the performances.



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 Adren Parker - Helix, Jr.


Parker was solid from the 100m through the 400m. Parker set a section record in the 400 when he clocked a 46.82 finishing 0.01 seconds behind eventual State Meet champ Jeremiah Walker of Fresno Central in the State prelims, breaking the old mark of 46.86 in 1996 by Morse's Lydell Burston. He was fourth in the finals at 47.68. Additionally, Parker clocked times of 10.82 in the 100, 21.78 in the 200, plus he ran legs on the Scotties' 4x100 relay (41.75) and 4x400 (fifth in the state at 3:15.79 where he ran a 45.8 anchor leg).




Bryce Gilmore - Sage Creek, Sr.


Since this category includes the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m and the Wake Forest signee led all three at one point, he was the choice despite faltering at the end of the season, losing to Francis Parker's Kenan Pala in both the section and state 3200. Clearly, Gilmore was not at his best in May but before that he posted a 1:52.93 for 800 meters at the APU Meet of Champions Distance Classic, 4:11.71 mile at Mt. SAC, and 8:53.23 for 3200 at Arcadia. Pala, the cross country standout headed to Yale, finished strong with a fifth-place finish at the State Championships at 9:01.57, just off his PR of 9:01.43.




Leon Gillis - Steele Canyon, Sr.  


The co-leader in the state, Gillis high jumped 6-9 at the Jaguar Invitational at Valley Center. At the State finals, he scaled 6-5 on his first jump and placed second. He also had a 6-8 jump in the section Division 1 prelim and was over 6-7 three other times. Gillis was versatile, adding a 45-10 triple jump at the University City Classic.


Weight Throws


Guillermo Lopez - El Centro Southwest, Sr.

Lopez was the most consistent weight event competitor as he hit 175-4 at the State discus prelims after reaching 174-5 winning the San Diego Section title. In the shot put he was a narrow second in the section by season's end, just missing the 60-foot barrier at 59-11. That was just .75 behind El Camino senior Hawkin Miller.




Sprints, Hurdles


Aaliyah McCormick Scripps Ranch, Sr.


Headed to Oregon, McCormick lowered the section 100-meter hurdle record to 13.61 with a wind-aided 13.46, one of only two girls in CA to dip under 14 seconds. During the season she trimmed her own record three times. Although she was disqualified in the State prelims in the hurdles, she proved her competitiveness, placing fifth in the 100-meter dash final at 11.80. She also ranked eighth in the state at 43.31 in the 300-meter hurdles. Tough call in this category over State 100-meter champ Charlize James of San Diego High (13.67 in State prelims) and State 300-meter hurdle titlist Kapiolani Coleman of Cathedral Catholic (42.19 at Arcadia), showing San Diego's depth in this event.




Hannah Riggins - Del Norte, Jr. / Mackenzie Rogers - Poway, Sr.


This was the toughest call overall. Riggins finished the season with a rush, placing fifth at State in the 1600m at 4:46.97. But in the section finals, Rogers beat Riggins by six seconds in 4:48.75. In the 3200m, Rogers had the edge with a 10:17.91 at Arcadia compared to Riggins' 11:02.30. But Riggins was clearly superior in the 800m with a best of 2:11.60 compared to Rogers' 2:18.46.




Lexi Evans - Scripps Ranch, Sr.


Starting with a 13-7 clearance at the Rancho Bernardo Bronco Invitational, Evans was a front-runner with clearances of 13-8 in March and 13-10 at the City Western League championships. In the section championships, Evans soared over 14-feet to share the state lead with eventual state champion Jathiyah Muhammad of Clovis. Evans is headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.


Weight Throws


Kennedy Clarke - Cathedral Catholic, Sr.


Headed to Oklahoma, Clarke was the season-long state leader in the shot put after reaching 47-5 in a dual meet in April. She easily qualified for the state meet where he made the victory stand with her fifth-place finish at 41-2.50. Additionally, she won the section discus throw where she reached 147-9 in the D2 prelims.

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Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit

Photos by DeAnna Turner, Daniel Hernandez, Pat Rhames, Dan Tyree