MILESPLIT ALL-CA ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
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One in a series of articles profiling 2022 track and field athletes of the year by event grouping as selected by MileSplitCA editors.
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"I knew it was going to be a close race between (Long Beach) Wilson and us and that no matter what I was going to give it my all at the end. When our third runner put us in a good situation, second place, I knew catching up was something I was capable of. When I got the baton, I saw the girl in front of me and I just went for it."
More than a month has passed since the 2022 CIF State Championship meet concluded, but Takiya Cenci will forever be smiling whenever she recalls what happened in the girls' 4x400-meter relay final on May 28. The Clovis North senior rallied from Wilson's dominate lead over the first three-plus laps with an explosive first 100 meters, then caught Wilson' anchor runner with 150 meters to go, and went on to handily give the Broncos a State relay title victory in a Central Section season-best time of 3:45.38.
Combine that with winning the 400 individual State title, finishing second in the State 200 with a PR, and qualify in four events at State and make it back the second day in three, the USC-bound Cenci has been named MileSplit California's 2022 Girls' High School Athlete of the Year in Sprints/Hurdles. Last month, she was selected MileSplit California's Central Section Girls Athlete of the Year, Sprints/Hurdles.
Watch Takiya Cenci anchor Clovis North to the State title in the 4x4
Cenci has a lot to be proud of, but her sharp observation and real-time performance on the anchor leg of the 4x400 State relay race fit with her whole approach this season.
"My mental preparation was stronger than it had been any other season," Cenci said. "I didn't get caught up in comparing myself with other competitors. I just thought of it as this being my last high school season, I knew what I could do, what my abilities were, and work from there.'"
Clovis North was considered a title contender. Cenci's first-place finish in the 4x400 relay gave the Broncos 10 points in the team standings to pull to within five (37-32) of State champion Gardena Serra and be State runner-up.
Cenci's resume included 400-meter title wins at the Arcadia Invitational, TRAC league final, CIF Central Section Division I final and CS Masters Meet. She recorded her fastest 400 time in the state with a 53.19-second effort April 2 at the West Coast Relays. She finished her senior outdoor year winning all eight high school spring season 400 races she entered. In the 200, her personal-best time, a wind-aided 23.78, came in a second-place finish in the State final. She won six of nine 200 races this season, including titles in CS Division I, CS Masters Meet and TRAC league final races. She qualified in four events for each CIF postseason meet until the State final when Clovis North's 4x100 relay just missed advancing from the State prelims and she did three.
"Just seeing how successful this season went showed how much we worked. A lot of time and effort was put in to make sure this season was one to remember. I am very happy with all of the success we had," Cenci said.
Watch Takiya Cenci Win the 400m at State
One routine used was a kind of family "movie night" approach. It wasn't viewing a Hollywood blockbuster, rather it was to rewatch her races for film study analysis.
"My family is amazing. They are as devoted to track as much as I am. We would sit down and watch a lot of film. It may seem kind of random, but watching film was very helpful to me. We'd watch, I'd see what I did here or there, if I was pushing or kicking, whether or not my arms were swinging fast enough or seeing another person and see where I am. Going back and watching them, even the successful ones to see what I had done right definitely helped me."
Her two most viewed races? Unsurprisingly, it's the 4x400 relay State final and the 400 PR performance at the West Coast Relays. That she is so focused on the 400, an event that has been part of her track career since the beginning at Clovis North, is no surprise either.
Cenci ran the one-lap race as a freshman, winning titles in the TRAC league final, the CS Masters and she secured her PR at the time with a second-place finish in 54.86 at the Arcadia Invitational. She advanced to the CIF State Meet in 2019, finishing ninth in the state prelims and advancing to the state final where she was eighth. COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season, but Cenci kept training and in 2021, she lowered her best 400 time to 54.36.
Her aspiration, though, was to run 53s consistently.
"A lot of what I talk about is consistency. Being a consistent runner, for me, is that once I hit a certain time, I try my best to stay with it. I think as you get older, you begin to understand the race better and how you run it. Right now this is the most confident I've been in my understanding of the race and that's made it easier to hit 53 consistently. I'm actually still surprised by the 53.19 because it came so early in the season. I knew it was something I could do, eventually, but I just wasn't expecting it at that race."
Seven of 10 times Cenci hit the 53 mark in the 400 in 2022. The last two came in post-State meets in June -- the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, and the New Balance Nationals in Philadelphia. She was second and third, respectively, against national competition. Her Brooks' time of 53.39 was the lowest she's gone since West Coast Relays.
The focus and determination this past year should be a good introduction for what awaits her at USC. Cenci, who will major in communications and is interested in sports broadcasting, is excited. Planning to run multiple events in college, Cenci is also looking forward to the coaching she'll receive. Assistant Sprints Coach Carmelita Jeter has three Olympic medals (one gold) and USC's Director of Track and Field Quincy Watts is a two-time Olympics gold medalist.
"To have coaches who have those types of standards and knowing I will be running with some of the best athletes and be coached by the best of the best, it is going to be fun -- and hard," she said.
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit.
Photos by DeAnna Turner.