PREVIEW It's Time to LEAP into Winter Track Season

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The LEAP Fest jumps-only showcase is an annual highlight of the January winter track and field season. 

This year's event will take place Saturday at Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana beginning at 9 a.m. It is one of a handful of events scheduled on this first full weekend of 2023. 

CA Winter Championships Qualifier meets still scheduled to take place include Cal State Fullerton, San Diego Canyon Crest Academy, and South Pasadena. WCQ events scheduled for the University of La Verne and Lodi Tokay HS have been canceled.

The forecast for Santa Ana on Saturday morning is for partly sunny skies, pleasant temps, and plenty of big leaps and bounds!

The Keinan Briggs-produced LEAP Fest will feature pro, high school, and youth competition in high jump, long jump, triple jump and pole vault. There is no coast for spectators.

The event, which began in 2017 and has the largest entry field yet at more than 200, Briggs said, is USATF sanctioned and serves as a training opportunity for field event officials. (You can count on pit heights to be legal - no sandboxes here, folks!)

Please note that at LEAP Fest, as well as the all-comers meets, including those in the WCQ series, high school athletes compete unattached. (We include their school affiliations here for identification purposes.) 

Among the known standouts among the high school entry list at LEAP Fest are Mater Dei (SS) sophomore Brandon Gorski, Golden Valley (SS) junior Meagan Humphries, Mission Viejo (SS) and USC-bound senior Jada Gatlin, her Diablos classmate Emily Psarras (bound for the University of Arizona), La Costa Canyon (SD) pole vaulter Iliana Downing, and a couple of Washington state's top returning jumpers including Cassandra Atkins and Roman Hutchinson

While this is nearly five months before the CIF-State Finals at the end of May, two boys winners here from last January - Seth Johnson (Cajon/SS), and Camryn O'Bannon (St. John Bosco/SS) - went on to win State titles. Johnson in the high jump and O'Bannon in the long. Among the girls, there were seven State Meet finalists in eight events, including Downing, Gatlin, Humphries and Psarras.

Boys Standouts to Watch

Gorski has gone 6-8 in the high jump, the top returning mark in CA. He cleared that height to win Southern Section Masters a week after winning the CIF-SS Division 2 title at 6-6. He placed second in D-2 with a 22-10.5 long jump. 

Carson (LA) sophomore Jerald Martin Evangelista, whose 23-7.50 long jump best ranks No. 4 among returners in the Golden State.

Ethan Fong of Stockton Lincoln (SJ) is scheduled to make the trip south. His 44-7 triple jump best ranks No. 7 among the state's top returning wind-legal marks. He was third at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet and is the top returner in that event.

Toluwalope Jekayinfa, a senior at Riverside Arlington HS, who competes for Briggs' LEAP Squad Track Club, was a Southern Section Masters qualifier in the triple jump with horizontal jump bests of 21-5.75 and 44-6.25. He was the CIF-SS D-2 runner-up in the triple jump.

The aforementioned Hutchinson, a senior at Federal Way (WA) HS, is Washington's No. 1 returner in the long jump (23-5) and No. 2 in the triple jump (45-9.50). 

Another Washington athlete, Titus Morris, a senior at Curtis Senior HS, is the No. 2 returner in the long jump at 23-3.25.

Girls Standouts to Watch

Gatlin, the future USC Trojan, leads a host of marquee girls scheduled to compete. She won both the Southern Section Division 2 and Masters titles in the triple jump and had a huge PR of 40-9 in the prelims at State. 

Humphries has bests of 5-9 in the high jump and 18-10 in the long jump. She placed second in CIF-SS D-2 in both the high jump and long jump and went on to place second at the State Meet (5-6). 

Psarras is the No. 3 returner in the long jump 19-7.75, was third at SS Masters and seventh at State (18-10.75). 

Also, junior Madison Forbes of Mater Dei (SS) has bests of 17-10 an 38-0.75. Julia Wang of Huntington Beach HS, is coming off injury stronger than ever, said Briggs, her club coach for LEAP Squad. 

Atkins, a junior at Federal Way, won the triple jump title and was second in the long jump at the Washington 4A Division Finals. She was second here last year, going 36-11.25, to Gatlin (37-8.75) with Humphries third (36-7.75).

The girls pole vault field is led by Downing, who has cleared 13 feet and was eighth at the State Meet (12-5). Another San Diegan, Kelly de Jong of Maranatha Christian, won the SDS D-3 title in both the high jump and pole vault. She has bests of 17-2.75 and 5-5. Poway (SD) senior Avery Hilliard was fourth here last year.

Malia Jones is one to watch among the youth athletes, Briggs said. She won both the high jump and long jump at last year's event, beating out Garryn Forde - now a freshman at Woodbridge (SS) - in both. 

"She's a phenom," Briggs said of Jones, an eighth grader in San Diego. "I love watching her jump. She hypes up the crowd. She makes the event fun. Engery-wise, she's like Tara Davis."

Notables among those scheduled in the open division include UC Riverside freshman Melanie Ceballos, who won the long jump here last year while at Oceanside El Camino (SD) HS at 18-4, a performance that caught the eye of Highlanders' recruiters, Briggs said.


Which is the most difficult of these track and field jumps events?

Photos by Daniel Hernandez and Raymond Tran

Jeffrey Parenti is the California State Editor for MileSplit