Brendon See of JSerra (SS) and Nailea Fields of Caruthers (CS) are both two-time CIF-State champions in the discus throw headed to the University of Oklahoma.
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By the numbers, Brendon See and Nailea Fields (first name pronounced Nigh-Lay-Ah) are two of a kind. Their high schools are 280 miles apart, but based on what these top-flight discus throwers accomplished in a short amount of time and where they are set to continue their athletic pursuit, their path trajectory -- at the same college: University of Oklahoma -- remains on the upswing.
Near the end of May, See from San Juan Capistrano's JSerra Catholic and Fields at Fresno County's Caruthers, became the most recent CIF-State Track and Field Championships boy and girl to win back-to-back discus titles.
See's State title-winning discus performances of 203-10 in 2022 and 196-4 in 2023 mark the first consecutive boys discus title since Newport Harbor's Ethan Cochran did it in 2011-12. Fields' championship-winning throws were 157-1 in 2022 and 167-6 in 2023. She is the first female to win two straight State discus titles since Shafter's Anna Jelmini did so in 2008-09, which includes the State Meet girls record mark of 186-9 in 2009.
See and Fields finished this year with California's best marks and season PRs in discus -- See at 199-9 in the State prelim and Fields' lifetime best of 167-8 coming in the CIF-Central Section Masters Meet. Both athletes accomplished these feats while attending schools with small student populations. Caruthers has 650 kids and JSerra's enrollment is just over 1,100.
"It has and it hasn't," said Fields when asked if her multiple State title performances have sunken in yet. "I know I won, but I didn't realized just how big of a deal it was. People on campus were calling me 'Champ' after I won last year, and now it's 'Two-time Champ.'" There is a banner at the school in recognition of Fields as its lone State track and field champion.
See, whose title win May 27 in Clovis was the same day as JSerra's graduation ceremony, said social media posts by the school to celebrate his feats -- he also won the CIF-State shot put title so he was a double State winner that day -- more than sufficed. What the posts don't show is what it took to secure this achievement.
"It's been a lot of hard work and long hours put in with Coach (Mike) O'Dell," See said. "It doesn't feel really real. I haven't grasped just how big it is, but it is something I'm definitely going to remember for a long time. I'm proud of that."
Transfer-mation for the Better
Another commonality for See and Fields is their path to JSerra and Caruthers where their talent shone.
See began his track and field participation at nearby Dana Hills High. The COVID-19 pandemic and coaching uncertainty led him to transfer. His interest in football waned and he quickly centered his time on throwing events at JSerra.
"Freshman year I did discus and shot put at Dana Hills. It was more of an offseason thing, but when I stopped playing football, I started to enjoy (throws) my sophomore year and found it to be more of a gift for my talents. Football wasn't really for me. Discus drew me in. I loved trying to perfect the technique and by always trying to improve on something, that's a part of the sport I've always loved."
His two memorable years at JSerra is a testament to his passion for the sport and the results, thus proving he made the correct decision.
"What you put in is what you get out of it," See said. "The amount of hours put in and to see the improvement is something special. Having that work ethic, putting in the long hours and getting State titles affirms that belief."
Fields, meanwhile, lived in Porterville when she started at Monache High. She competed in youth track at Sequoia Middle School and initially did long, triple and high jumps. Her nervousness about getting hurt ultimately shifted her attention, at the urging of youth coach Darryl Lee, to try the throws. She threw at Monache her first year, but when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, she was playing travel team basketball and thought about changing schools. She moved to Tulare and transferred to Caruthers in 2021.
Working with Caruthers track and field coach Jacob Budwig, who Fields said rebuilt her discus technique and delivery from the ground up, helped her reach the State Meet in 2022. Nerves, however, threatened to quell her progress there.
"I was having a hard time breathing last year," she said. But her throw of 157-1 in the State finals earned her the title. This year Fields was visibly more confident and relaxed, giving her the ability to make consistent throws in the 150s and 160s.
"I was much more relaxed overall," she said. "Coming into the State Meet this time, I told myself that no matter how things ended up I was satisfied with the way my season went and how I performed. I was confident and happy I made it back to State. If I won, it would be a bonus."
"She is an extremely talented overall athlete which allows her to lean on that even when things aren't perfectly synced up from a technical standpoint on a given day," Budwig said. "From a competitor standpoint, she's shown an ability to really come through in big spots over the last few years and it helped her confidence grow. She did a great job both seasons trusting the system and working toward the end goal of the season which was State."
Said Fields, about Budwig: "He's been the reason for my success. Yes, I'm the one putting in the work, but he's why I never gave up. He's very wise. I call him a wise owl. He knows just what to say in the moment."
While both athletes' success is measured on their distance marks in a meet, the high school chapter is complete and the next challenge is near: college.
When the calendar turns to August, Fields, along with her mother, stepfather and younger sister, will drive 1,425 miles from Tulare to Norman, OK. Although See is undecided whether he'll fly or drive, he will leave Dana Point to go 1,367 miles to Norman, OK. Both two-time CIF-State discus champions will be throwers for the University of Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
See chose Oklahoma over Clemson, Washington, UCLA where he took official visits, as well as an unofficial visit to USC. While UCLA and USC were great choices if staying in Southern California, he opted to go outside the state and felt that Oklahoma "was the right choice for me."
Fields chose Oklahoma over Washington, Florida, UCLA and the local school, Fresno State. The trip to Oklahoma, she said, gave her a sense of family and comfort. "I liked the vibe there and how it made me feel."
See and Fields are two of three top California 2023 recruits for Oklahoma, which currently competes in the Big 12 Conference -- until Fall 2024 when the school joins the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
"I'm really excited for Nailea going to Oklahoma, especially with Brendon going there as well," said Budwig, who is friends with See's coach O'Dell. "They have a great recruiting class going in and it's awesome to have both California State champions going together, even crazier knowing that both are repeat champions! It's exciting to see what (Oklahoma) Coach Ninow is going to be able to build with that group because they both have so much room to grow!"
The discus duo will be joined by another 2023 CIF-State champion, Clovis Buchanan (CS) boys pole vault champion Hilton Green, who cleared a state-best 17-1 this season and won the State title at 16-6. Green was the 2022 State runner-up at 16-5.
Oklahoma drew all three athletes by having them meet fellow students and future teammates, feeling that their respective coaches would have their best interests at heart, and that Oklahoma appealed to them for what will be each person's next chapter in life.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, aside from living away from family, friends and their hometowns, is what changes, what growth emerges in a new, more competitive arena. See looks forward to adjusting to new discus and shot put weights and measures, while Fields ponders changes to her discus delivery and potentially adding javelin and hammer throw to her responsibilities.
Fields follows a motto that helps her "build character." It might be something she's not fond of or the learning involved with adding new events on the horizon, but trying things beyond what she's used to will build character.
"If I really have to change things, I'm willing to do it for the sake of throwing and getting better," Fields said. "It might be a little scary, but I know I can trust (Ninow), because he won't set me up to fail."
Both athletes are taking their own approach this summer. See is scheduled to compete in the Nike Outdoor Nationals, June 15-18, in Eugene, Oregon and return to Hayward Field for the USATF Under-20 Championships July 6-9, before his arrival at Oklahoma. Fields is taking some time off right now but will resume training and conditioning in July to get ready for Oklahoma.
As they transition to collegiate athletes, both were complimentary of their high schools, coaches, families, friends for all support they've been given during their life journey. These experiences have given them some perspective.
See, who is 6-foot-7 and as humble a champion as you'll meet, embraces all that is to come in his new surroundings.
"I'm excited to start at the bottom of the totem pole," he said. "I'm ready for new life experiences such as moving away from home, competing with new teammates, and working with new coaches. I'm excited about this new chapter."
Fields, who admits her new chapter will test her, learned that the support she had while at Caruthers meant she never felt alone. As she heads to a new state and new opportunities, she has good reasons to impart her own advice forward.
"No matter who you are, no matter what size school you come from, remember to keep working hard, keep going," she said. "Even if things aren't going your way, don't give up. Keep pushing, keep striving and you'll get where you need to go. Be patient. There were times when I wanted to give up, when I wasn't being patient, but look where I am now. It worked out at the end -- and it can be the same for you."