Southern Section Boys Track and Field Season in Review

Rodrick Pleasant (right) and Jordan Washington dropped sprint performances during the 2023 post-season that stood above the rest in the history of high school track and field in CA.

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With another record-setting season in the rearview mirror, we reflect on the top headliners from the 2023 season! At the California State Championships, the Southern Section captured the gold in 12 of the 17 events while the sprints carried most of the headlines in 2023.  

All eyes were locked in on Serra senior Rodrick Pleasant, the California defending state champion in the 100 and 200 meters while also establishing a new all-time state record for the 100 meters at the 2022 Masters Meet when he rocketed to a wind-legal 10.14. The phenom defended both his titles at the 2023 California State Meet as his 10.20 wind-legal was a new state meet record. In capturing his third CIF-SS D-4 title, a favorable +3.3 wind helped propel Pleasant to a 10.09, also establishing a new all-conditions state record. More on Pleasant later...

Seemingly in the shadow of Pleasant all season, junior Jordan Washington of Jordan placed second at the State Meet, tying the previous meet record of 10.30. He came back to place fourth in the 200 meters. He also motored to the D-1 titles in the 100 and 200 meters. More on Washington later...

Another star that emerged in the sprints, South Torrance senior Anthony Flowers captured the D-2 titles in both sprints while also crossing with top-five finishes at the state meet in both events.  Flowers joined an elite group of 15 ever to break 10.34 in Southern Section history.

For the 400 meters, Long Beach Poly junior Xai Ricks saved his best for last, placing second at the state meet with a lifetime best of 46.06. Providing further context, coming into the month of May, Ricks had run 47.14. Helping his squad earn the D-1 team title, he also placed fourth in the 200 meters (21.25w) while also anchoring his 4x400 squad to the win. While the sprinters deservingly captured most of the headlines, one cannot overlook J Serra Catholic's Brendon See.

The Oklahoma-bound senior, Brendon See, achieved the rare feat of capturing both state titles in the Shot Put and Discus. As he defended his 2022 state title in the former, he displayed dramatic improvement in the latter by improving his resume by over ten feet!   More on See later...

Despite his lifetime bests remaining in 2022, Redondo Union and Univ. of Penn-bound senior Kai Deines earned top-five finishes at the state meet in both throws for the second season in a row. Meanwhile, he captured both D-1 titles.  Warren senior Jaylon Wells placed fourth in the shot put with Pacifica (Garden Grove) senior Zachary Lewis placing sixth.  

One of the great headlines of the season came out of the California State Meet. A true hybrid of athletes, we have to take a moment to acknowledge J Serra Catholic and UCLA bound-senior Jake Stafford.  After placing sixth in the discus, he pulled off the upset in taking home the state title in the high jump as those ten points catapulted J Serra to earn the runner-up team title plaque!

The Southern Section monopolized the action up front in both hurdles at the State Meet. UCLA-bound senior from Upland, Davis Davis-Lyric has been the pre-season favorite after earning the silver in 2022 for the 110 hurdles. At the State Meet, DDL avenged his only loss of the season to Mater Dei senior Logan Lyght in capturing the title in a lifetime wind-legal best of 13.83. Lyght is headed off to the University of Houston this Fall.

In that same final, a huge step-up performance came from Thousand Oaks senior Jeremy Frank in his fourth-place finish. For further context on how much he elevated his game, he placed fifth in the CIF-SS Div-2 final and barely advanced to the Masters Meet.

The 300 hurdles provided the closest finish of ANY race in State Meet history with three, all from the Southern Section, breaking the tape in 37.44! It seemed that Monrovia senior Devin Paton (37.435) had the win going over the last hurdle, but Jordan senior Darryl Stevens got the nod (37.432) while also needing that second camera to confirm that fast charging Roosevelt junior Cayden Roberson (37.437) was third!

Those 300 hurdles saw consistent shifting throughout the season with Santa Margarita senior Roman Mendoza ending with the top time in the state (37.39) and unfortunately going down with an injury late in the postseason.    

With the Southern Section capturing all three distance golds, tons of underclass talent dominated those efforts.  All five finalists representing the section are underclassmen in the 1600 meters, the top three qualifiers from the section in the 800 will return in 2024 while two of the top three finalists overall in the 3200 will also return.

In a race that wide open, it was Santa Barbara junior Andreas Dybdahl that held off the field for the title in a lifetime best of 4:08.64. It was only his second time crossing the line under 4:12 where he was runner-up at the CIF-SS D-2 final and fourth at the CIF-SS Masters Meet the previous week. Ventura junior Anthony Fast Horse was third (4:08.84) while Great Oak sophomore Westin Brown placed fifth with a lifetime best of 4:10.12.

The section claimed the top three spots in the State Meet 3200 meters. Highland senior Matthew Donis continued to double with the 1600 meters until the State Meet where he rolled to the win in a lifetime best of 8:51.37. Millikan junior Jason Parra (8:53.69) took the lead with 200 meters to go before Donis marked that move to bring home the win. Earlier in the season, Parra's 8:46.50 seasonal best moved him up to 11th on the all-time CIF-SS list.

Coming in off his meet-record tying performance (8:49.38) in racing away from everybody else at the CIF-SS Masters Meet with a 67-second last lap, Dana Hills sophomore Evan Noonan tripped on the fifth lap, fell back to 17th place at one point before racing back with a third-place finish (8:56.63).  Noonan brought home CIF-SS D-2 titles in the 1600 and 3200 meters two weeks earlier. He became only the third sophomore to break 8:50 in CIF-SS history.

In the 800 meters, Cathedral junior Ambodai Ligons' late charge fell just short as he earned the silver (1:52.36) at the State Meet. He comes back in 2024 with a best of 1:51.15. Also returning next year, San Clemente junior Taj Clark earned the fourth-place medal while South Pasadena junior Keeran Murray placed sixth in a lifetime best of 1:53.79.

Another headline that stemmed from the 800 meters was that the state's top two boys did not compete during the postseason. University of Northern Arizona-bound senior, Aaron Sahlman of Newbury Park ran 1:49.07 earlier in the season but opted out. Meanwhile, Long Beach Poly's Ricks beat Sahlman in an earlier match-up to run 1:49.19. In an event that was wide open,

Redlands East Valley senior Jeremiah Bolanos brought home the triple jump state meet title with his 48-3.25w performance. He placed second two weeks earlier at the D-2 finals and the previous week at the CIF-SS Masters Meet. Vista Murrieta senior Obi Nwafor placed fourth and Great Oak junior Andrew Robinson claimed the sixth-place medal.

Mater Dei sophomore Brandon Gorski left the season as the only boy in the state to clear the 6-9 bar. But, it was the aforementioned Jake Stafford of J Serra that pulled the upset and captured the state title in the event. Gorski earned the fifth-place medal. Stafford only had a best of 6-2 going into the postseason.

In the pole vault, Redondo Union senior Dylan Curtis claimed the silver at the State Meet and also ended the season with the state's second-best mark at 16-6.

In the relays, Oaks Christian finished with the third-fastest time in the state (40.97) but remarkably rolled to a third-place finish (41.02) without their fastest sprinter! Long Beach inserted junior Xai Ricks into the lineup and improved down to a 41.22 to place fourth while Simi Valley earned the sixth-place medal after a season-best 41.33 at Friday's prelims.

In the 4x400, despite coming back from anchoring their 4x800 relay only 50 minutes earlier, Xai Ricks held off a late charge from Los Gatos (CC) to excel home with the seasonal best time of 3:12.99 and the state title. Defending state champs in the event, Cathedral earned the fourth-place medal (3:15.59) with Westlake moving up to claim the sixth spot.

The inaugural 4x800 saw the all-underclass crew from San Clemente and Taj Clark on anchor hold off a late charge to win in 7:38.59. This is the fifth-fastest team in CIF-SS history while placing fourth, Long Beach Poly crossed in 7:40.57 to move up seventh-fastest in section history. Earning the fifth-place medal, Long Beach Wilson's 7:41.98 moved up to tenth on the section's all-time list for the event.

Of all events to see adjustments to the section's all-time rankings, go back to the 100 meters. A record-setting TEN boys matched or broke a wind-legal 10.51! Aside from Pleasant (10.14), Washington (10.24), Flowers (10.33), Oaks Christian junior Chase Farrell (10.38), Cajon senior Jeyquan Smith (10.39), Chino Hills junior Donnie Parish (10.45), Paloma Valley senior Jason Deal (10.48), Los Alamitos sophomore Devin Bragg (10.48), Oaks Christian freshman Deshonne Redeaux (10.50), and Simi Valley senior Jaelon Barbarin (10.51) are all now in the CIF-SS top 50 all-time list.


Capturing the 400 relay, equipped with one of the top middle-distance groups in California and further complimented by a strong crew of young sprinters, Long Beach Poly easily captured their 11th team title since 1998. Outmatching Moore League foe, Jordan by a 70-36 margin, junior Xai Ricks captured the title in the 400 meters with freshman Noah Smith placing third. Ricks and freshman Malachi Dawson would combine for 11 points in the 200 meters. Lamarr Kirk Jr. won the 800 meters with Cameron Rhone garnering seven additional points in his 800 and 1600-meter double. Along with seven additional points in the long jump, this title was clinched well before their runner-up finish in the 4x400 relay.

Mater Dei captured their second title since 2014, overcoming early meet setbacks to hold off Westlake by a 62-54 margin. Logan Lyght defended his title in the 110 hurdles (13.95w), sophomore Brandon Gorski defended his high jump title and senior Jared McDuffie captured the triple jump. Isley Gutierrez placed second in the high jump and Gorski scored with his third-place finish in the long jump to lead the way.

Cathedral defended their D-3 title from 2022, much off the legs of their talented trio of juniors in the distance events. Emmanuel Perez captured titles in the 1600 and 3200-meters and with Emmanuel Hernandez placing right behind him, those 36 points formed the foundation for their 66-56 margin over JSerra Catholic. Ambodai Ligons added on ten more points with his win in the 800 meters while he anchored their crew home with the clinching win in the 4x400 relay.

Led by an incredible group of young sprint talent, Oaks Christian captured their ninth championship since 2014 with an 89-55 margin over Sierra Canyon. Freshman Deshonne Redeaux earned two silvers in the 100 and 200, while sophomore Chase Hansen captured the 400 meters. Junior Lexington Leffall earned 11 points between the short sprints while book-ending the effort were victories in both relays. Ethan Bergman also placed second in the pole vault as this was all done with junior Chase Farrell, who came into the postseason as one of the state's top sprinters.




Southern Section Boys Athletes of the Year


Rodrick Pleasant

Serra-Gardena, Sr., Sprints
If there was any debate on California's greatest prep short sprinter ever coming into the season, Pleasant put that one to bed by defending state meet titles in both the 100 and 200 meters. He matched his wind-legal California state record of 10.14 at the CIF-SS Masters Meet, while also bursting to the fastest 100 meters under all conditions with his 10.09 (+3.3w) effort the week prior.  Pleasant established a new state meet record with his 10.20 effort while he also captured the D-4 titles in both sprints for the third consecutive season. Keep in mind, we do not know what he would have accomplished in the shortened 2021 season where he also set a new sophomore state record at 20.59.  

Jordan Washington

Jordan, Jr., Sprints
You would not initially elevate an athlete that did not win the state title to this category but taking into the historical context of what Washington achieved, he is already one of the greatest sprinters in Southern Section history!  He eclipsed the old (pre-Pleasant) California state record by roaring to a 10.24 to capture the D-1 title, also eclipsing the previous CIF-SS Div-1 record. His 10.30 wind-legal runner-up finish at the State Meet also matched the previous state meet record. As he rolled home with D-1 titles in the 100 and 200, he returns in 2024 with the fifth-fastest mark in the nation for the 100 and fourth-fastest for the 200 (20.81) and moving into the top-20 on the all-time state list.  

Xai Ricks

Long Beach Poly, Jr., Sprints
After running the fastest runner-up finish for the 400 meters (46.06) where he left the season as the fastest junior in the United States, Ricks' resume expands much further!  With his 1:49.19 performance earlier in the season for the 800 meters, he joins only Obea Moore (Muir, 1995) in California state history to go under 1:50 and 46.50 in the two events!  The only boy to compete in THREE relays at the state meet, he helped propel his squad to a fourth-place finish in the 400 relay (41.22) while anchoring his squads in the 4x800 and the state championship squad in the 4x400 (3:12.99). He was THE catalyst and team MVP behind the top team in the Southern Section in 2023.


Brendon See

JSerra, Sr., Throws

The University of Oklahoma-bound senior joined an elite group to capture both the shot put and discus state championships in the same season. An event he admittingly did not gear up for as a junior, he exploded onto the national scene in the shot put in 2023 as his 65-10 effort ranked eighth in the nation. Meanwhile, just this last week, he cranked out a 205-3 to move him up to fourth in the United States.  He joins the elites of Southern Section throwing lore as he is now only the THIRD athlete to measure out over 205 feet in the discus and over 65 feet in the shot put, joining Brian Blutreich (Capistrano Valley, 1985) and Cade Moran (Murrieta Mesa, 2022).

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Photos by Josh Barber, Raymond Tran, and Dan Tyree

Mark Gardner is a regular contributor to MileSplitCA