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Another memorable season from the Southern Section girls has concluded as the section claimed 10 titles at the CIF-State Meet tto go along with 10 additional silver-medal finishes! Let us take it through the top headliners and put into further context the accolades that we witnessed over the course of the 2023 season.
Below we review the 2023 post-season by event group, highlight CIF-SS post-season, and select Southern Section girls track and field athletes of the year.
Ventura's Sadie Engelhardt led the way as the distances garnered most of the attention when looking through the lens of the national picture. The sophomore sensation became only the second girl to ever capture the 800 and 1600-meter state titles in the same season, joining Kathy Costello (Pleasant Hill/NC). Keep in mind, that when Costello achieved the feat in 1975, they did not contest prelims on Friday for the mile. Engelhardt's 4:33.45 win in the 1600 meters also established a new State Meet record ... more on Engelhardt later.
In that 1600-meter final, Etiwanda senior Janelle Avilez laid down her lifetime best of 4:45.83 for a fifth-place finish while Murrieta Valley junior Sofia Lieberman also posted her best with an eighth-place finish (4:48.02).
Despite placing second to Engelhardt in the 800 meters at the State Meet, JW North senior Mackenzie Browne ran the fastest time in the nation and the third-fastest ever in California prep history (2:03.07) when erupting over the last 150 meters at the Arcadia Invite.
With six of the top nine at the State Meet hailing from the Southern Section, JSerra junior Georgia Jeanneret placed fourth (2:09.84) and Newport Harbor sophomore Keaton Robar earned the fifth-place medal (2:09.13 seasonal best).
In terms of depth, Santiago sophomore Rylee Blade (bib 1905 in photo) dropped a 19-second improvement (10:02.19) to stun with the State Meet title in the 3200 meters. This is the ninth-fastest mark in CIF-SS history as she held off Oaks Christian junior Payton Godsey (10:02.63; bib 1907 in photo) who earlier at Arcadia recorded a 9:57.70 to rank eighth in section history. Laguna Hills sophomore Holly Barker blazed to 10:11.56 to place fifth while Huntington Beach junior Makenzie McRae also improved down to 10:22.90 with her seventh-place effort.
To further emphasize the dominating distance resumes put forth in 2023, we witnessed seven Southern Section girls break 4:49 as Oaks Christian's Godsey (4:42.57), Dana Hills senior Allura Markow (4:42.79), Santiago's Blade (4:46.98) and Dana Hills sophomore Annie Ivarsson (4:48.43) joined the three previously mentioned from the State Meet final. Only in 2018, when nine achieved the feat, have we seen more.
Along with Engelhardt, who scorched a 9:51.49 performance in early March, this was the first time in CIF-SS history we had three girls break 10:05 and the first time in section history that four eclipsed 10:15 in the same season for the 3200 meters.
The Southern Section earned State Meet gold medals in all three sprints, but in no event did they dominate more in than the 200 meters, where the section claimed six of the top seven spots. Culver City sophomore Joelle Trepagnier pulled off the upset with her win in the 200 meters (23.62) over defending champ, senior Brazil Neal of Serra.
Ayala junior Kayla McBride was fourth, Castaic junior Meagan Humphries earned the fifth-place medal while Quartz Hill senior Adonijah Currie crossed in sixth. In the 200 meters, Currie's 23.58 from the D-1 finals was the fastest wind-legal mark in the state for 2023.
Also pulling off the upset, Oaks Christian junior Niya Clayton (pictured) was as consistent as any down the stretch, bringing home the wind-legal 11.45 victory in the 100 meters. With a lifetime best of 11.69 going into the month of May, she was arguably the most improved sprinter in California for 2023. Neal placed third while her much-improved teammate, junior Mia Flowers surprised with a solid sixth-place performance after also placing sixth at the CIF-SS Masters Meet a week earlier.
Long Beach Wilson senior, Aujane Luckey raced to the State Meet title in the 400 meters. Her 52.71 best at the CIF-SS Masters Meet was the first sub-53 second effort in California since 2018 as she also ran to a seventh-place finish in the 200 meters. Arizona State-bound, Luckey ran the second leg on their third-place 400 relay squad and anchored their runner-up 1600 relay crew.
In the 400 meters, Trepagnier earned the silver medal while Orange Vista senior Mercy Ehiemere placed fifth. Culver City junior Morgan Maddox crossed in sixth while Oaks Christian freshman Rayah Rodriguez earned the eighth-place medal. Her 54.41 from the CIF-SS D-4 final ranked her as the top freshman in the state.
The throws were dominated by the duo of senior April Fontenette and sophomore Aja Johnson (pictured), both representing Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. Ranked as the top sophomore in the United States in both throwing events, Johnson came home with the State Meet gold medal in the shot put while also placing fourth in the discus. UCLA-bound Fontenette placed second in the discus and ninth in the shot put at the State Meet.
Also garnering top finishes at the State Meet, Long Beach Poly junior Mai Ricks saved her best for last with a lifetime best 42-8.25 effort to place third in the shot put while Hart senior Laura Brennan was fourth. In the discus, Camarillo sophomore Trinity Tipton claimed the eighth-place medal.
Long Beach Wilson junior Kaylin Edwards (pictured) put it all together in the State Meet final for the gold, improving down to a 41.57. She went into the race with the fifth-fastest mark in the state for 2023 but her upset cemented the team title for Wilson and elevated to second in the nation for the Class of 2025. (Remarkably, her time ranks fifth on the all-time school record list.) Her teammate, senior MaNia Tidwell also posted a lifetime best in her sixth-place finish while South Pasadena junior Mia Holden improved by a full second (42.27) to place fourth.
In the 100 hurdles, Orange Vista senior Kailah McKenzie rolled to the third-place finish at the State Meet while the only other CIF-SS girl to advance to the final, La Salle senior Mia Reid, placed eighth overall.
In the horizontal jumps, we also witnessed the Southern Section girls garnering most of the hardware. The Southern Section cornered the market in the triple jump at the State Meet by claiming the top six spots. In the end, it was Elsinore senior Dajeauna Williams to came home with the title in a lifetime best of 40-7.25. Humphries, the Castaic junior, was runner-up at 40-6.25w with USC-bound, Mission Viejo senior Jada Gatlin placing third at 40-3.25. United Christian Academy senior Tamara Aimufia, Vista Murrieta junior Alyssa Alumbres and Upland senior Simone Smith, respectively, claimed the fourth through sixth-place medals.
In the long jump, the Southern Section claimed four of the top five places with Humphries earning another silver medal to her resume (20-3.25). ML King senior and USC-bound, Alyssa Hope placed third (20-1.25), while Long Beach Wilson sophomore Loren Webster added five valuable points to her squad's team title cause. Orange Vista's McKenzie (pictured) placed fifth to earn one of her three medals in the meet.
The vertical jumps brought disappointment as a whole for the section at the State Meet, with the low coming in the pole vault. Despite coming into the meet projected to medal five girls, only Harvard Westlake senior Jessica Thompson placed with a sixth-place medal.
The section was shut out of the top three spots in the high jump as well, with Humphries earning the fourth-place medal after earning the silver in 2022. Long Beach Poly sophomore Jillene Wetteland and Ventura junior Valentina Fakrogha both shared fifth-place medals.
The CIF-SS monopolized the scene in both relays this season, capturing the top five places at the State Meet and ending 2023 with 12 of the top 15 performances overall. You have to go back to 2014 to find the last squad to break 3:42, as Culver City (3:41.08) held off Long Beach Wilson (3:42.49) as both were, fourth and fifth, respectively in the nation. JW North placed third (3:45.90), Chino Hills earned the fourth-place medal (3:46.98) and Calabasas placed fifth (3:47.34).
In the 400 relay, nine of the top ten marks of 2023 hailed from the Southern Section. Serra of Gardena placed second at the State Meet, with Long Beach Wilson, third. Lakewood, Oaks Christian, Quartz Hill, Chino Hills, and Long Beach Poly respectively rounded out fourth through eighth-place medals. ML King did not qualify for the state meet but ended the season with the fourth-best mark (46.42) overall. Serra's seasonal best of 45.68 was the fastest of any Southern Section squad since 2015.
The inaugural 4x800 edition at the 2023 State Meet saw JSerra Catholic race home with the silver medal. Last weekend, JSerra matched up again with state champs, Del Norte of the San Diego Section, but fell just short once again. But their 8:52.26 (2:13 average) clocked under the previous California state record they established a year ago in 2022!
Claremont placed fifth at the State Meet with Chino Hills placing sixth. The section ended with six of the top eight marks in California for 2023 and certainly warranted the need for more State Meet entries in the future.
2023 DIVISIONAL FINALS
Long Beach Wilson checked all of the boxes on their way to not only their first CIF-SS D-1 team title since 2006, but the Bruins navigated their way to perfection in also capturing the California State Meet championship as well. At the divisional finals, senior Aujane Luckey captured the 400 meters and placed third in the 200 meters. Sophomore Kaylin Edwards earned the title in the 300 hurdles and was runner-up in the 100 hurdles. Sophomore Loren Webster placed second in the long jump while both relays raced home with victories to amass 74 points over Long Beach Poly's 53.
On their way to earning the California State Meet runner-up plaque, Culver City earned their first ever team title to top the charts in Division 2. Sophomore Joelle Trepagnier captured titles in the 200 and 400, with junior Morgan Maddox placing right behind her in both events. A 1-2-3 sweep, adding freshman Leena Powell to yield 24 total points in that event alone. The Centaurs had already clinched the win before adding a win in the 1600 relay to match their meet-opening victory in the 400 relay. Golden Valley stepped up to earn the runner-up plaque, placing behind Culver City by a 62-51 margin.
In dominating fashion, JSerra Catholic (pictured) established a new D-3 team scoring record of 128.5 points. The unprecedented 1-5 finish in the 800 meters paved the way as the Lions scored 33 points in that one event alone with Georgia Jeanneret crossing with the title. With Anne Elise Packard up front, 16 more points came in the 1600 meters to go along with 15 additional points in the pole vault. The rout was on well before their victory in the 1600 relay. All in all, they scored in 13 of the 16 events contested.
Oaks Christian claimed its ninth team title since 2014 with an overwhelming score of 133-85 over Serra of Gardena. Junior Niya Clayton claimed the win in the 100 meters after placing fourth in the 100 hurdles. Earning 21 points, individually, she also placed third in the 200. Freshman Rayah Rodriguez captured the 400 meters before coming back for a runner-up finish in the 200. Junior Payton Godsey claimed the win in the 1600 meters before returning to defend her D-4 title in the 3200. Sophomore Eleanor Borchard claimed her own title in the 300 hurdles while the Lions also earned the golds in both relays.
Southern Section Girls Track and Field Athletes of the Year
FIELD ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Castaic, Jr., Jumps
One for the history books, the junior from Castaic compiled an unprecedented resume this past 2023 season. Transferring from Golden Valley, she had to sit out the first month of the season, but immediately began her assault on what will go down as one of the most remarkable seasons in California state lore.
She became the first girl to medal in four individual events at the California State Meet, earning the silvers in the long and triple jumps. While running back and forth between the long and high jump, Humphries also placed fourth in the former. In the high jump, it took the three ahead of her to match or exceed their seasonal best to finish ahead of her.
And, by the way - she also placed fifth in the 200 meters, after competing in three other events previous that evening! Alone, she earned 25 points on her own which tied Castaic for third overall at the State Meet. She put herself in the same conversation as Tara Davis (Agoura) and her 2016 and 2017 State Meet accolades along with Gail Devers (Sweetwater) and her 28 points garnered at the 1984 State Meet.
Humphries also became the first athlete in Southern Section history to earn four individual titles when she captured those same four events at the CIF-SS D-2 finals two weeks before the State Championships.
Under all conditions, her 40-8.75 performance at the Foothill League Finals ranked first in California. Her 23.55w effort at the CIF-SS Masters Meet tied for third in the state while her 20-3.25 was fourth overall. When going back to her 5-10.25 clearance to win the Winter Championships in early February, she was first in the state. In that same meet, she captured the 300 meters in a blazing 38.20 time, good enough for the fourth-best time in the nation for that rare event.
Her remarkable season forced us to open up the history books as Humphries is already one of the greatest multifaceted athletes ever in California prep history.
TRACK ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Ventura, So., Distances
Already the greatest prep distance runner in California state history, the sophomore added to her resume with her double victory at the 2023 State Meet in the 800 and 1600 meters. This is a double that most view as the most difficult to achieve in that you have to compete in both at Friday's prelims as well. Only three boys have ever done the same over the past 110 years of State Meet history.
One also needs to consider that she won the 800 meters after setting a new meet record for the 1600 meters and overcame the top-ranked athlete in the nation with that ferocious kick over that last 100 meters. Precise as ever at Friday's prelims, she executed the plan like no other ever has. Arguably, this was THE most impressive double of any kind in State Meet history.
Engelhardt's 9:51.49 for the 3200 meters also led the state even though she only ran it once as it established a new sophomore class state record. She holds the freshman state record from 2022 (9:50.69) as it continues to rank fourth in California prep history. This season, she compiled three separate sub-2:09
She also anchored the Ventura squad in the 4x400 relay to also advance to the California State Meet. Going back to February, where she eclipsed 4:40 in two separate indoor meets, she also added four more sub-4:40 performances on the outdoor circuit, including last week's win at the New Balance Outdoor meet. You can also add her 4:13.04 effort earlier this month for the 1500 meters, which converts to a sub-4:33 performance.
She also compiled three separate sub-2:09 performances and captured CIF-SS D-2 titles for the 800 and 1600 meters for the second year in a row.
POSTSEASON TEAM RANKINGS
(All marks compiled in the month of May)
1) Wilson-Long Beach - 55
2) Castaic - 36.5
3) Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks - 36
3) Serra-Gardena - 36
5) Oaks Christian - 33
6) Culver City - 27.5
7) Ventura - 26.5
7) Orange Vista - 25.5
9) Long Beach Poly - 23
10) JSerra Catholic - 22
11) J.W. North - 20
12) Chino Hills - 19
13) Vista Murrieta - 18
14) Etiwanda - 17
14) ML King - 17
Mark Gardner is a teacher, former coach, popular announcer, and an associate editor for MileSplitCA