Though they might have been slightly disappointed by their place-finishes during last Saturday’s finals of the 95th annual California high school state track and field championship meet at Clovis’ Buchanan High School, Otay Ranch seniors Carina Gillespie and Xander Law can hold their heads high as standard bearers for the Mustang program.
They are the first Otay Ranch High School athletes to win state medals while competing in the same meet.
•Gillespie, a four-time state meet qualifier, finished fifth in the girls 800-meter run.
•Law, who was making his first trip to the state finals, finished fifth in the boys pole vault.
Both student-athletes were a whisker away from finishing with a bronze medal.
“I’m obviously very proud of both of them,” ORHS coach Ian Cumming said. “They were right there with the leaders, which says a lot about their performances.”
Gillespie timed a personal best of 2:10.70 (ninth best in San Diego Section history). She was a stride out of second place entering the last lap in the two-lap 800-meter event and was in contention to finish third until she was passed by two runners in a lightning fast exchange in the final 10 meters of the race.
Gillespie’s best time had been the 2:11.0 she set at last year’s section finals.
The PR came amid spectacular circumstances.
Gillespie, who was the top qualifier in her prelim heat the previous day, became entangled with two other runners — Clovis North sophomore Mikaela Smith and San Leandro senior Nijae Jones — and fell to the track surface just seconds after the starting gun went off.
“Smith kind of cut in at the beginning when the gun went off,” Gillespie recalled. “I kind of stepped back a little. Jones went in front of me and I must have clipped her from behind and we both went down.”
The race was restarted by officials without any disqualifications being made.
“I was on the ground when I heard the second gunshot and didn’t know what would happen,” Gillespie said. “I thought the race would go on and we’d be done.”
When the race started the second time, things were more to Gillespie’s liking.
“I wanted to be aggressive and stay at the front of the pack,” she said. “At the turn of the first quarter, my legs started feeling heavy. I wanted to stay consistent and have a kick at the end.”
But it turned out that Gillespie was out-kicked by two other runners: Aptos senior Nikki Hiltz and Piedmont sophomore Bianca Bryant.
“With 10 meters (left), a girl passed me and then at the finish line another girl got a foot in front of me,” the Otay mid-distance queen said.
Hiltz took third in 2:10.43, followed by Bryant in fourth in 2:10.65.
Just 0.27 seconds — a flick of an eyelash — separated third from fifth place.
Enoch senior Faith Makau was hot on Gillespie’s heels in sixth place with a 2:11.01 time.
Smith won this year’s 800 title in 2:08.39; Jones was second in 2:09.91.
Cumming was impressed by what he saw on the track — and in Gillespie. “The fact that she went down, got up and set a PR is amazing,” the ORHS coach said.
“I’m just relieved it’s over,” said Gillespie, who will attend the Air Force Academy prep school this fall. “I accomplished my two goals this season — to make it to the state finals and to set a PR. I’m happy with how the season turned out.”
Up, up and away
Law, who finished second at the section finals by clearing 15-10, was the only section vaulter to advance to the medal rounds.
In last Friday’s state prelims, Poway junior Charlie Bush bowed out at 14-6 while Mt. Carmel senior Kyle Pater, the section champion and state leader at 16-4, failed to clear his opening height of 15-0.
“I felt really good, I felt very proud to represent San Diego,” Law said.
The field started with 27 competitors and was narrowed down to 12 for Saturday’s finals. Clovis East senior Brad Beekman no-heighted, which dropped the field to 11 vaulters who cleared 15-4.
Eight vaulters cleared 15-10, with two going on to clear 16-4.
Law was among six vaulters who finished at 15-10. Based on misses, Santa Margarita junior Parker Curry and Lutheran Orange junior Carl Johansson were awarded a tie for third place while Law was fifth.
Chino Hills senior Dillon Groener and St. Francis senior Marc Toney tied for sixth place while Harvard Westlake senior Ben Gaylord was awarded eighth place.
The top six placers received medals.
Thousand Oaks junior Luigi Colella captured this year’s state title on misses; Tamalpais junior August Kiles was awarded the silver medal, also at 16-4.
Law cleared 16-0 to set a school record at the Mesa League finals. He had three attempts at 16-4 at last weekend’s state meet before bowing out of contention for either the gold or silver medal.
“On my third attempt, I was very close,” the Otay vaulter said.
Law said the hot weather (temperatures soared to 99 degrees) was a factor. “The weather was different but I thought I dealt with things very well,” he said.
The Metro Conference was well represented at last weekend’s state meet with six event qualifiers.
In the boys shot put, Eastlake senior Wesley Braddock, the San Diego Section’s No. 1 qualifier, finished 17th in a field of 28 throwers with a mark of 53-2. He recorded a mark of 53-9.5 at the section finals — a personal record.
In the girls 100 dash, Eastlake senior Kayla Lawson finished sixth in her heat and 21st out of 29 runners overall with a time of 12.22 — well off her season best of 12.01.
In the girls triple jump, Eastlake sophomore Johnna Noiseaux finished 21st out of 27 competitors with a mark of 35-9.5. She finished as the No. 2 qualifier at the San Diego Section finals with a mark of 37-1.
In the girls 4x400 relay, Bonita Vista held the No. 2 position briefly early on in its heat but slowed to fifth place in 3:57.94 — 20th overall among the 28 entered teams. The Barons recorded a season best 3:55.40 in placing third overall at the section finals. Team members included Carol Schroeder, Raelene deArmas, Sammy Silsbee and Alyssabeth DeJerez.
On to the finals
The top three finishers in each of the three prelim heats, plus runners with the next three fastest times, earned the right to advance to Saturday’s finals in the girls 800 meters.
Gillespie finished the first lap in the two-lap race in fourth place but moved into second place with one lap remaining. She took the lead with 150 meters to go and extended that lead as she made no mistake about qualifying for Saturday’s championship finals.
In a rare show of emotion, Gillespie pumped her fist as she crossed the finish line. She finished 1.15 seconds ahead of Piedmont’s Bryant.
In the boys pole vault, 15-0 was not enough to narrow the field for Saturday’s finals, so the bar was raised to 15-6 to sort out the 12 finalists. Law, who cleared 15-10 to finish second at the section finals, easily slipped over the bar to advance.
West Hills senior Brenden Song emerged as the section’s lone gold medalist after recording a mark of 188-8 in the boys discus throw. Song led the state with a No. 1 regular season best of 194-4.
The section finished with 11 medalists. Steele Canyon’s Brandon Howard (boys 300 hurdles), Rancho Bernardo’s Alex Grigoriev (boys 800 run) and Cathedral Catholic’s Hannah Labrie-Smith (girls 300 hurdles) all recorded third-place finishes to highlight the weekend.
East County had three state medalists, with West Hills sophomore Melissa Mongiovi placing fifth in the girls 400 dash. Torrey Pines’ Tal Braude (boys 3200) also finished fifth.
Poway’s boys 4x400 team finished sixth as did Carlsbad’s Christian Freeman (boys 3200) and Madison’s Dotun Ogundeji (boys shot put).
It was not a glorious prelim meet for San Diego Section athletes, though it wasn't particularly bad, either. Section athletes qualified for state medals in 22 events.
Of East County's 10 individual and three relay team qualifiers, West Hills senior Brenden Song (184-1, boys discus throw), West Hills sophomore Melissa Mangiovi (55.61, girls 400 dash), Steele Canyon senior Brandon Howard (37.99, boys 300 intermediate hurdles) and Helix senior Jashell Smith (136-10, girls discus throw) all advanced to Saturday's finals.
Madison junior Dotun Ogundeji qualified in two events: boys shot put (56-11.75) and discus throw (173-6).
Other section qualifiers included La Costa Canyon senior Anthony Ardis (21.66, boys 200 dash), Cathedral Catholic senior Jady Tolda (11-10, girls pole vault), La Jolla Karly Zlatic (18-4.75, girls long jump), Cathedral Catholic sophomore Hannah Labrie-Smith (42.27, girls 300 hurdles), La Jolla senior Kelli Hancock (43.17, girls 300 hurdles), Rancho Bernardo junior Katie Sammer (2:12.28, girls 800 run), Rancho Bernardo senior Alex Grigoriev (1:51.91, boys 800 run), Del Norte junior Caitlin Cole (38-0.5, girls triple jump), Point Loma senior Sydney Rush-Dunigan (24-0.5, boys long jump), Hoover senior Grace Ward (41-10.75, girls shot put) and Rancho Bernardo seniors Ivy Adair (22-11, boys long jump) and Brandi Walker (41-6.5, girls shot put).
Poway's boys 4x400 relay team finished second in its heat (eighth overall) in 3:17.43 to also advance.
Rancho Bernardo led the section with four finals qualifiers.
Brenden’s Song: West Hills thrower is golden at state track meet
Grossmont Conference schools qualified 10 individuals, plus three relay teams, to compete at last weekend’s 95th annual high school state track and field championship meet in Clovis.
At the head of the class was West Hills senior Brenden Song, who was making a return visit to Buchanan High School's Veterans Memorial Stadium after recording a meteoric second-place finish in the boys discus throw at last year’s state finals.
His goal this year: the gold medal.
“Just hit the workout bench … get bigger, get stronger,” Song said of his strategy. “I feel it paid off.”
Song posted the state's No. 1 regular season mark of 194 feet, 4 inches, set April 26 at the Escondido Invitational.
Though he didn't match that at last Saturday's state finals, he did record the top throw of 188-8 to win the gold medal amid temperatures pushing the 100-degree mark in the Central Valley.
“After taking second last year, I really wanted the gold medal,” the West Hills thrower said. “It feels great.”
Song edged Newport Harbor senior Marty Taylor by three inches to win this year's state title.
The throwing conditions were brutal at this year's state meet. Besides the hot weather conditions (the temperature was 99 degrees), there was no wind to cool things off.
“When it's hot like this, it takes a toll on your body,” Song said. “But I rested really well. The preparations I made leading up to the meet really helped.”
Song becomes the Santee school's third state gold medalist, joining Evan Fox, who captured titles in the boys 1,600-meter run in 2001 and 2002.
“It's awesome,” West Hills coach Chris Welter said. “He worked really hard for it all season. He deserved it. I'm very glad it worked out for him. It was fun.”
Song qualified for the state meet by recording the top mark of 180 feet, one inch at the San Diego Section finals May 25 at Mt. Carmel High School. He was among four Grossmont Conference athletes to post top state qualifying marks in the meet, and one of four East County athletes to advance to last Saturday's state finals.
Joining Song in this year's state finals were West Hills sophomore Melissa Mongiovi (girls 400 dash), Steele Canyon senior Brandon Howard (boys 300 intermediate hurdles) and Helix senior Jashell Smith (girls discus throw).
The top six place-finishers received state medals. Howard (third) and Mongiovi (fifth) both joined Song with state medals. Smith finished 11th in her event.
Howard's state medal was the first for a Steele Canyon athlete since 2009. Howard earned it by setting consecutive school records in the state prelims (37.99) and finals (37.65).
“I wanted to be in the middle of the pack by the second turn and make a move,” said Howard, who recorded the top state qualifying time of 38.19 at the section finals. “When I looked up on the scoreboard and saw my name in third, I was happy because I knew I had made the medals podium.”
Mongiovi clocked a season-best time of 54.70 seconds after finishing the regular season with the state's fourth best time of 54.99.
“I'm glad I made it here,” said Mongiovi, who posted the top state qualifying times at the section finals in both the 200 dash (24.44) and 400 dash (55.05). “I didn't medal last year; my goal this year was to medal.”
Mongiovi edged Cathedral Catholic freshman Dani Johnson by 0.17 seconds – a flick of an eyelash -- to win in the 200 dash at the section finals.
“It’s exciting,” Mongiovi said. “It was really close the last 50 meters.”
Smith advanced to the state finals after recording a state prelim mark of 136-10 but could only manage a finals mark of 112-9. She finished second at the section finals with a throw of 129-3.
The top three place-finishers in each event at the section finals advanced to the state meet.
Also qualifying to compete in Clovis were Mt. Miguel junior Talisha Dozier (girls long jump, 18-2), El Capitan senior Vanessa Sierra (girls shot put, 41-6.75), Granite Hills junior Blake Dehaven (boys 400 dash, 50.07), Helix senior Shelby Hernandez (boys 800 run, 1:53.98) and Steele Canyon senior Lonnie Tuff (boys triple jump, 45-3.5).
Dozier, Sierra, Hernandez all finished second at their respective state qualifying heats at the section finals while Dehaven and Tuff were third.
Granite Hills (second, 42.83) and Helix (third, 42.94) both qualified to compete at the state meet in the boys 4x100 relay while Steele Canyon (third, 3:20.44) qualified to compete in the boys 4x400 relay.
Steele Canyon senior Monique Van advanced to the state meet as the section's top qualifier in the girls triple jump (37-8.25). She finished her season with a mark of 35-8 at last Friday's state prelims after posting the section' top regular season mark of 38-3.25.
Van competed in four individual events at the section finals. Besides winning the triple jump, she placed fifth among Division I medalists in the 100 low hurdles (15.38), 300 hurdles (45.96) and long jump (16-11).
“It was hectic competing in the triple jump and the 100 hurdles because they were going on at the same time,” Van said. “I took one jump and headed right over to the hurdles and when they were done, I went back to the pit and had to play catch up with the other competitors.”
Multi-Event Championship set this weekend at Cuyamaca College
The San Diego Multi-Event Championship will be held this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9, at Cuyamaca College.
The 10-event boys decathlon includes the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter high hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1,500-meter run.
The seven-event girls heptathlon features the 100-meter low hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run.
Event director Lyle Barton calls it a great opportunity for the all-around athletes on each high school track and field team to match skills with the best in the county.
“Any athlete good in four or five of these events should be encouraged to compete,” Barton said. “The decathletes and heptathletes are considered to be the best and most fit athletes on a track team. This is a fun-filled two-day event that will be a lifelong memory for all those who participate.”
Awards will be presented to the top five finishers in each gender field.
First day events start at 9 a.m. for the heptathlon and 10 a.m. for the decathlon; second day events start at 9 a.m. for the decathlon and 11 a.m. for the heptathlon.
Cost is $35 per athlete. Entries will be accepted on the day of the event.
Cuyamaca College is located at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway, El Cajon. Call 328-1028 for more information.