There she was running with the best of the best. It had to be a dream come true for then Otay Ranch High School junior Carina Gillespie while competing at last year’s California state track and field championship meet at Buchanan High School in Clovis.
All eyes in the packed stadium had to be on Harvard Westlake senior Amy Weissenbach, the state and national record-holder, during the first of three heats in the 800-meter prelims. But wait a minute: who was that girl in front of Weissenbach daring to steal her thunder?
Well, it was Gillespie, the two-time San Diego Section Division I champion in the event.
For 400 meters of the race, Gillespie was a celebrity. But then, the inevitable happened.
She ran out of steam. Weissenbach and San Leandro junior Nijae Jones passed a fading Gillespie during the final 200 meters of the race to secure the two automatic qualifying berths for the finals the next day. The Mustang distance queen crossed the finish line in third place in 2:13.33 — a bit too slow to qualify as an at-large entry.
“I think I got a little too excited with the pressure being at the state championships,” she said.
There were other mitigating circumstances that many were not aware of at the time: Gillespie was also battling illness during the race.
“I had to take care of my little sister the week before the state meet and I thought that was part of the reason I didn’t do my best to qualify for the finals,” she said.
You guessed it: Gillespie caught her little sister’s cold.
“She was running really sick but still ran an exceptional race,” ORHS coach Ian Cumming said. “I mean, she was right there with someone the caliber of Amy Weissenbach, but she just couldn’t hold on with about 200 meters to go.”
Gillespie has to hope fate deals her a better hand this year.
The Mustang standout moved into the San Diego Section lead in the 800 distance after placing fifth at April’s elite Arcadia Invitational with a time of 2:13.01.
Gillespie’s best time her junior year was the 2:11.00 she timed at the section finals; she timed 2:13.22 as a sophomore.
She has set a goal of going sub-2:10.00 this spring.
“I was so close last year at 2:11,” she said. “(Going under 2:10) would be a major accomplishment for me.”
Gillespie, who also leads the Metro Conference in the girls 1,600 run, said her other goal for the 2013 season is to qualify for a third time to the state championships.
“I would like to be a three-time CIF champion and a three-time state qualifier,” she said in her usual calm and polite demeanor.
Among Gillespie’s prime challengers are Pacific Ridge junior Delaney Miller (2:15.26), Canyon Crest Academy junior Anne Charles (2:16.00), CCA freshman Kelly Bernd (2:16.60) and Rancho Bernardo junior Katie Sammer (2:16.71).
“I know a lot of the girls from last year graduated and moved on,” Gillespie said. “But there are still some very talented girls who are returning, so there should be some competition again, it seems.”
Gillespie will look to put her best foot forward at this weekend’s 10th annual Mustang/Phair Company Relays. Action steps off in running events at 9:30 a.m., with the last events of the day scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
A total of 20 teams are expected. Blue Division (large school) entrants include Calexico, Steele Canyon, Otay Ranch, Morse, Bonita Vista, Valhalla, Eastlake, Sweetwater and Olympian; Silver Division (small school) entrants include Castle Park, Mar Vista, Point Loma, Southwest El Centro, Central Union, Monte Vista, Hilltop, Clairemont, St. Augustine, Rock Academy and Our Lady of Peace.
Gillespie isn’t the only Otay Ranch track athlete with designs on competing in June’s state finals. The top three place-finishers in each event at the section’s state-qualifying meet May 25 at Mt. Carmel High School earn a trip to Clovis.
Hovering near the top of the section leaderboard heading into the second half of the season were Mustang teammates Alyssa Chang (girls 100 and 300 hurdles), Sean Esteban (boys triple jump), Xander Law (boys pole vault), Chris Martin (boys long jump), Cameron Lancour (boys high jump) and Hannah Moss (girls pole vault).
Esteban moved back into the section lead with a 47-6 triple jump mark at the Jaguar Invitational on April 13. Only two other section jumpers — Oceanside’s T.K. Kevin Dodds and University City’s Alexander Simpson — had gone past the 46-foot mark though mid-April.
Esteban said his goal is to reach and surpass the 50-foot mark established for former Otay Ranch state champion Marquis Roberts.
“It’s kind of a motivation,” Esteban explained. “I know other jumpers in the county have placed a target on my back — it makes me hungrier to do better.”
Law set a school record at 15-9 in winning his flight at the Arcadia meet and has consistently cleared 15 feet all season. He stood at the top of the section’s chart followed by Mt. Carmel’s Kyle Pater (15-5) and Escondido’s James Elder (15-0), the only other athletes to clear 15-0.
Chang has clearly set the pace among Sweetwater district athletes in the 100 low hurdles (14.97) to rank third in the section.
Both Martin (22-3) and Lancour (6-3) have proven so far they have the potential to win any competition on any given day. Mark Bjornsson could have the edge on sweeping Mesa League titles in the boys 110 high hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles.
The road to this year’s state championships starts with the Mesa League finals on May 9; the section prelims follow on May 18, with the section finals scheduled a week later, also at Mt. Carmel High School.
The state prelims are May 31; the state finals are June 1.
“We have a number of student-athletes who are capable of winning CIF titles on any given day — or for that matter, to qualify for the state meet,” Cumming said. “But they will need to be at their best when it counts.”
Fantastic finish propels Eastlake past Otay Ranch in premier Mesa League girls track meet
The Mesa League track and field championship meet is still nearly a month away but up for grabs on April 11 was the inside track to first place in the league dual meet standings between the Eastlake Titans and host Otay Ranch Mustangs. The result played out as expected: a pressure-packed meet filled with thrilling finishes.
When the final event was scored, the visiting Titan girls squad took home a spirited 69-67 victory.
A key event was the 4x400 relay, the last of the running events, in which Otay Ranch set a season best time by five seconds of 4:06.53 but finished second in a great race to Eastlake in a very fast 4:04.47.
“It was an outstanding performance by two teams ready to compete against another strong team,” Otay Ranch coach Ian Cumming said. “Special congratulations go to the Eastlake girls on an outstanding performance to remain undefeated. Both teams had many strong performances, but the Eastlake girls performed a little bit better to win a hard-fought meet. This meet will prove to be a key meet in the battle for the Mesa League championship.”
For Eastlake, Kayla Lawson emerged victorious in the 100-meter dash (13.44) and 200 dash (26.04) while Johnna Noiseaux took firsts in the long jump (16-3.5) and triple jump (34-9) and Ashley Ross doubled in winning the shot put (33-10.75) and discus throw (115-4).
For Otay Ranch, Carina Gillespie doubled in winning the 1,600 run (5:23.43) and 800 run (2:25.36) while Alyssa Chang doubled in winning the 100 low hurdles (15.78) and 300 hurdles (47.69).
On the boys side, the host Mustangs recorded an 81-55 win to remain undefeated in league duals.
Mark Bjornsson swept the 110 high hurdles (15.81) and 300 intermediate hurdles (40.67) for Otay.