Newbury Park High runners approached the boys' 3,200-meter race Saturday night at the Arcadia Invitational like it was the CIF state championships — and for them, it was.
Knowing there will be no state meet this spring and having decided to skip the Southern Section finals to run at a competition in Tennessee, the Panthers sought to pull off a feat unprecedented in the annals of the prestigious event that debuted in 1968.
Junior Colin Sahlman prevailed in 8 minutes 43.42 seconds after holding off sophomore teammate Lex Young (8:43.71) on a blistering bell lap while two other Panthers finished in under 8:57 — sophomore Leo Young (sixth in 8:55.82) and junior Daniel Appleford (ninth in 8:56.77). Newbury Park's other two runners, senior Nicholas Goldstein (9:10.41) and sophomore Aaron Cantu (9:32.93), were not far off the pace most of the way. Incredibly, 15 of the 28 runners in the field clocked under nine minutes.
“It feels awesome … our goal coming in was to have as many guys under nine as we could,” said Sahlman, whose younger brother Aaron won the mile in 4:14.07 only 15 minutes earlier. “It's definitely big motivation moving forward because if we can do it now, we can do it in the future.”
Newbury Park's Sean Brosnan was named California coach of the year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association in January 2020 after leading the boys to the Southern Section, state and Nike Cross National championships.
“It’s the culture,” said Colin Sahlman, whose time moved him to No. 1 in the nation this year. “He holds us accountable but, just as important, we hold each other accountable. We push each other, we focus every day. He’s the best coach. He tells you what you can do and he pushes you to hit your times in workouts.”
In the girls' 3,200, Crescenta Valley senior Mia Barnett led from start to finish and threatened to break the state record of 9:48:59 set by Kim Mortensen of Thousand Oaks in 1996, but Barnett fell off the pace the last two laps and settled for 10:01.18.
“I felt good going into the race, I put the work in, I’m just not happy with the overall time,” she said.
Arcadia annually attracts the best athletes in the country. This year it was limited to California schools and spectators were not allowed, so the atmosphere was unique.
“It felt a lot different — usually the stands are packed and I have my whole family here,” said Westlake pole vaulter Paige Sommers, who won the event by clearing 13 feet 9 inches on her second attempt. “I was second as a sophomore and I’ve always wanted to win here. Still, I was hoping to go higher today."
The Duke-bound senior set the national outdoor record with a height of 14-8.50 at the Vaulter Magazine Invitational in April and is hoping to make the Olympic trials. Not bad for someone who grew up playing soccer and basketball, and started vaulting in seventh grade at Los Cerritos Middle School.
“My dad vaulted at UCLA and I had to beg him to let me do it but he finally did and he’s my coach,” said Sommers, who has managed to better her technique and strength despite the uncertainty and numerous cancellations resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. “I’ve tried to have two vault and two sprint practices a week. With no state finals, I don’t have a lot more chances, but hopefully there’ll be a lot of summer meets.”
A week after breaking the school record in the triple jump in a dual meet against Loyola, Harvard-Westlake junior Jason Thompson did it again Saturday in dramatic fashion, springing 47-2 on his final attempt to beat St. John Bosco junior Camryn O’Bannon (46-9).
“This is my fourth meet doing triple jump — I got in two meets last season before everything got canceled, then the two this year so I’m pretty new to it, but my coaches have prepared me well and I’m soaking up everything they tell me and trusting my athleticism to do the rest,” said Thompson, a wide receiver on the Wolverines’ football team. “I ran the 4x100 in between rounds of triple jump and when I came back I saw Camryn broke my mark and I needed [a personal record]. On the runway I was focused on clearing my head, making sure I'm running fast, and my body will carry me from there.”
Vista Murrieta senior Darius Hill was the last man standing in a star-studded high jump competition, then had less than 15 minutes to rest before heading to the long jump pit, where his leap of 22-10.75 took third.
He credits his coaches with helping him stay motivated through COVID-19.
“I gave up on myself earlier in the year when we weren’t sure we’d have a season, but they pushed me through all of it so kudos to them,” said Hill, who clinched the win at 6-7, then cleared 6-9 on his third attempt. “When I got here it felt empty at first. I was concerned with the lack of fans, but when I saw guys jumping crazy bars, that gave me the spark I needed.”
The personal best was Hill’s first since his sophomore year. Having already won the event, he was cheered on by his fellow competitors to clear 6-9.
“I’ve struggled with that height all year but I needed that extra pressure and that’s the first time I held my form to the last split second," he said. "I felt myself graze the bar but it stayed on. It was terrifying to watch.”
Though the state title is not possible this year, Arcadia is the next best prize and Hill is eager to add first-place medals in the high jump and long jump at the Southern Section finals.
"Training during COVID was weird,” he said. "I knew my senior year would be sketchy. I had a year-and-a-half break during which I was sick, injured and super out of shape. It's the first time this year I thoroughly exerted myself in one event, then had to go right to another event, so I was super tired but I wanted to win."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.