The Ventura County Track and Field Championships had it all. There were moments of joy, pain and disappointment at Moorpark High last weekend.
Superstars Johnathan Cabral, Sarah Baxter and Connor Stark impressed with absurdly decisive victories. Oaks Christian’s girls dazzled while the Rio Mesa boys’ sprinters dominated.
For Erik Pinuelas, victory was “surreal.”
A Camarillo High senior, Pinuelas finished first in the boys’ 1,600-meter invitational race in 4 minutes, 16.14 seconds. He used a strong push in the final 300 meters to secure the victory and set a new personal record.
“This day couldn’t have started any better,” said Pinuelas, who will run track and study civil engineering at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in the fall.
As the meet proceeded, the competition continued to heat up.
Cabral, a senior at Agoura, set meet records in the 110 hurdles (13.46 seconds) and 300 hurdles (37.23). Cabral is the fastest hurdler in the nation, according to DyeStat.com.
“It feels good,” Cabral said after his 110 hurdles triumph. “It’s great coming here. I’ve always liked the Moorpark track. I get to compete against friends, and the competition motivates me.”
The Charger, who signed a scholarship with the University of Oregon, said he’s been working on his starts and form, including snapping his leg down quickly.
Baxter, a precocious Simi Valley freshman, obliterated her competition in the girls’ 3,200. The Pioneer completed eight laps in a cool 10:30.47, almost 30 seconds faster than anyone else. Teammate Amanda Hamilton, a junior, won the girls’ 300 hurdles in 45.9 seconds.
Stark cemented his name in Ventura County lore with a pole vault of 16 feet, a meet record.
“I’m really looking forward to CIF and vaulting against top people who give me good competition,” the Oak Park junior said. Stark said he must stay mentally strong if he wants to earn a topthree state finish.
Oaks Christian’s girls ran wild in Musketeer country.
The Lion girls’ 4×800 relay quartet of Amy Anderson, Alex Beck, Niki MacWhirter and Jessica Pantuso kicked off the day with a Ventura County record, completing the relay in 9:55.36. Danielle Alakija starred for Oaks Christian.
The sophomore won the 400 (55.32 seconds) and 200 (25.22) and ran legs in victorious 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
She was giddy after edging Newbury Park’s Morgan Thompson in the 400.
“I’m so excited,” said Alakija, who turned 15 on Tuesday. “I went into the (400) race thinking, ‘I will be happy to take second.’ At the 300 mark, I said, ‘I’m going big. I’m going home.’”
Alakija has been training hard with sprints coach Maurice Greene. “I asked my coach to (let me) run with the guys just to push myself,” she said. “I don’t like running behind people. They push me to get in front of them.”
Oaks Christian teammate Ally Courtnall won the 100 dash in 12.27, edging La Reina’s Hanna Winter (12.36). Courtnall nabbed second behind Alakija in the 200 (25.25).
Asha Culhane and Gillian Lloyd joined Alakija and Courtnall in the 4×400 relay. Abby King, Culhane, Alakija and Courtnall clinched the 4×100 in a school record time of 48.71.
“We’ve transformed a lot as a team,” said Courtnall, bound for the UCLA soccer team. “We’ve accomplished so much and we’re dropping our times.”
Rio Mesa’s Marcus Alford, LaDarrin Roach, Blake Selig and Cameron Roach won the boys’ 4×100 relay in 41.18 seconds, a county invitational record. Selig, Darion Zimmerman and the Roach brothers joined forces to win the 4×400 in 3:20.16. Selig also won the 200 (21.89).
LaDarrin Roach, a senior who has verbally committed to Arizona State, zoomed to victory in the 400 in 48.97. Roach missed the 2010 Ventura County Championships with a pulled a hamstring.
“I was motivated and ready to run,” Roach said after the 400 win. “I relaxed and just tried to keep it in high gear.”
Roach hopes Rio Mesa’s vaunted 4×100 foursome can earn a top finish at state.
“We have a good chance this year,” he said.
Raegan Nizdil of the Spartans won the girls’ high jump with a jump of 5 feet, 4 inches.
Camarillo’s Rocki Lambdin earned an emotional victory in the girls’ 1,600, her first title at the county championships.
“It feels really, really good,” Lambdin said immediately after her victory. “This has been a dream of mine since I was a freshman.”
Pinuelas watched Lambdin hold off the field, including Oak Park’s Kaycee Holcomb. Lambdin edged the Eagle senior by a whisker, 5:00.37 to 5:00.64.
“I’m really happy for Rocki,” Pinuelas said. “She probably ran the hardest race she could have done. She did all the work. I’ve never seen her finish like that before.”
Megan Thompson of Newbury Park earned a remarkable win in the girls’ 800 in 2:17.8. A relative novice in the event, Thompson improved from her previous best time of 2:22.
“That’s a huge jump,” said Thompson, a sprinter who contributes in multiple events for the Panthers. “The 800 is about speed and endurance. It’s a whole different state of mind.”
Thompson and her twin sister, Morgan, signed with Cal State Fullerton.
Newbury Park’s Sean Grumney overcame illness and injury to win the boys’ 800 in 1:56.18. Although he wasn’t his sharpest, Grumney dug deep to capture the race.
“It wasn’t my fastest time, but I’m pleased with the win,” said Grumney, who signed with UCLA. “Even if I feel bad, I need to put myself in a better mental position. Today I was off, but I told myself, ‘Let’s go for the win.’”
The Panther has big goals in the 800.
“I want to win state,” he said. Moorpark’s Quinn Harris took home county titles in the triple jump (45-7.5) and long jump (22- 1.75).
“Hard work paid off,” said Harris, who will play football at UC Davis.
Thousand Oaks’ Karsen Sper (100 hurdles, 15.33) and Nikoletta Georgalis of Moorpark (long jump, 17-06.75) won girls’ invitational championships. Heyden Wooff of Camarillo (3,200, 9:22.6) and Oaks Christian’s Ishmael Adams (100, 10.99) and Allen Stevens (high jump, 6-4) locked up boys’ crowns.
The Ventura County Track and Field Championships wasn’t just for the big dogs.
Sullivan Wall, the only athlete from Grace Brethren in Simi Valley, won the seeded discus throw in 144-3. The sophomore’s previous best toss was 133-8.
“I cleared my mind, took a deep breath, forgot about anything and just threw,” said Sullivan, a strong safety in football.
“It’s a really big undertaking to represent a whole school. Grace Brethren stands for a Christian place of education. I have to watch how I talk and act and represent all 230 kids who go there. I’m happy to be here.”