Stars align, rise at meet

Girls are racing.
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Move over, Marion Jones.

The track legend’s 100- and 200-meter Ventura County Track and Field Championship records came crashing down on May 1 at Moorpark High.

Rio Mesa junior Zaria Francis won the 100 in a blistering 11.41 seconds. Oaks Christian sophomore Lauren Rain Williams surpassed the former Olympian’s time in the 200 in an impressive 23.20 seconds. Marion Jones held records in the 100 (11.54) and 200 (23.36), which she set in 1991.

“It feels really good because there’s a lot of history here,” Francis said of the annual county meet. “To be able to be on that history list and to hear that I broke records is great.”

The speedsters weren’t the only ones celebrating at the meet. Champions also hailed from Agoura, Camarillo, Moorpark, Newbury Park, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Westlake.

Moorpark junior Michelle Magnani and Newbury Park senior Kendall Mader each went home with two gold medals around their necks. Agoura’s boys dominated the 3,200, and the Westlake boys controlled the top three spots in the 800.

Rio Mesa long jump specialist Greg Vann, a senior, claimed gold medals in the 100 dash and long jump. He also nabbed a silver medal in the 200. Vann said he was glad to have a chance to compete in sprint events.

“It feels good not doing the 100 last year and being a lot faster this year,” he said. “I was focusing on myself to keep my mind right for the race and not think about the competition too much.”

Oak Christian’s Sarah Johnson, a senior, captured her third straight 400 title after battling an injury this spring. Last weekend’s finish of 55.90 in the 400 was her fastest of the season.

“I had a hamstring injury earlier that slowed my process down, but I’m happy with my time,” she said. “It feels good to come back and defend my title. I worked hard and did a lot of therapy. It all paid off.”

Mader bounced back from a disappointing performance at last year’s meet: She fouled each of her discus attempts and missed the podium.

The senior bound for UC Berkeley overpowered her foes en route to gold medals in the throwing events last weekend. She won the discus with a toss of 153 feet, 11 inches; she captured the shot put title in 44-11.75.

“This week I worked a lot on technique and relaxing and letting everything come together,” Mader said. “Before I was kind of rushing throws. Now I’m being a little more patient.”

Fellow Newbury Park seniors Cameron Ewing and Chris Adams took home gold medals in the 300 hurdles and triple jump, respectively.

Thousand Oaks senior Alexa Coubal, a thrower, earned two top-three finishes. She took second in the discus and third in the shot put. Although she easily found the podium, she was more focused on enjoying the meet.

“I just wanted to have fun,” Coubal said. “It’s my last county meet, so I want to take it all in and enjoy it more. I want to savor it.”

Coubal and the Lancers cheered on junior Rachel Craft, who launched herself to gold in the girls’ pole vault. The firstplace finish went well with silver medals from Thousand Oaks teammates Stephen Hernandez (boys’ 400) and Frankie Boger (girls’ 300 hurdles).

Moorpark junior Shane Peterson claimed the top spot in the boys’ pole vault. He cleared 14-6 in his first meet back from a foot injury.

“It feels great,” Peterson said. “I haven’t jumped in five weeks because of the injury. I took a couple meets off and started working out harder on the arms. It was my first meet back and it was awesome.”

Magnani made the most of competing on her home track by winning the 800 (2:15.78) and 1,600 (4:59.03) events. The Musketeer previously earned gold as a freshman and bronze as a junior in the 800 at the meet. Her time in the 1,600 was a career-best mark.

“I just wanted to go out strong and finish with the win,” she said. “It feels really great. I’ve been working really hard this year and getting my times down in practice. I’ve been improving a lot.”

Westlake seniors stole the show in the boys’ 800. Ryan Finch (gold), Jimmy De Mello (silver) and Jonathon Cantle (bronze) claimed each of the top three spots in the event.

Agoura’s boys dominated the 3,200. Charger senior Michael Powell took first place, while juniors Cole Hoff and Logan Grove took second and third, respectively.

In the girls’ 3,200, Malibu’s Caroline Pietrzyk won the race in a brisk 10:49, followed by Oak Park standouts Emily Beneduce (11:08) and Brittany Blackwell (11:16).

Sophomore Tara Davis took home three gold medals for Agoura. After taking first place in the long jump and triple jump, she flew through the 100 hurdles in 13.71.

“I was hoping and praying for 13.9, but 13.7? Oh my god. It’s fantastic,” Davis said. “I can’t even explain the feeling I have right now.”

Simi Valley senior Alex Billing repeated as meet champion in the boys’110 hurdles. Though he clipped a few hurdles en route to gold, he used the event as a postseason tune-up.

“That race was not what I wanted at all,” he said. “I was aggressive, but then I started hitting hurdles, so then I had to reach. It’s always a fun race. This is a nice little workout for me.”

Camarillo’s senior sprinters Tristan Griffith and Corbin Bethurem each earned firstplace nods.

Bethurem claimed the boys’ 200 title in 21.62 while Griffith flew through the boys’ 400 in 48.67. The win was especially sweet for Griffith.

“This is only my second year running,” Griffith said. “It feels good. I like winning.”

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