With both local high school track teams, Berkeley High and St. Mary’s, ranking among the state’s best, it’s entirely appropriate that this year’s North Coast Section Meet of Champions will be held a javelin-throw away from both campuses – at Cal’s newly renovated Edwards Track Stadium.
After holding the meet at nearby Chabot College for the past two years while Edwards was being revamped, the NCS moved this weekend’s final sectional meet back to the Berkeley campus, a site that athletes and coaches on both teams look forward to visiting.
“It’s right in our own backyard, we love it,” St. Mary’s head coach Jay Lawson said about the upcoming meet, at which he hopes to qualify at least a dozen athletes for next week’s state meet. “It’s definitely an advantage, because we can get more people out. It’s easier to travel to, so they’ll have some friends and classmates (in the stands).”
Lawson’s Panthers enter Friday’s first day of competition fresh off a brilliant performance at last weekend’s NCS Bay Shore meet, at which both the boys’ and girls’ squads won section championships. Multi-event winner Solomon Welch led the boys’ contingent to a comfortable 136-86 win over Mission San Jose, while the St. Mary’s girls rode their depth to a 96-80 victory over Logan. Besides netting the Panthers dual team titles, the dominating effort established an aura of confidence going into this weekend’s individual meet, at which each potential state qualifier hopes to peak.
“I think we’re running well. Everyone’s feeling good,” Lawson said. “Our speed training has kicked in, the legs are starting to feel fast. The outlook for this weekend is (positive). We feel like we can qualify between 14 and 18 athletes for state.”
Besides Welch – a potential Meet of Champions winner in the triple jump and long jump – the Panther boys will be looking for big performances by sprinters Denye Versher and Chris Dunbar, 300m hurdles specialist Halihl Guy and high jumper Ebon Glenn, who has the title virtually wrapped up with a PR of 6-foot-10. On the girls side, St. Mary’s hopes to overachieve yet again, with sprinter Tiffany Johnson, distance runners Bridget Duffy and Parras Vega, hurdler Danielle Stokes and thrower Kamaiya Warren all seeking state berths.
“In some events, we feel like we have athletes that are going to qualify,” the St. Mary’s coach said. “(We also) have a number of athletes kind of on the bubble, hoping to run well enough to qualify.”
For Berkeley High, which qualified just one male athlete along with its slew of female entrants, the Meet of Champions is a gateway to the “big meet” mentality which its girls must conjure up in time for next week’s state meet. The much-talked-about 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, consisting of Aisha Margain, Raqueta Margain, Katrina Keith, T’carra Penick and Simone Brooks, are expected to do considerable damage at the CIF finals, barring any difficulties with handoffs. Since being haunted by baton transitions at last month’s Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the ’Jackets have steadily improved in that area, and expect to repeat last weekend’s NCS success at the Meet of Champions.
The individual members of the relay teams also seek qualifying times in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints, as well as the hurdle events, in which Brooks specializes.
“We ran a good relay with Deer Valley (at the NCS Tri-Valley meet), all very safe handoffs,” said Berkeley High head coach Darrell Hampton, whose 4x400 team won the qualifying meet by more than 15 seconds. “We were looking good, the closest to us (in either NCS section meet) was DeAnza at 4:05, and that’s pretty sizable. Both relays have to be solid (this weekend).”
Outside of the vaunted sprint contingent, Berkeley High also enters two other potential state qualifiers – hurdler Daveed Diggs and high jumper Laura Winnacker. Diggs set a meet record on the way to the 110m hurdle championship at last weekend’s NCS qualifiers, finishing the event in an impressive 14.39.
Winnacker recorded a 5-foot-2 jump to advance in her event. The senior, who qualified for state last season, took third at the NCS meet – an accomplishment that Hampton believes can be improved upon.
“(That mark) was good for her, but she still has to step up,” the coach said. “She was a state finalist last year. We don’t want her to end the season at this juncture.”
The NCS Meet of Champions kicks off on Friday, with field events beginning at 11 a.m. and track events commencing an hour later. The two-day meet continues Saturday, starting at 10 a.m.