After wrapping up the North Coast Section team titles at last weekend’s Bay Shore meet, the ultra-deep St. Mary’s boys and girls track teams already knew they had quantity entering this past weekend’s NCS Meet of Champions. And after winning seven events en route to qualifying 13 athletes for CIFs at Edwards Track Stadium on Saturday, it’s safe to say the Panthers also have plenty of quality.
“We had a great meet. We not only got through, but ran well. Everybody competed great today,” said St. Mary’s head coach Jay Lawson, who felt the convenient location of the meet stood as an advantage for the two local prep teams. “I think some teams are surprised at how well we’ve done.”
The Panther boys left few events for anyone else on Saturday, winning both relays in addition to six of the fifteen individual events. Besides anchoring the winning 4x400 relay team, senior sprinter Denye Versher garnered titles in both the 200m and 400m events, edging El Cerrito’s Joe-k Onyenegecha by a scant three-tenths of a second in the shorter race. Sophomore Chris Dunbar also qualified in both events, placing fourth and second in the 200 and 400, respectively. Junior Sean Geraghty rounded out the short-distance events for St. Mary’s, running a 1:56.55 to qualify third in the 800m.
“We think we have a good chance to win state. We’re staying focused on our goals,” said Versher, who will be competing in his third straight CIF championship meet. “We’re still strong – not tired or burnt out.”
The St. Mary’s contingent complemented a successful day on the track with a solid day in the field, winning two of three jumping events and taking second in the other. State championship contender Ebon Glenn leapt a personal-best 6-11 to win the Meet of Champions by four inches, while Solomon Welch added a victory in he triple jump. Welch would also finish as first runner-up in the long jump, being outdistanced by eight inches at the hands of Concord’s Trevor Chatterton. St. Mary’s hurdler Halihl Guy brought home the only other Panther event title, winning the 300m hurdles in 38.23.
“With Ebon and Solomon, I think we have two guys that compete for the state championships,” Lawson said. “The competition is better at state, so the kids will run faster, rise to the occasion.”
Though not nearly as dominant as their male counterparts, the St. Mary’s girls squad managed to qualify a handful of athletes for state, with Tiffany Johnson, Bridget Duffy, Danielle Stokes and Kamaiya Warren all placing in the top four in their events. After qualifying in Friday’s triple jump, Johnson edged local rival T’carra Penick of Berkeley High with a 25.16 to take the last qualifying spot in the 200m, while Duffy hung on to third in the 1600m to lock up her second straight CIF berth. In the 100m hurdles, Stokes surged past Berkeley’s Simone Brooks, but failed to beat El Cerrito phenom Ashlee Lodree’s 14.46, and ultimately qualified second.
Warren became the Panthers’ only other female dual-event qualifier, besides Johnson, taking second place in both the shotput and discus events.
“Kamaiya did great, that was the best shotput she ever threw,” Lawson said about his star thrower, who posted a distant 44-1 in the shot. “All the girls ran well, and got a good taste of the state meet.”
Lawson hopes the stellar performance at NCS will carry over into this weekend’s state meet, but does not expect a cakewalk – even in Friday’s preliminary heats. According to the coach, the lack of respect and hype surrounding his athletes will serve as an advantage, since the Panthers will be forced to compete their hardest if they hope to have a chance at making the finals.
“A lot of our guys have been down there before, so they won’t have those big eyes,” said the coach, who admitted his athletes have been overwhelmed by the size and competitiveness of the CIF meet in years past. “When we get down to state, we’ll run everything like it’s our last race. That’s what each kid has to do.”
“At state, you can’t hold anything back, even at trials,” Versher added. “It’ll be another hard race. I’m just trying to win my heat (at CIF prelims).”