Castilleja pole vaulter clears way for state title


By David Kiefer
Mercury News

For Tori Anthony, it was ``the perfect day on the perfect day.''

At least that was how her coach, Scott Slover, described it as the Castilleja junior captured the girls pole vault title at the state track and field finals Saturday at Cerritos College.

Anthony was perfect on her first four attempts and it was the last of those, at 13 feet, 3 inches, that was enough for the first victory by a Central Coast Section athlete in that event.

``I felt prepared,'' Anthony said. ``It's everything I've been trying to do this year.''

Despite a swirling wind and hot temperatures during the early afternoon competition, Anthony was never affected. Through 12-3, everyone in the field had at least one miss, except Anthony. And that was only two jumps into her competition.

In contrast, St. Francis junior Natasha Barthel, Anthony's training partner, was having an awful day. Her steps were off, her approach run was never the same and her confidence was shaken.

But Barthel pulled off hard-to-believe clearance at 12-9 to pull herself back into contention when it appeared to be a two-girl competition between Anthony and Newport Harbor's Allison Stokke.

``When I took off, I thought, `Oh, boy,' this is going to be bad,'' Barthel said. ``Then I thought, `Let's go for it,' and pulled the pole back as hard as I could. I don't know how I made it.''

That jump got Barthel third place, an improvement from her seventh-place finish of a year ago, and it was indicative of her pure vaulting skill. It may have been the most spectacular single jump of the competition.

``This is how you test yourself, when you have a bad day,'' Slover said. ``I'm more proud of Natasha than anything. She is the best technical pole vaulter in this meet.''

But the day was Anthony's. When she cleared 13-3 on her first try, it was clear the meet was hers. Stokke missed at that height and realized her only chance to win would be to outjump Anthony at 13-7.

Because she passed her final two jumps at 13-3, she had two tries at 13-7, but wasn't close. Anthony didn't make that height either, but it didn't matter.

``She jumped like a star today,'' Barthel said. ``I knew right off, this girl is on.''

Anthony, who was a Level 9 gymnast before getting burned out on the sport and trying the pole vault as a sophomore, said her gymnastics background has helped her feel comfortable in pressure situations.

Still, she dealt with some morning nerves. But they were alleviated by her brother Tyler, a football player at University of Pennsylvania, who gave her a pep talk that settled her down.

``He said, `just jump,' '' Anthony recalled. ``Do what you need to do and don't worry about anything else.''

Even though Anthony won a state championship, Slover, a two-time state champ himself, still calls Anthony a ``raw'' talent.

``What she does very well is run and take off,'' Slover said. ``The gymnastics is helping; she has a great arm swing. But if she had Natasha's top of the jump, I don't know what she would be jumping.''

For starters, Anthony threw out a mark to shoot for next season: ``Fourteen feet.''

Perhaps perfection will carry a new standard.


Sitler's call to hang back lets him finish up front

By David Kiefer and Dennis Knight
Mercury News

Ben Sitler capped the most successful state meet ever for the St. Francis boys, finishing third in the 3,200 meters for the team's third such finish of these track and field finals Saturday.

Moments earlier, Casey Roche placed third in the pole vault at 16 feet, 5 inches, and Kyle Mills-Bunje was third in the long jump, with a personal record 23-8 3/4. Overall, the Central Coast Section champion Lancers scored 18 points to tie for eighth.

Sitler had to make several tough decisions during his race. The first was whether to stay with West Covina's Diego Mercado, who pushed a hard early pace. Sitler chose instead to keep near the defending state champion, Michael Cybulski of Royal-Simi Valley, and 2005 national cross-country champion A.J. Acosta of El Camino-Oceanside.

The decision was a good one. Mercado struck his foot on the infield rail on the fourth lap. He hobbled through another lap before collapsing on the infield, while Sitler and the others passed him by.

The Princeton-bound Sitler lost touch on the sixth lap but regained his focus and finished strong to hold his place. Cybulski earned a repeat victory in 8 minutes, 53.77 seconds; Sitler finished in 9:02.56.

Roche needed a third-attempt clearance at 15-11, as did eventual winner Scott Roth of Granite Bay, who captured his third consecutive title with a vault of 16-11. Roche had three good tries at a personal record 16-8, and was encouraged afterward by the possibilities for next season.

``I'm going to be the only one back from this field,'' the junior said. ``My goal is to win state.''

Mills-Bunje was mired in fifth in the long jump until he improved by nearly 10 inches on his final leap, leaving him only 1 3/4 inches out of first place.

``I was just out to have a good time,'' said Mills-Bunje, who is headed to Cal. ``My penultimate step on the approach was the key. It let me get some pop on my jump. It felt like I was floating.''

• Palo Alto sophomore Mia Lattanzi was only 50 meters from winning a state title in her first season of the 800. She was boxed in nearly the entire race but found room on the inside to take the lead with 250 meters to go.

However, the effort of having to move in and out of traffic, in addition to running a second hard race in two days, seemed to take a toll, and Lattanzi was run down on the homestretch by Aliso Niguel's Haley Lawrence, who won in 2 minutes, 10.57 seconds. Lattanzi's time was 2:10.87.

``I didn't really know she was right there,'' Lattanzi said. ``I was giving it all I had.''

• James Logan won its first state championship by tying Long Beach Wilson for the girls title at 37 points. Long Beach Poly won a record-tying eighth boys championship, scoring 42.

Sprinter captures 100, 200 at state

By Dennis Knight
Mercury News

Pushed once again by her friend and rival, Mt. Pleasant sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh on Saturday became the first Central Coast Section athlete since 1978 to win the 100 and 200 meters at the state track and field finals.

Tarmoh also became the first female state champion from Mt. Pleasant, winning the 100 in 11.59 seconds and the 200 in 23.29 at Cerritos College. That double hadn't been accomplished by a CCS athlete since Kelia Bolton did it for Andrew Hill.

Close behind Tarmoh in both races was Valley Christian's Khrystal Carter, the state's defending champion in the 200. Carter, bound for Texas A&M, was fourth in the 200 (23.93) and fifth in the 100 (11.88).

``Racing with Khrystal has helped me improve so much,'' said Tarmoh, a junior who helped the Cardinals finish sixth in the team standings. ``I can get her off the start, but she usually finishes me off at the end. That has helped me get better with my finishes.''

The day got off to a bad start for the Mt. Pleasant girls, who dropped the baton in the 400 relay. Vashti Thomas was trying to hand off to Tarmoh on the first exchange when the miscue occurred. Thomas, who was seventh in the long jump, rolled her ankle on the exchange and had to scratch in the 100-meter hurdles, where she was expected to earn a medal.

Tarmoh regrouped for the 100, bursting out of the blocks with one of the best starts of her career. But in an instant her cushion had vanished as Ebony Collins of Long Beach Wilson and Elizabeth Olear of Louisville of Woodland Hills closed to Tarmoh's left shoulder as she streaked down Lane 6. Tarmoh found another gear and held off Olear by a head to win by four-hundredths of a second.

``I was trying to anticipate the gun and got out quick,'' Tarmoh said. ``Then they were right with me. That always seems to happen, so I have to turn it into two races. I fought, and we were neck and neck at the line, I dipped first and got it. I honestly thought I would be waiting for the gold until my senior year, but it happened prematurely.''

In the 200, Tarmoh's start wasn't up to her standards. She was fourth through 80 meters. But when she hit the straightaway, her afterburners ignited. She caught up to Olear and edged ahead with about 15 meters to go. Tarmoh broke her day-old CCS 200-meter record with her mark of 23.29, a year after finishing third in the same event.

After talking with reporters, Tarmoh made her way to the grandstand where she met Cardinals Coach Steve Nelson, who gave her a hug and told her, ``No matter what happens in the rest of your life, nobody is ever going to be able to take this away from you.''

Nelson later talked about the strides Tarmoh has made in her training and how she has evolved into a team leader.

``It's been emotional for me watching her today,'' he said. ``As a coach you try to get her to a place where she can run fast times consistently. But in the competition it was all on her. She made a big move in the 200, which she has never made before -- that was exciting. She made her mark today; when she is 40 years old looking in the state meet record book, her name is going to be right there with the great ones.''


Gunn's Yu reaches long jump final


By Dennis Knight
Mercury News

Gunn's Chris Yu doesn't show much emotion, but his performance Friday in the long jump gave him reason to celebrate at the 88th CIF state track and field championships. The senior broke his personal record on consecutive jumps and qualified for today's final at Cerritos College.

He flashed a smile and pumped a fist after leaping 23 feet, 1 inch on his first effort in the preliminaries. He then shattered his previous best by 11 inches and broke a school record (23-4 1/2 set in 1970) on his next attempt with a wind-aided jump of 23-8 3/4, the third-best mark of the day.

That result prompted Yu to clench both fists in jubilation.

``That's been my goal the whole season, to break the school record,'' said Yu, who placed second behind St. Francis' Kyle Mills-Bunje at last week's Central Coast Section meet. ``I was going to scream, but I realized that wouldn't be tactful.''

David Klech of California (San Ramon) set the tone with a jump of 23-9 1/2 on his first attempt of the day.

``With jumps like that I knew my first jump might not qualify,'' Yu said. ``That raised the standard. My second jump was almost perfect. I've never had a combination of speed and height like that before. It felt natural.''

His jump coach, Scott Chisam, said he felt that Yu was due for a big day.

``He's been very consistent all year,'' Chisam said. ``This was the biggest competition of his life and he was the first one on the runway. There's no beach for him in the morning.''

That's because Yu will be competing for a top-six finish and a state medal.

Joining him in the hunt will be Mills-Bunje, a senior who came through with a wind-aided leap of 23-6 to reach today's final as the No. 4 seed.

``I'm a little bored now, my day is over,'' said Mills-Bunje. ``I kept hearing 23 feet from the announcer, so I thought I better step it up. I got one good jump today, we'll see what happens in the final.''

Archbishop Mitty sophomore Drew Gordon's first throw of 57-7 1/2 earned him an eighth-place finish in the shot put and a berth in today's final. Competing in a field that included Darius Savage, a 6-5, 350-pound star from San Diego's Morse High who has thrown 65-9 3/4, was a new experience for Gordon.

``I'm not going to lie; it was intimidating watching him warm up,'' Gordon said. ``I just had to look away and concentrate on what I needed to do.''

Gordon kept that attitude and qualified for the discus final with a throw of 176-1, the sixth-best mark of the day. Savage (212-7) was second behind Bo Taylor of Newport Harbor (213-7), both marks bettering the previous state meet record of 206-5.

St. Francis' Ben Sheehan was one miss away from the end of his high school pole vaulting career. But the Stanford-bound senior cleared 14-10 on his third attempt to land a spot in today's final. He will join junior teammate Casey Roche, who was tied for first among five qualifiers after clearing 15-4 on his second attempt.

``I was just trying to stay as relaxed as possible for that last attempt,'' Sheehan said. ``I was practically shaking from all the energy. I tried to do what I've been preparing for all year and I was very relieved when I made it.''


Oak Grove thrower shines in shot put

By David Kiefer
Mercury News

Four years ago, Chidinma Onyewuenyi showed up at her first track practice at Oak Grove wondering whether the coaches would accept her because she missed sign-ups.

However, her nervousness as a freshman contrasted to the determination and confidence she showed Friday as the senior shot putter set a personal record of 45 feet, 3 1/2 inches to qualify first for today's state track and field finals at Cerritos College.

On that day four years ago, Oak Grove throws coach Jim Ruiz sensed Onyewuenyi was something special and immediately reassured her that, by all means, she could be on the team.

``I could see her strength,'' Ruiz said. ``It was a natural strength.''

This season, with construction on campus taking away the use of some of the athletic facilities, Onyewuenyi relied on the natural strength more than ever. There was little in the way of a running or weight program, and she often had to practice her throwing on concrete basketball and sand volleyball courts.

``Going into the state finals ranked No. 1 is just a bonus,'' Ruiz said. ``Her goal was to win CCS. But I know she has more in her. In the finals, you have six throws and any of them can be a state champion.''

Onyewuenyi, headed to UC-Davis, was one of 11 CCS girls to qualify for today's finals and many followed the lead of Archbishop Mitty's Renisha Robinson. After running faster than she ever has to win her heat of the 800 meters in 2:11.20, she immediately turned her attention to today.

``It's going to take a 2:08 at least,'' said Robinson, a junior, of her first state final.

Robinson returned to her run-from-the-front style that she regretted not using at the CCS meet when she finished second to Mia Lattanzi. Robinson will again face the Palo Alto sophomore, who won her heat with a state-leading time of 2:09.61.

Lattanzi made the fast time seem comfortable, staying back until the final 250 and using just enough energy to earn the lone automatic qualifying spot for her heat.

The elite have a knack for making the difficult look easy, which is what Mt. Pleasant's Jeneba Tarmoh did in winning her heats of the 100 (11.58) and 200 (23.37), qualifying her second to Elizabeth Olear of Louisville High in Woodland Hills in both.

Defending 200 champ Khrystal Carter of Valley Christian also won two sprint heats (11.78 and 23.98), looking strong in both.

Tarmoh led a strong day for Mt. Pleasant, which broke its own week-old CCS record in the 400 relay. The team of sophomore Vashti Thomas, junior Tarmoh, sophomore Marshay Brown and junior Diedre Pettigrue won their heat in 46.42, bettering their CCS-winning time of 46.55.

Thomas advanced in three events, including the long jump (18-4 1/4) and the 100 hurdles, winning her heat in 14.33. The hurdles, where she qualified third, may be her best chance for a victory.

``All she has to focus on is getting out of the blocks and running,'' Mt. Pleasant hurdles coach Angela Hill said. ``If she does that, she'll do well.''

Taylor Franklin has trained and competed in the shadow of the two finest girls pole vaulters in CCS history -- Castilleja's Tori Anthony and St. Francis teammate Natasha Barthel -- but the senior proved that her high school career deserves special mention too by earning her second finals berth.

The Cal-bound Franklin won a jump-off at a season-best 12-0 to join Anthony and Barthel, who cleared 12-3.