After a one-year hiatus, San Luis Obispo County will have four athletes participating in this weekend’s CIF State Track and Field Championships in Clovis.
Two of the four come in the form of UC Santa Barbara-bound seniors from Morro Bay High: pole vaulter Sierra Emrick and distance runner Austin Lay.
It’s the first time two Pirates have made the same state meet and the first time Morro Bay has a representative since Shayla Balentine won the girls pole vault in a then-national record 13 feet, 8 inches in 2001.
“It’s exciting,” coach Chuck Ogle said. “As an athlete, I never got close to making state. It’s great for the school and, obviously, I’m very proud of both these athletes.”
Emrick, who won the Southern Section Division 4 title with a meet-record jump of 12 feet, 7 inches, took fifth at last week’s Masters meet with a jump of 12-1.
Emrick’s 12-7 is seventh-best in the state with Santa Margarita’s Kaitlyn Merritt leading the way at a foot higher. Merritt is a Stanford-bound senior who was the favorite last year at 13-9 but struggled against strong winds and didn’t register a height at the 2014 Masters meet. “What I’ve learned coaching is that anything can happen in the pole vault,” Ogle said.
Lay finished outside of the top six in the boys 3,200 — the spots that automatically qualify for state — but his eighth-place, school-record finish of 9 minutes, 2.01 seconds was the 14th best in California this year and well inside the qualifying standard of 9:07.38. Brian Zabilski of Saugus won the Masters meet in 8:49.38 — the CIF’s fastest time this year — and all of the 10 best times in California came out of the Southern Section.
“Austin is really fit right now,” Ogle said. “He’s going to bring it in the final 600 wherever he is in the pack.”
Emrick, as well as San Luis Obispo’s William Ernst and Atascadero’s Sarah Stafford, will compete in preliminary heats Friday with hopes of making Saturday’s finals while Lay will go directly to Saturday’s 9:03 p.m. final in the 3,200.
“It’s almost like you have to qualify one more time,” said Tigers coach Adam Basch, whose team has its first competitor at the state meet since Christine Hoffmann in 2012.
Ernst, who will compete in college at Cal Baptist, was sixth in the 1,600 in the Masters meet in 4:12.70, running in the deepest section in the state. The top five overall and eight of the 10 fastest boys 1,600 times in the state this year have come out of the Southern Section. Ernst’s 4:10.37 at the Division 3 meet is good for the 11th-fastest. Brea Olinda’s Austin Tamagno is the favorite with a state-best time of 4:04.59.
Two heats will run Friday with the top four finishers in each plus four more at-large selections making Saturday’s 12-man field in the finals.
“You’ve got to run two days in a row, which is different for a lot of these guys,” Basch said. “I think that works out well for Will because fitness is one of his strengths.
“He’s raced with these guys all year. He knows the competition and understands that race … so he’s going to try and win.”
Stafford is the first Atascadero representative at the state meet since fellow shot putter and current Sacramento State thrower Markita Hinton took third in 2010.
“Her goal was just to make Masters,” said Greyhounds throw coach Darvel Cullors of Stafford, who had the county’s best finish last week with a fourth-place throw of 42-31⁄4, “so when she made state, that was the cherry on the top of the cake.”
Cullors said the Concordia-bound senior is hitting marks of 44 and 45 feet in practice. San Jose Valley Christian’s Elena Bruckner is the favorite with a state-best throw of 53-51⁄2, so Cullors’ advice to Stafford is to compete against yourself and let the rest fall where it may.
“If you see a girl throw 53 feet, it’s going to bring you down,” he said. “I told her there’s going to be some big throws out there, so if you can just compete within yourself and if you hit your (personal best), then you’ve won it right then and there.”