CLOVIS — The Paso Robles Bearcats track and field team has been in win-or-go-home mode for the past month. The postseason grind for track athletes and coaches began on April 26 at the Mountain League finals in Atascadero and continues through this weekend in Clovis as five Bearcats and one Atascadero Greyhound advanced to the CIF State meet after qualifying at the CIF Central Section Valley Championships on Saturday, May, 18.
Bearcats Jordan Summers, Kimberly Buchanan, Sophia Berry, Clay Wilshusen and Corban Payne along with Atascadero’s Jacob Winch will all make the trip back to Buchanan High School on Friday, May 24, as they try to prove they are the best in the state at what they do.
“In the Central Section you get three automatics, you’ve had to go from your league to your area CIF meet and then from there you qualify for the Masters meet,” Paso Robles head track coach Ivan Huff said at practice on Monday. “If at the Masters meet you finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd you automatically make it to the State meet. Now, for our two shot putters there are at-large marks for every event and it is kind of the 9th place average time or distance at the state meet for the past three years. If you hit that mark at state qualifying then you get to qualify as an at-large entry into the state meet.”
For the first time this season, the Bearcats boys were unable to land in first place in any of their events as the competition is now getting to its absolute highest, but the Bearcat boys did place fifth overall and tied the San Luis Obispo High School girls team with the highest finish for a team from the Central Coast. However, the Lady Bearcats finished eighth on the girls’ side meaning the Bearcats track and field team as a whole was the deepest and most impressive team in the county this year.
Bearcats Jordan Summer and Sophia Berry have led the way for the Bearcat teams this year as each of them combined this season to win all but two of their races with their two shortcomings landing them in second place. Summers, the senior, who has been the fastest man in the county in both the 400-meters and 200-meters this season taking first in every important race, finished third on Saturday in the 400 and 18th in the 200. Summers spent the entire year training for this track season starting on the first day of school and the hardwork has paid off as he has made it to state and turned some heads on the way.
“It is really insane. I couldn’t ask for any better season,” Summers said. “I remember at West Coast when I ran that 48, I did not expect that, I did not even expect to be in the fast heat that day so I don’t know. Just breaking 50 was a big thing for me but I ran that 48 and it just totally paid off right at that moment.”
Summers posted the 14th fastest 400-meter time in California in March in Santa Barbara at the West Coast relays which he says is the moment his senior season changed and he started believing he could be here at the end.
While Summers trained throughout the year with his sights set on running the 400 as fast as possible, Berry, a freshman, had a much different experience this season, flying past everyone in the 800-meters. Berry only began running track last year as an eighth-grader when she specialized in the 100 and the 200 with the occasional 400. This season, Berry came in thinking she would more than likely run those events again until her coaches suggested she run the 800 instead.
“I actually did not want to run the 800 at all,” Berry said. “My coaches were just like lets try it one day and so we tried it and it ended up being a really good race.”
In Berry’s first 800 race ever she posted a time of 2 minutes and 25 seconds which still would have been good enough for 15th at Masters last weekend but with a season of training under her belt she posted a personal record of 2:17.42 placing her in third place and qualifying her for the state meet.
“Before that race, I was super nervous, I couldn’t walk, I was shaking,” Berry said. “I obviously warmed up but what helps me the most is my mom. She comes and stands with me and I just have to breath and then I go and run the race and when I start I am not thinking about anything but running. I am not thinking about form, which is bad, but you just want to run and get it over with.”
Atascadero’s Winch will join Berry and Summers as the only North County athletes at State to compete on the track after placing the highest of any North County athlete at Masters with his second-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles. Winch has trained this season with a chip on his shoulder after missing out on postseason play last year due to pure bad luck. Winch woke up the morning of PAC 8 prelims a year ago with fever over 100 and still raced because he wanted to qualify but just could not due to the illness.
“Last season ended in kind of an upset. I got really sick the day of prelims and wasn’t able to qualify for CIF so this year my goal was really to qualify for CIF,” Winch said at practice on Tuesday. “I started the season in the low 41’s which was a new PR for me and then from there I just worked really hard consistently from week to week trying to improve my PR.”
No only did Winch drop his time under 40, he also broke Atascadero’s school record in the 300 hurdles which was set at 39.6 this season and has one more race to go. Looking at all the times in the state, Winch has the best chance to crack the podium of any athlete in the North County.
The Bearcats pair of throwers, Buchanan and Payne will also be heading to the state meet as both qualified by hitting the qualification mark rather than finishing in the top three. Last season, Buchanan made it to the Masters meet in the Southern Section but missed out on the state meet by just over an inch and it is all she has thought about this year.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Buchanan said beaming. “I have never even felt that way even for basketball where it is just like, ‘finally.’ Last year when I missed it by that much I never stopped hearing it from my family and they keep reminding me that I missed by an inch.”
Buchanan only nailed two of her throws on the afternoon and wasn’t throwing her best but launched one good one placing her in fourth with a mark of 41-07.75 and just in front of Atascadero’s Deandra Tyler who finished fifth with a mark of 40-08.25. The rainy conditions played a major factor in the throws at the Masters meet as only three kids posted PR’s on the day, however, Payne was one of the few not effected. The senior thrower and Mountain League champion finished in sixth place with a mark of 55-03.25.
Joining the five other athletes from the North County will be pole vaulter Clay Wilshusen who finished in second place despite the conditions on Saturday with a mark of 14-03. Wilshusen entered this season determined to improve after tearing his ACL a year ago and losing a season of pole vaulting. The pole vault might have been the event to be affected most by the rain and wind as footing and grip are paramount when vaulting oneself over a high bar.
“It wasn’t too bad but there were a few kids that slipped on the runway but it was OK,” Wilshusen said. “It affects your mental state because it kind of messes you up with how you are going to perform but it will also mess up your footing because you will slip and you can slip off your pole, it happened to me at the first track meet.”
The Bearcat junior made it through his vaults without slipping and propelled himself into the state meet just like his sister, who is now vaulting at Cal Poly, did a few years ago.
“It has been awesome because I have looked up to my sister,” Wilshusen said. “She pole vaulted before me and she now goes to Cal Poly. She went to state and did all of that two years ago so I look up to her; she is my idol.”
All six North County athletes will be in Clovis at Buchanan High School for the state prelims on Friday and hould they advance to the final heats, they will race on Saturday. Check in with the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press over the weekend to see the results.