What was supposed to be an event celebrated by local track superstars Hannah Waller and Mikaela Smith and the city of Clovis, the 100th CIF State Track and Field Championship resulted in triumph, followed by heartbreak at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
First, the triumph: Buchanan’s Waller, the state leader in the 400 and overwhelming favorite, smoked her California competitors and cruised to a time of 53.13, a new section-record and No. 6 currently in the nation. Combining speed and power Waller separated herself quickly, making runners next to her look like they were churning in wet cement, earning state gold.
Then the heartbreak: Clovis North’s Smith, a two-time defending champ in the 800 and the darling of the Central Section track community, the one who trained all season for a third straight gold medal, the one who was so mentally and physically prepared she knew she could not be beaten, fell just 15 feet into the race basked in controversy.
Starting from lane three, Smith got tangled up with another runner and fell to the ground after only five strides and into a state of disbelief. Controversy still looms over the unusual spill.
“I was getting elbowed from multiple people. The next thing I felt was someone’s spike going into my Achilles and then an elbow against my back,” a still-emotional Smith said about an hour after the race. “It was painful.”
She said her entire shoe was filled with blood and that an official said to get it cleaned up before the race could restart.
Hope began to fill Veteran’s Memorial Stadium as Smith started running quick sprints in the infield grass amidst cries from the crowd of “Let her run!” After her heel was attended to and wrapped by a trainer she was told the unthinkable by a state official: she had been officially disqualified for impeding another runner’s progress.
Walking alone across the infield area in front of over 8,000 people, Smith collapsed to her knees.
“I literally thought I was dreaming,” said Smith. “It was surreal, my body just went numb and I toppled over.”
A difficult episode for Smith to be sure, but not a tragedy, at least in the Greek sense of the word.
Mythical characters from ancient Greece always had a fatal character flaw. Smith, on the other hand, had only moments earlier
hugged a fellow competitor who had only moments earlier hugged a fellow competitor who had herself been disqualified for a false start. There’s no character flaw in Mikaela Smith.
Heartbreaking? No doubt about it. Gut-wrenching? Yes. A tragedy in the grand scheme of a young person’s life? Not in the eyes of Mikaela Smith, who will continue to run at USC.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m blessed to have everyone behind my back. I have super-awesome friends, family, fans, coaches and future teammates who came to the meet to watch me, which meant a lot,” said Smith with close friend Destiny Smith standing next to her arm-in-arm. “Right now it’s tough but a picture will show.”
As agonizing as it was to watch Smith’s ordeal unfold, it was just as
thrilling to witness Waller’s domination of her 400 event. Talk about being locked in; Waller felt as if she had an out-of-body experience.
“It felt like it was a different part of me that I haven’t seen before and it finally came out today,” said the Buchanan junior.
After two years of falling short of state gold Waller can proudly say she’s the first Buchanan athlete to win gold. And when she lays her head down on her pillow after her triumphant win what will be her thought: “I’m a state champion.”
Among the many impressed with Waller was Buchanan track and field coach and event coordinator Brian Weaver: “Absolutely wonderful. That’s been her goal all year to be state champion. It was special.”
And smack dab in between heartbreaking and triumphant is Clovis High’s Connor Morello, clearly frustrated after settling for silver for the second year in a row in the 800 finals, this time to Centennial’s Isaac Trevino.
Trevino appears to be Morello’s thorn in his side, beating him in the Section Master’s meet two weeks earlier. Last year Morello lost by one-hundredth of a second in an instant classic.
“Coming so close last year and to end up in second again is frustrating,” said Morello attending the University of Washington next year. “But Trevino is a good athlete.”
Morello tried to make a final push the last 200 but Trevino held him off the outside and won by six-tenths of a second.
“It’s a bit of a bummer because I definitely feel I have more in me,” said Morello, who’s attending Washington University next year. “I wish I cold have shown it today.”
Other Tri-River Athletic Conference members who medaled were Paramveer Chuhan from Buchanan in the 300 low hurdles with a fourth place finish, Hannah Benoit from Buchanan in the 800 with a fourth place finish, the Buchanan 400 relay team of Brenae Wellington, Waller, Yamilet Biggers, Amari Sperling finished fourth and freshman high jumper Alexis Vincent Walker from Clovis finished fifth. Clovis North distance runner Lauren Moffett ran in both the 1600 and 3200 races finishing eighth and eighteenth respectively. The Buchanan girls’ team also finished fifth overall in a fantastic team showing.
The event as a whole came off as a massive success with over 16,000 people attending the two-day event, led by Coach Weaver and his staff. In a California state championship event Weaver expects special things to happen. And the stars came out for the night with three national leading times set and many other records broken.
“The competition speaks for itself,” said Weaver. “The crowd was huge and the atmosphere wonderful. This is one of the most energetic crowds I’ve ever seen.”