Even though Clovis Unified didn’t win a single gold medal, there was plenty to praise and cheer at the 100th edition of the prestigious CIF State Track and Field Championships under semi-sultry conditions at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the 10th year held at one of the top facilities in the country.
In all, there were four who earned five medals in individual events: a pair of Clovis North long jumpers in Caleb Foster (4th, 23-7) and Christian Wood (6th, 23-01.75), Clovis North’s Jared Whitt in the triple jump (3rd, 48-07) and Clovis’ Jake Woods in the 110 (5th, 14.22) and 300 (4th, 37.57) high hurdles.
No Clovis Unified girls earned a medal, reserved for the top six, in the two-day event.
The Clovis North boys, with two relay teams and five individual athletes making the finals in their events, placed fifth overall, missing a chance for a Top 3 finish after a disappointing final race – the 4×400 relay – after they were disqualified for “impeding” another team, earning zero points.
“For us to even think we were in the hunt for a Top 5 in the state and a chance for runner-up is just tremendous,” Clovis North coach Rich Brazil said. “It’s a great feeling for the kids. I was really proud of the team all year and their mindset was 100 percent bought in – it was always team before self.”
The Broncos finished with 18 points, 17 behind state champ Murrieta Mesa.
The highest finish was by the Clovis North 4×100 relay team of Wood, Foster, Nathyn Scruggs and Kurt Kobzeff breaking their own school record with a time of 41.14, placing second to Great Oak’s 40.99.
“I think we had a good race overall – we had good handoffs and did the best we could out there,” Kobzeff said. “That’s the first time we’ve been neck and neck with people so it pushed us to go harder.”
Clovis North ran the fastest time in the prelims at 41.16. Kobzeff and Wood are seniors, Scruggs is a junior and Foster a sophomore.
The Clovis East boys squad from 2008 is the only Clovis Unified team to win a CIF state title, finishing in a four-way tie.
Foster, a superstar on the rise
Clovis North’s Foster, just a sophomore, competed in three events – the 4×100 relay, long jump and 110 hurdles – and admittedly was a little burned out after competing in the same three events the day before in preliminaries.
“Overall, I feel I could have done better,” said Foster, who in addition to medaling in the 4×100 and the long jump placed 7th in the 110 hurdles at 14.62 after running a 14.16 in prelims. “I was more exhausted but that’s no excuse because I’ve been training for this all year.”
Foster is the younger brother of Clovis North 2016 grad and current Oregon Duck Rhesa Foster, the 2017 Pac-12 long jump champion.
He says he gained valuable experience in the biggest track and field event in the country.
“I was focused today but I was worrying about other people,” Foster said. “So next time I need to focus more on what I have to do.”
Coach Brazil loves Foster’s potential, one that’s mixed with the drive to succeed and be the best.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Brazil said of Foster. “He’s a tremendous competitor and is fun to watch.”
Clovis senior Jake Woods doubles up in hurdles
The meet’s other double medal winner, besides Caleb Foster, was Clovis senior Jake Woods, who ran strong and placed 5th in the 110 (14.22) and 4th in the 300 (37.57).
“I’m pretty tired. It’s the first meet where I had events back-to-back so it was a big milestone on my part,” Woods added.
Woods exceeded his own expectations before the season in the 300: “I was going for a low 38 and hopefully get into the mid-37s, so this was above my expectations – it was a really good year.”
At the Central Section Masters meet on May 19, Woods (14.42) placed second to Foster (14.12) in the 110 hurdles and registered the fourth best time in Valley history (37.56) in the 300.
“I’m satisfied with tonight, I feel great overall,” Woods said, estimating he drank six and a half bottles of water in between races. “I feel like it was a successful meet.”
Buchanan’s Lowe and Smith fall a bit short
There was hope for the girls with a pair of Buchanan distance runners in junior Meagen Lowe and sophomore Corie Smith. However, Lowe finished in 7th, just out of medal contention, in the 3200 (10:26.32) after finishing a disappointing 9th in her signature event, the 1600 (4:52.10) about two and a half hours before.
The junior set a personal best 4:48.87 in the 1600 prelims the night before, earning the fifth best time.
“I was mad, so I used that to push me,” Lowe said about her performance in the 3200. “I went out to be conservative and then start picking people off. I had a little left in the tank and I just kind of went for it.”
Lowe placed second in the D-I CIF Cross Country Championships held at Woodward Park in November and first in the 1600 at the Central Section Masters meet with a time of 4:55.72.
“I was disappointed in the 1600 because I was really happy yesterday after I set a PR [personal record],” Lowe said as fans came by to congratulate her after the race. “I think that took a lot out of me. I still ran the third fastest time I’ve ever ran but I was hoping to podium.”
Smith, the 2017 D-I CIF cross country champ, finished at 10:29.17 and teammate Sydney Fox finished 17th (10:44.19).
Pole vault favorite Funk breaks pole
The unthinkable happened to Clovis West junior pole vaulter, and top seed, Elizabeth Funk – her pole snapped half way up one of her prelim vaults, sending her crashing down with nowhere soft to land.
It’s certainly a rare occurrence for a pole to break at such a high level meet from one of the top vaulters in California.
She went to her Twitter page to express her feelings, promising to continue to work hard: “This was definitely not the outcome I was expecting at state, I took another jump after I broke the pole but couldn’t hold it together lol. But this is just a mountain in God’s plan that I have to climb over, I can’t wait to get back up, and work harder for next season.”
Funk is the Central Section Masters champion at 13 feet after setting a PR in the North Area Qualifying at 13-1. Laurel Wong of Santa Catalina won the state meet at 12-6.
Clovis’ Vanaman wins mixed 100 wheelchair race
One of the highlights of the meet was Clovis senior Shawn Vanaman winning the Mixed 400 dash wheelchair race with a time of 1:22.14. He also placed 2nd in the 200 mixed at 43.20.
On the boys side, Buchanan thrower Christian Johnson finished 8th in the discus (180-00) and 9th in the shot put (54-05.00), one place ahead of sophomore Tobin Phillips from Clovis North (53-03.50). Clovis North senior Shomari Somerville made the finals in the high jump but failed to clear 6-4 and did not advance.
In the girls shot put Maren Butler of Buchanan placed 7th (43-02.25) and Jordan Williams of Clovis North placed 9th at 41-05.00.
Fun state meet facts
The first state meet was held in 1915 and was cancelled for four years during World War II.
The meet has produced nearly 80 men and women who have won Olympic medals, according to Jerry Soifer, who provided a detailed history of the state meet.
Clovis’ Jenna Prandini certainly the most decorated Clovis Unified track and field athlete, a two-time state winner in the long jump in 2010 (20-05.75) and 2011 (19-11.75), the triple jump in 2010 (42-07.25) and the 100 (11.69) and 200 (23.81) in 2011. She was member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in Rio De Janeiro after leaving the University of Oregon to sign with Puma and turn professional.
Did you know that California didn’t add girls events until 1974? Yep, that’s true.
The average attendance since 2009, the first year held at Veterans Memorial Stadium has been 16,000 for the two days.
Many noteworthy NFL players have participated in the state meet including three-time Super Bowl champ, Pittsburgh Steeler and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann of San Mateo Serra, who won the long jump in 1970 with a leap of 24-03 ¾. Also, 19-year NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg pole vaulted 14 feet 10 inches to take second in 1972 and three-time Super Bowl winners Randy Cross (San Francisco 49ers) and Tedy Bruschi (New England Patriots) were state shot putters.
Famous state meet alum include Tulare’s Bob Mathias, perhaps the most famous track and field athlete from the Central Valley. After winning the 120-yard high hurdles, the 180 lows and placing 4th in the shot put, he went on to win decathlon gold in the 1948 Olympics in London just after graduating at age 17. He would also win gold at the 1952 Games in Helsinki and between 1967 and 1975 served four terms in the United States House of Representatives.
Rafer Johnson of Kingsburg won the 120 high hurdles in the 1954 state meet and was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1958. He won the decathlon in 1960 in Rome, Italy and was runner up in 1956 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Fullerton’s John Raitt, who won the 1935 shot put and the football throw with a still standing record of 220. The event was discontinued after 1937.
Berkley’s Robert Culp cleared 12 feet, 3 inches to tie for second in the pole vault in 1947 and would go on to an acting career, most prominently in the “I Spy” television series.
Los Angeles Jefferson’s Woodrow Strode took second in the shot put in 1933 and went on to play football at UCLA. He served in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific in World War II, was one of the first African-Americans to play in the NFL, wrestled professionally and was cast in many major movies including “Spartacus” when he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.