Survive and advance. This is what the Southern Section Masters Meet is for, the conglomerate of divisional qualifiers that comes in the week between section finals and state, the main goal from star athletes such as Ventura’s Sadie Engelhardt simply to break the state-necessary mark and not push excessively.
And yet there was Gardena Serra’s Brazil Neal after the girls’ 200-meter dash, her trademark bright-red hair draped over a trash can, every ounce of energy expended and breaking down into tears as she stood by the results board at Moorpark High to hear her final time. The Oregon commit wears pink-rimmed glasses off the track; when she runs, she said, everything’s a blur. She knew she’d won the 200 but didn’t know her final time.
At first, she thought the announcer said she’d hit 23.9. Far off from her seeding time of 23.67, but fine, she thought. Enough to survive and advance.
Then she walked closer to the board, saw it read a personal-best 23.36 — good for the best time in the state — and then came the tears — from joy and pain.
“Everything hurts,” she groaned to friend and running superstar Rodrick Pleasant, the Serra speedster who’d just finished the boys’ 200, as they limped in the general direction of the podium.
Survive and advance doesn’t quite apply for Neal and Pleasant, two seniors who’ve spent four years together defining a new generation of Serra track greatness. There were just two meets left in their high school careers entering Saturday’s Masters meet at Moorpark High, and they pushed until they gasped for air.
“I just want to come here and stamp my name,” Neal said. “And make sure people remember who I am.
“We just both want to make sure that people know who we are, want to make sure that people remember our name. Want to put Serra back on the map for track.”
A week after he sped to a wind-aided time of 10.09 seconds in the Southern Section finals of the boys’ 100-meter, Pleasant crossed the finish line at Moorpark in a wind-legal time of 10.14 seconds — tying the state record he’d set nearly a year ago at Moorpark track. An hour later, he eked out a win in a crowded 200-meter field with a time of 20.71.
“Let’s go, Superman!” a Serra parent yelled from the stands after Pleasant’s 200-meter.
But Superman’s face was dour Saturday, even as he’d tied himself for history. Everyone’s goals in the Serra program, coach Christopher Mack said, was to see Pleasant go under 10 seconds by the time he left high school. Doable, the coach thought, if Pleasant kept his form tight for all 100 meters — he’d gotten “stiff” even in that 10.09 race the previous week, Mack said.
The pressure on Pleasant has grown immense, both within his own program and from fans. He denied interview requests Saturday after the 200-meter race; wasn’t happy with how he’d gotten out of the blocks, Mack said, even as he’d won two medals and tied history.
“The expectations of it all … I think that’s weighed on him at times,” Mack said. “Everyone’s expecting him to put on a show every time he runs. You can’t please everybody.”
In fact, Pleasant pleased almost everybody at Moorpark on Saturday. He just didn’t seem to please himself. There was no survive and advance; there was only history to chase.
He’ll have one more shot next weekend at the state finals in Clovis.
Long Beach athletes win the day, but Wilson falters
In the stands at Moorpark High, Paula Nelson — wife of Long Beach Wilson head coach Neil Nelson — sported a black shirt custom-made by a friend that read, “It’s Always Long Beach.”
It’s always Long Beach, indeed, at larger-scale events, Long Beach Poly top runner Xai Ricks said, area athletes feeling a sense of unity to represent an area that consistently produces some of the best track talent in Southern California.
“Just to put on for Long Beach, that’s great,” Ricks said.
He and a host of others put on quite well Saturday. Ricks set a personal record in the boys’ 400-meter — bettering his third-best time in California — with a mark of 46.50, also bringing home the final lap of the boys’ 4×400 relay to give Poly the win. Wilson won the girls’ 4×100 relay to kick off the day, meanwhile, and senior Aujane Luckey put up the fifth-fastest time in the nation with a 52.71 to take the girls’ 400.
Wilson’s 4×400 boys’ team, however, won’t advance to state despite entering with the fastest time of any program in the Southern Section. They received a disqualification after officials ruled a runner had impeded Irvine Northwood’s lane while making a handoff, leading to one of the strangest situations in recent area running memory: the Northwood 4×400 team coming back to an empty stadium an hour after the meet finished and performed a re-run to try to qualify for state.
They fell 0.13 seconds short.
Engelhardt won the girls’ 1,600-meter in a time of 4:46:02. … Westlake Village Oaks Christian had a great day, with the boys’ team winning the 4×100 relay and junior Niya Clayton winning the girls’ 100-meter dash with a personal-best 11.46. … Eastvale Roosevelt’s Cayden Roberson went from the last seed in the boys’ 300 hurdles to a winner with a time of 37.59.