Cathedral Catholic repeats as CIF D-II track & field champions; LCC second
Saturday’s Girls’ CIF Track & Field Championships at Mt. Carmel High School, the sport’s biggest event of the year on the section calendar, again had a decided North Coastal flavor. Championships were up for grabs in three different divisions and local athletes captured seven individual events while Cathedral Catholic came away with the CIF Division II title for the third consecutive year.
The Don’s victory was their 10th overall under veteran Head Coach Dan Geiger and they more than doubled the point total (143.5-69) of runner-up La Costa Canyon. The Mavericks run to second place was bolstered by five individual gold medals. In the Division I race, won by Steele Canyon (102.5 pts.), Canyon Crest Academy was sixth, scoring 42.5 pts. with Torrey Pines claiming eighth (40).
An array of younger girls found success, particularly on the track where the 24 individual events across three divisions featured just one senior winner while five freshmen collected gold medals.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the local stories coming out of the championship.
The Cathedral Way
Winning doesn’t get old for Geiger. “Obviously the first one was special, but every year it’s a new group of kids, a different storyline,” he said. “We had some adversity this year and the way that the girls responded and rose to the challenge and even exceeded it was amazing.”
While the majority of the prep track and field world seems more focused on producing individual stars and flashy marks, Geiger and his Cathedral Catholic squad just keep bulldozing the competition with depth and stacking up section crowns in the process. Saturday’s win by the Don girls was classic Cathedral—15 different athletes scored points and the majority were scorers in multiple events. It doesn’t happen by accident.
“I think the team approach has been something we’ve focused on since day one,” said Geiger. “We used to be a doormat and I realized there were certain ways to level the playing field or get more competitive.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to spread our talent around, steering kids towards new events where they could be successful. We’ve got great kids who are willing to buy into that model and it doesn’t take much to get kids excited if they start scoring in an event. We’ve also got an outstanding coaching staff and some very talented athletes to build around.”
The adversity Geiger referenced included the loss of senior Kapiolani Coleman, reigning state champion in the 300m hurdles and 2022 CIF runner-up in the 100m hurdles, and 400m standout Izzy Matteson to season-ending injuries. Cathedral will be sending just three athletes to this week’s State meet, juniors Brenna Williams (discus) and Scarlett Martin (3,200m) and freshman Lindsay Zimmer (1,600m), making its wide margin of victory even more impressive.
Thrower Among Don Stars
Williams came from somewhat off the grid to capture the shot put and place second in the discus. Not a complete unknown (she finished sixth in the latter event as a sophomore), she improved more than three feet in the shot put this season and uncorked a personal best of 37-4 on her first throw Saturday to reach the top of the podium.
“Right after I threw it, I knew it was a good one, the technique and set-up were there,” said Williams. “I’ve definitely been focusing on my technique and explosiveness.
“I’ve just been drilling on technique, technique, technique—you can be as strong as possible but if you don’t have technique, it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Zimmer and fellow freshman Anna Wilson each scored in four events and the horizontal jumpers, known as the “flight squad” dominated the long jump and triple jump. Junior Amaya Bryant was second in the former and senior Mia Bento, junior Aliyah Ratcliffe and freshman Kyla O’Donnell all picked up points in both. In keeping with the “team” concept, Cathedral won the 4x100 relay and grabbed second place in both the 4x400 and 4x800 relay events.
LCC Enjoys Distance Doubles
La Costa Canyon saw two of its distance crew repeat as CIF D-II champions. Junior Gioana Lopizzo was one of just three double event champs D-II, taking the 1,600m (4:47.71) and going back-to-back in the 3,200 (10:25.83). Senior Sophia Beisinger defended her 2022 victory in the 800m (2:13.22), an event where team champion Cathedral placed second, third and fourth.
Lopizzo was masterful in the 3,200, running a calculated race that unfolded pretty much the way she hoped. From the outset, she sat on the shoulder of Eastlake freshman Jaelyn Williams, holding position through the first seven laps. At the start of the bell lap, Williams made an effort to shake loose but Lopizzo quickly rebuffed that notion, grabbed the lead on the back straight and had enough to hold her rival at bay to the line.
“My goal was just to make State, take the opportunities I had in the race and make the best out of it,” said Lopizzo afterward. “It’s never easy and was really nice having somebody to race with me.
“I wish we could have gone a little faster but the heat made it quite challenging. It was pretty nice to make the move successfully on the last lap—I was amazed I could outkick her because I don’t think I have the best kick.”
Beisinger said this year’s meet was less complicated than a year ago. “Last year, I actually had a stress fracture in my hip that kept me out most of the season, so when I came into CIF, it was one of my first races back, definitely more stressful,” she recalled. “It was so nice coming into today feeling fit and ready to go. The time could have been better but it fells pretty nice to be going out on a high note.”
Pole Vault Drama
At its core, the pole vault might be the most unnatural, technical, complicated event in track and field. Imagine what it’s like when you’re the defending champion, ranked No. 1 in the State and standing alone on the runway at the CIF section meet, facing a third jump at your opening height. A miss at the 12-ft., 3-inch attempt would mean no repeat title and, maybe more terrifying, no trip to the State meet. That’s what was staring down LCC junior Iliana Downing Saturday. Then she failed to convert on her third try.
No doubt the finality of the moment set in quickly but minutes later, Downing was thrown a life preserver. In their normal re-check of the pit, officials determined that the standards (which are re-set to each vaulter’s specifications) had not been aligned properly. Downing was awarded a re-jump which she cleared. Disaster averted, the talented returning champion went on to conquer 13-3, well below her personal best of 14-0, but enough to win the event for a second time and keep her State hopes alive.
“I was a really rough day, I felt a little tired and really just wanted to qualify for State,” said Downing later. “It was pretty nerve-wracking, looking like I might not qualify at a height I’ve done at every single meet.
“But luckily, the universe was with me because the standards weren’t set right. The rule says they should be checked after every vault and I’m really glad they did.” Downing drew some positives from the ordeal.
“Honestly, I’d say it showed a little perseverance and resilience because something like that could really tweak someone’s mindset,” she said. “It kind of did with me a little bit but I just wanted to get back on the horse, keep thinking positive thoughts and get going. Not exactly the outcome I envisioned but glad, mentally, I was able to do that.”
Agony and Ecstasy for Torrey Pines
Senior star and raw newcomer both had unanticipated experiences Saturday. Karina Janik, defending San Diego champion in the 300m hurdles entered Saturday as the favorite in her specialty and was blazing along in first place but in an event that requires focus and discipline, she might have actually been going too fast for her own good. Heading into hurdle No. 5, part of the tricky two-hurdle straightaway-curve-straightaway transition, Janik cleared the barrier low and then clipped it with her trail leg, resulting in a full out sprawl on the track. The determined veteran pulled herself together and despite actually clipping the sixth hurdle as well soldiered on to finish sixth, a valiant feat but far short of her hopes.
“Hurdles five and six are always tough,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach Charlenne Falcis-Stevens. “You’ve got the transition, including a change of stride and that’s where fatigue usually starts to set in a little. She was in first place and had positioned herself to hit a p.r. but the girl that won it would have been a challenge for her with the time she posted. It’s ironic, the top two in the state last year (Janik and Cathedral’s Coleman) will not be there this year.”
On the other end of the spectrum, junior Maia Gordon, a transfer from Claremont High School in L.A. County with a soccer background, came out for track at Torrey and gave high jump a try for the first time. Saturday, she equaled her top mark , soaring over 5-1 and winding up fourth in Division I.
“Maia’s a raw talent who’s still kind of figuring out the event,” said Falcis-Stevens. “She’s only competed in dual meets and a few invitationals—for her to be able to handle the stress of a meet like was unexpected.”
News and Notes
Canyon Crest Academy turned in a solid performance, highlighted by the triumph of junior Elisabeth Driscoll in the D-1 discus. Her mark of the 139-2 was the best overall and punched her ticket to the State meet. The Ravens also had multiple scorers in both the 800m and 3,200m and parlayed that into a third place finish in the 4x800m relay. Sophomore Jessica Condliff cleared 12-3 to get bronze medal honors in the pole vault.
LCC junior Delaney Magers was first in the 100m hurdles, putting nearly a second between herself and the nearest challenger while also posting a better time than all but three hurdlers in the D-I field.
And finally, San Dieguito Academy, known for a lot of positive things but not necessarily girls’ sprinting, opened some eyes by setting a school mark of 49.16 while winning its heat in the 4x100 relay, taking sixth overall in Division I, and having a pair of runners—Cassandra Cinzori and Carly Renison—land points in the 200m.
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