All-Area Track: Pons, Browne named Star-News Athletes of the Year; South Pasadena’s P.J. Hernandez, Monrovia’s Knowles, Hare earn Coach of the Year.

Athlete of the Year:
Sam Pons, South Pasadena, Senior
Coach of the Year: P.J. Hernandez, South Pasadena
Ammar Moussa, Arcadia, Senior
James Knowles, St. Francis, Junior
James Martin, Alhambra, Senior
Daityvon McFadden, Muir, Senior
Mayan Schexnayder, South Pasadena, Senior
Darren Bragg, Alhambra, Senior
Michael Harris, Monrovia, Junior
Ellis McCarthy, Monrovia, Junior
Sean Nang, South Pasadena, Senior
Philippe Ueng, Temple City

Athlete of the Year: Omhunique Browne, San Marino, Junior
Coaches of the Year: Randy Hare and Mike Knowles, Monrovia

Itohan Aikhionbare, La Salle, Senior
Zibby Boyer, Pasadena Poly, Senior
Skylar Buchanan, Monrovia, Junior
Ebony Crear, Maranatha, Freshman
Claire Kieffer-Wright, South Pasadena, Freshman

Jade Richard-Craven, Pasadena Poly, Senior
Kamia Rodil-Willis, South Pasadena, Freshman
Kia Smith, Monrovia, Junior
Miranda Stiver, Arcadia, Freshman
Stephanie Vargas, Flintridge Sacred Heart, Junior


By Keith Lair
, Staff Writer

One athlete had all the pressure. The other? None.

South Pasadena High School’s Sam Pons was the reigning CIF-Southern Section Division 3 and CIF State 3,200-meter champion. San Marino’s Omhunique Browne had never truly run against the best high school hurdlers until this season.

Each found a high level of success this track and field season. For their efforts, each also earned Star-News Athlete of the Year honors.

Pons, a senior headed for Princeton, won three consecutive CIF-SS titles in the 1,600 and 3,200. He was attempting this year to become only the fourth person to win back-to-back CIF State championships, but though he led the 3,200 race with 100 meters to go, he was outkicked by Loyola’s Elias Geydon. He ran a school-record time of 8 minutes, 50.67 seconds, to finish second.

“It was a good final season,” Pons said. “It is something I’m proud to end on. The final race was certainly something to be proud of, but it was not my best race.”

Another state title would have put a nice feather in the cap of an impressive career, but the 1,600 and 3,200 back-to-back-to-back CIF-SS titles make his career particularly outstanding. Pons became only the second male athlete in the history of the CIF-SS to accomplish three consecutive double wins in the distance events.

He’s only the third male athlete to win at least three consecutive 3,200 titles, and he became the fourth male athlete to win three consecutive 1,600 titles, followed five minutes later by Geydon, who became the fifth runner to accomplish the feat.

“I think it means he’s one of the better runners that we’ve seen in high school,” South Pasadena distance coach Patrick McGrail said. “As much fun as it has been and to have him at that level, we never pushed him all the way. From the beginning, we knew he could do amazing things.”

He won the CIF-SS 1,600 title in 4:10.37 and the 3,200 title in 9:02.42.

Pons set the 800 school record in winning the Rio Hondo League title in 1:54.98. His 1,600 time in the CIF-SS finals was a personal best and just seconds off the school record. He also set a school record in the 5,000.

“Winning three titles was one of my goals,” Pons said. “It seems like it would be harder to do it in your sophomore year, but this race has been as hard every year. They’ve made me earn it every single time.”

Browne, a junior, never had to worry about all that recognition early in the season. She became the first San Marino athlete to compete in the CIF State meet, finishing fifth in the 300 hurdles in 43.08.

“There was no extra pressure,” she said. “I know what I have to do for next year. I know what is expected of me. The season went great and it was my best season ever. Words can’t describe state, because it was the first time I went there.”

What’s amazing is that she didn’t run in either hurdles event in the Rio Hondo finals last year. She competed only in the 200, winning the league title and finishing eighth in the CIF-SS finals.

Boy, did that change this season. She won the league and the CIF-SS 300 hurdles titles, running a 43.56 in the finals for the Titans’ first female CIF-SS title in six years, and making her only the fourth San Marino female to accomplish the feat. She ran a career-best 43.06 in the Masters. She was second to Bishop Amat’s Kylie Price in the CIF-SS finals in the 100 and 200, going 11.95 in the 100 and 24.49 in the 200. She was fourth in the 100 hurdles in 15.34 after running a career-best 14.94 in the Rio Hondo League finals.

South Pasadena’s P.J. Hernandez and Monrovia’s Mike Knowles and Randy Hare have been selected Coaches of the Year.

Hernandez led the Tigers boys to another Rio Hondo League dual- meet title.

“It’s hard to put into words for them to be undefeated for so many years,” Hernandez said. “The Rio Hondo League has gotten some of the better athletes all of a sudden. It’s great to be a part of this.”

Monrovia co-coaches Knowles and Hare led the Wildcats girls to a Rio Hondo title.

“This year we had a little bit of getting our feet wet,” Knowles said of getting several athletes into the CIF-SS finals. “We’re going to try to contend next year for a CIF title. We may be a better big-meet team than a dual-meet team, because the scoring is different.

“We have a lot of young kids and 10th-graders who improved this year.”

Other athletes on the boys All-Area first team are Arcadia’s Ammar Moussa, Muir’s Daityvon McFadden, St. Francis’ James Knowles, Alhambra’s James Martin and South Pasadena’s Mayan Schexnayder.

Other athletes on the girls team are Pasadena Poly’s Zibby Boyer, La Salle’s Itohan Aikhionbare, Maranatha’s Ebony Crear, South Pasadena’s Claire Kieffer-Wright and Monrovia’s Skylar Buchanan.

The Colorado-bound Moussa completed another stellar season by finishing seventh in the state 3,200 finals. He had the state’s fastest time in the event, winning the Arcadia Invitational in 8:49.59. He won back-to-back CIF-SS titles in the event, running an 8:54.45 this year. He ran an 8:56.97 at state.

Moussa, who won back-to-back CIF State Division I cross country titles and All-Area Runner of the Year both times, also had the area’s fastest time in the 800, running a 1:53.21 at the San Gabriel Valley Championships, and the area’s fastest 1,600 time, running a 4:07.65, converted from his mile time at the Azusa Pacific Meet of Champions.

Like Browne, McFadden was a surprise CIF State finalist in the 300 hurdles, also finishing fifth. The Muir senior didn’t compete last year, sitting out because he’d transferred. He didn’t start running the 300 hurdles until midway through the season.

He won the Pacific League title in 38.41, earned the top qualifying spot for the finals, then eclipsed the 38- second barrier, going a career-best 37.74 to win the title. It was the Mustangs’ first boys title in seven years.

He was fourth in the Masters, qualified third for State and ran a 38.50 in wet Clovis conditions, which he said he wasn’t fond of. He also was on the Mustangs’ league- winning 400 relay team.

Knowles, a junior, was third in the Division 3 110 high hurdle finals in 14.62 and fourth in the 300 hurdles in 38.38. He earned a spot in the Masters and ran a 38.71. He won Mission League titles in both events.

Also scoring league sweeps in the events, but in the Almont League, was Alhambra senior Martin. He finished fourth in the Division 1 110 hurdle finals in 14.76 and was second in the 300 hurdles in 38.67. His time of 38.57 in the prelims earned him the top qualifying spot.

Schexnayder, a senior, topped a decades-old school record in the triple jump. He eventually hit 47-1 in the league prelims, a league meet record. He finished fourth in the Division 3 finals in 45-5 and eighth in the Masters at 45-5 3/4.

Aikhionbare, a senior, was the only other female athlete from the West San Gabriel Valley to advance to the CIF State meet. She was second in league in the shot put with a 38-1 throw, then found her technique, earned the top qualifying spot in the prelims and won the Division 4 title with a 41-1 1/2 throw.

She had a personal-best throw of 41-4 in the Masters and finished 20th in State with a 37-3 3/4 throw. She won a league title in the discus, was third in the CIF-SS finals at 127-2 and ninth in the Masters with a season-best throw of 128-6.

Boyer, who’ll compete at UCLA next year, capped another stellar season by winning her third consecutive CIF-SS high-jump title. She became the eighth girl to win three or more consecutive CIF-SS titles. She upped her own school record by 2 inches, going 5-8 at the Pasadena Games, then won the prestigious Arcadia Invitational with the same height. She again equaled it at the CIF-SS finals, the best jump of the day. She stumbled at the Masters Meet, failing to advance to the CIF State meet. She tied for the best mark in the state this year.

Crear was one of the rare freshmen to win a CIF-SS title, taking the CIF-SS Division 4 100 hurdles crown in 14.71. That earned her a spot in the Masters Meet, where she placed seventh in 14.81. She was the first Maranatha female to win a CIF-SS title in five years.

She won league titles in the 100 in 12.63 and the 300 hurdles in 46.89 and was among the leaders in the CIF-SS 300 hurdles race when she fell. She qualified for the finals with a 44.77 run.

Kieffer-Wright, also a freshman, kept improving as the season progressed. She won the Rio Hondo title in the high jump at 4-10, went 5-2 in the CIF-SS prelims, then had a career-best leap of 5-4 in the Division 3 finals to finish fourth and advance to the Masters, where she went 5-3. She finished second in the league 400 finals in 60.71. She was also on the school’s league-winning 1,600 relay team, which finished fifth in CIF-SS.

Buchanan, a junior, was second to Browne in the Rio Hondo finals in the 100 and 200. She took fifth in the CIF-SS Division 3 100 finals in 12.42 and was seventh in the 200 in 25.60. She had faster times in the CIF-SS prelims, running a 12.28 in the 100 and a 25.45 in the 200.

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