By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
South Pasadena High School’s Claire Kieffer-Wright jumped 5 feet, 10 inches in a Rio Hondo League dual meet in March. Temple City’s Philippe Ueng cleared 15-8 in the pole vault at the Rosemead Invitational, also in March.
Neither has hit that mark since. But the pair are hoping their fortunes change starting today. The jumpers are among 13 San Gabriel Valley and Whittier area athletes who have qualified for the CIF State meet at Buchanan High School in Clovis. It is one of the largest contingents of area athletes competing in the two-day meet in a decade.
Ueng showed what he is capable of doing in a practice session on Wednesday at Mt. SAC. He cleared 16 feet for the first time.
“He’s hot right now,” Temple City jumping coach Chris Branson said. “He’s been breaking new ground, and getting 16 feet with a stiffer pole and a 16-foot pole. That is a good sign.”
Ueng and Kieffer-Wright, if they piece together masterful performances, have legitimate shots at winning state titles.
“It has not been a rut thing,” South Pasadena jumps coach C.B. Richards said of Kieffer-Wright’s season of late. “She’s been doing a lot of different things. Now she is focusing on the high jump. We know what she has in her. She just has to put all the pieces together and have a good day.”
A handful of other area athletes have a shot at a state title.
Damien’s Jarrett Gonzales enters the meet with the state’s fastest time in the 300-meter hurdles. Cantwell Sacred Heart’s Adam Aguirre is making his second consecutive appearance in the meet.
“I know what I have to do already,” Aguirre said. “I’m just going to prepare the same.”
Arcadia’s Alex McElwee, La Serna’s German Fabela and San Marino’s Kyle Ezold are all among the state leaders in the 400, and Rowland’s Nick Rivera and La Salle’s Daniel De La Torre are among the state leaders in the 1,600.
“I’ve been waiting for so long,” Rivera said of making it to state. “I finally get my chance that I always dreamed of. At one point I thought I would never actually go out and do it.”
De La Torre will be the lone area athlete attempting a double. He will also run in Saturday’s 3,200, and will be joined by Arcadia’s Sergio Gonzalez, who qualified in both events, but opted to concentrate on just the 3,200. He won the CIF State Division I cross country championship just a few miles west of Saturday’s meet six months ago.
Maranatha’s Ebony Crear has lowered her own school-record 100 hurdles time in the last three races, running a time of 14.09 seconds in the CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet. Nikki Wheatley of Bonita qualified in the triple jump. Both are among the state leaders. Diamond Ranch’s Andrew Fischer has one of the top times in the 300 hurdles.
Kieffer-Wright has focused only on high jumping for the last month, and returns to the city were she went 5-8 in the indoor state championships in January.
“I do better when the pressure is on,” the sophomore said.
She will likely have to clear 5-5, which she did at the CIF-SS Masters Meet, in today’s qualifying session.
Ueng is finally over the ankle injury that created devastating results last year.
“He’s jumping well again,” Branson said. “He could go 16-6 and win it.”
Qualifying for all but the 3,200 is today, starting at 3p.m. In the running events, the heat winners and the fastest other competitors will round out the nine-athlete final. In field events, 12 athletes could advance if there are ties.
Saturday’s meet is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m.