More than 3,900 athletes from more than 700 schools will compete. That’s 15 percent more schools than in past…Bonita’s Nikki Wheatley, pictured below, will compete in Saturday night’s girls invitational long and triple jump.
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
At some point in the future, winning a state high school track and field championship might not be enough. Winning a national title might be the expected goal.
The Arcadia Invitational is appearing to be a precursor to that ideal. The 46th annual meet features perhaps its deepest field with top athletes from 31 states and two foreign countries competing in the three-day meet, which began Thursday with the first day of decathlon and heptathlon events.
“The performances get better and better each year,” meet director Rich Gonzalez said. “We’re getting more and more kids traveling to high-end meets, and we’re one of the best.”
Nearly every California state leader will be competing, and several national leaders are scheduled to run in Saturday’s invitational portion of the meet.
More than 3,900 athletes from more than 700 schools will compete. That’s 15 percent more schools than in past years.
“It keeps getting bigger,” Gonzalez said.
Which creates problems for promoters and coaches. Consistently better marks have made qualifying standards tougher all the way across the board.
Today’s program, which is scheduled to start at 4:30p.m., is devoted strictly to relay events and field events. On Saturday, the open competition begins at 9:30 a.m. Running events of the invitational portion of the meet are scheduled to start at 5:45 p.m.
“There are so many good people not making the meet,” Gonzalez said. “We do not
want to deny pretty good kids. We’re feeling guilty. We’re looking to add races.”
Gonzalez said standards have become so good he has been turning away athletes with very good marks for the Saturday’s open session.
“It’s become pretty tough,” South Pasadena coach P.J. Hernandez said of getting athletes in. “We have kids that maybe 10 years ago they’d be in, but this year they’re pretty limited.”
The day after pairings are announced, Gonzalez said he gets flooded with phone calls and emails from coaches who say their athletes’ marks were overlooked.
“I thought we had relay teams that would be shoo-ins,” Hernandez said. “They’re in the day portion. That speaks volumes for the field in the night portion.
“We’re coming to watch a more national event now. All of the top athletes from each state are coming here to Arcadia.”
That includes every state west of Colorado with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.
Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina are just a few of the track and field hotbeds sending athletes. Two schools from New Zealand and nine schools from three Canadian provinces will have athletes.
They will be competing in a stadium that has installed additional bleachers and will have Olympian Allyson Felix, who has competed in the meet, watching.
Gonzalez said Southern California’s weather, a sponsorship from Nike and the meet’s ability to change parts of the meet – making sure sprinters run with the wind instead of against it – have helped make the meet a national draw. Twenty-five national records have been set at Arcadia and more than 150 athletes have gone on to earn berths on Olympic squads.
The only way to accommodate more athletes is to expand the schedule. The meet added the heptathlon and decathlon six years ago, but adding more races on Thursday is not necessarily an option.
“We’re going to poll coaches to see if they are willing to start earlier on Saturday,” Gonzalez said.
The 9:30 a.m. starting time gives San Diego and Central California area teams a chance to arrive the day of the meet and avoid overnight costs. By starting earlier, Gonzalez said he hopes he can squeeze in more events and athletes.
Saturday’s 3,200-meter field is again so strong that Gonzalez has added a third race. There are two races in each event in the night portion, the invitational for the fastest group and a seeded race for the next-fastest group. There will be two seeded 3,200s.
South Pasadena’s Hernandez sends two state leaders to the invitational portion. Laura Anuakpado ran a 55.98 in the 400 at the Pasadena Games.
Reigning state high jump champion Claire Kieffer-Wright is the co-leader in her event after clearing 5-103/4 at last week’s Stanford Invitational.
Nearly every Valley- and Whittier-area school will have someone in the meet. There will be 12 individuals and three teams competing in Saturday night’s invitational. They are Arcadia’s Shin Sung Cho in the long jump and freshman Phil Rocha in the seeded 3,200; Bishop Amat’s Darren Andrews and Phillip Johnson in the seeded 100 and Andrews in the seeded 200; Bonita’s Mackenzie Landa in the invitational 3,200 and Nikki Wheatley in the long and triple jumps; California’s Sam Bautista in the seeded 3,200 and the Condors’ boys team in the invitational distance medley; Monrovia’s Amanda Monsoorbekht in the invitational 800 and the girls in the invitational 400 relay; Santa Fe’s Kevin Ramirez in the seeded 3,200; and South Hills’ Josh Webster in the triple jump.