The Del Norte track and field team took its top 15 athletes down to Santa Rosa on Saturday, entering the team’s top 21 events to compete against the best from the biggest schools north of San Francisco at the North Coast Section Redwood Empire meet.

It was a stark contrast for most of the team’s regular season meets, which are held mostly in Humboldt, Del Norte and Curry counties.

“It was definitely a lot different,” said junior Luke King. “It was a more advanced meet, I guess you could say, because everyone takes it a lot more seriously. It definitely has a different feel to it. It is more focused, you aren’t messing around as much.”

Although the competition may be taken a bit more seriously, there is also a unique feel of camaraderie amongst the competitors.

“It was just a fun time,” said junior Bryce Howard. “All the parents that I saw were supportive of everybody, even though they are from different schools. It was a really fun meet to go to.”

The top seven finishers in each event at the Redwood Empire meet automatically qualified to advance to the NCS Meet of Champions on Friday and Saturday on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Del Norte ended up with three athletes in the top seven in their respective events but only two Warriors — King and Howard — elected to move on to the Meet of Champions.

King ended up with a second place finish in the boys shot put with a throw of 47-03.5.

“It wasn’t great,” King said. “I would have liked to do better. But it qualified me, so I guess it is alright.”

King’s best throw this season went about 15 inches farther than his best throw at the Redwood Empire meet, but the junior was still able to finish near the top of the leaderboard as one of the top seeded throwers in the competition.

“I knew I was probably going to be third, but then the second (qualifier) didn’t show up,” King said. “I didn’t let the fact that I was coming in highly seeded get my mind away from me. I still went in focused and tried to do the best that I could.”

Last year King was right on the edge of qualifying for Berkeley. As a sophomore he qualified for the finals with a top nine performance, but couldn’t quite crack the top seven to move on.

“I came in a lot more relaxed,” King said. “Last year I was super stressed and I think that is kind of why I didn’t do as well as I hoped — just all the pressure I guess. This meet there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me. I was just relaxed and went out and did my best.”

Howard will also be moving on to Berkeley after the junior qualified for the Meet of Champions in the pole vault for the second straight year. Howard’s jump of 12-08 was a new personal record, and it matched the highest cleared bar of the day in the competition. Howard was one of four competitors to clear 12-08 in Santa Rosa and he ended up in third place based on missed attempts.

“It was just a good group of people that I got to vault with this time,” Howard said. “I made a lot of new friends and I’ll get to go see those guys again come Saturday.”

Last season Howard edged his way into the final qualifying spot with a seventh place finish at Redwood Empire.

“It felt different from last year.,” Howard said. “Last year was thinking, ‘OK I need to clear one certain height, or be above this person to make it.’ This year being one of the top people made me more confident in myself in saying, ‘OK, if I can do this, or change this little thing I can be No. 1 or 2 or 3.’”

Del Norte also got a top seven performance from sophomore Caroline Hamm, who finished in sixth place in the girls discus with a throw of 106-05. Hamm elected not to compete in Berkeley this week, bringing an end to her season.

The Redwood Empire meet also marked the end of the season for the other 12 Warriors athletes competing in Santa Rosa, including a pair of seniors who qualified for the Meet of Champions last year.

Ethan Price competed in the high jump in Berkely last year, but came in 13th overall in that event on Saturday with a jump of 5-08 at Redwood Empire. Price narrowly missed the cut to move on in the boys discus, however, where his personal record throw of 123-09 put him in eighth place. Price also competed in the triple jump, where he finished in 12th place with his longest jump of the season — 39-08.5.

Senior Katherine Martinez was also expected to be in the mix to advance in the girls pole vault after finishing fourth in the competition last year. Unfortunately Martinez wasn’t able to clear her opening height in the competition on Saturday and was eliminated.

“It wasn’t anything that was her fault, our fault, or anything,” Escobar said. “It was just the wrong day to have a bad performance. We are heartbroken for her because this is what she looked forward to, and she definitely had the possibility to move on.”

Although Tianna Thompson wasn’t able to qualify for Berkeley in either of her events, the freshman sprinter competed well. Thompson finished with new personal best times in both the 100 meter dash (13.21 seconds) and the 200 meter dash (26.94), finishing in 18th and 10th place respectively.

“Beyond the kids who qualified to move on, probably the most impressive performance was Tianna Thompson,” Escobar said. “I would say that her times are a reflection of the potential that she has. She definitely ran well, and that was the best overall performance that she has had the entire year. It was perfect weather for her and good competition. We were impressed not only with her performance, but also with the potential that she has.”

Escobar said Thompson’s perfomance at the Redwood Empire meet is even more impressive due to the fact that she has been fighting through injuries this spring, which has limited her training.

“She was dealing with some injuries late in the season, so we didn’t condition her that much just to try to avoid further injury,” Escobar said.

Escobar said that the Warriors largely met internal expectations for the various competitors in Santa Rosa.

“For the most part everyone was close to how they were doing throughout the season,” Escobar said. “So they came in where they probably belonged. We are always glad for the effort the kids make throughout the season to get themselves there.”

Other performances for Del Norte at the Redwood Empire meet include Sam Cowan, who finished 19th in the 100 meter dash, and Vova Sherman who finished 24th overall in both the 100 and the 200. Cowan and Sherman teammed up with Howard and Emmanuel Nunez to finished 15th in the 4x100 meter relay, and 20th in the 4x400 meter relay. It was the first time all season that those four had run the 4x400 relay together.

“It was a good time to put them all together,” Escobar said. “They had nothing else to influence not running it or anything like that.”

Junior Claire Taylor finished 11th in the long jump after coming within three inches of her personal record with a jump of 15-03.5 in Santa Rosa.

Freshman Caleh King took 13th place in the shot put, and also threw the discus where she finished 23rd. Timothy Thompson took 13th place in the boys discus, while Scott Peters came in 22nd.

Blaine Winningham also competed in the boys shot put, finished 23rd overall.

At the Meet of Champions, qualifying athletes will be competing for a top three finish to move on to the California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Meet on May 24-25.

For Del Norte, however, both King and Howard said they know they are long shots to move on past this weekend.

“My goal for this meet is to go for another personal record, honestly,” Howard said. “I know I’m going to have to try to clear over 14 feet just to get to state but that is probably not going to happen at this meet — I know that because I just barely almost got 13 feet. So at this meet I’m just going to go for personal records.”

King also said he is hoping to get a new personal record. The junior has been aiming for the 50-foot milestone all season long, but his current PR is still a foot-and-a-half short.

“It would be nice to hit 49 or 50 feet — 50 is kind of pushing it now with one meet left. It would still be nice to get there by the end of the year at this one last meet though.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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