It's not that California boys have slipped that much compared to other track athletes from across the nation, it's more that California girls have just continued to get better and better.
Allyson Felix from L.A. Baptist of North Hills is going for her third straight title in the 100-meter dash and her second in a row in the 200. She won a showdown last week at the Southern Section Masters Meet in the 100 against Long Beach Poly's Shalonda Solomon (11.12 wind-aided to 11.25) and recently set the World Junior record in the 200 at 22.11. Felix may get the 100-meter national record this weekend if wind conditions cooperate. That mark currently is 11.11 by Angela Williams of Chino.
Solomon and her Poly teammates in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays also could break national records. In the shorter event, the Jackrabbits were clocked at 44.50 at the Masters Meet, which would have surpassed the national record of 44.70 set in the 1994 state meet by Playa del Rey St. Bernard. That time, though, was later disallowed for what was termed a malfunction in the automatic timing. Poly already has set the national record in the 4x400 with its time of 3:35.55 at the Penn Relays in April. This weekend, however, the Jackrabbits' good ‘ol rivals from Long Beach Wilson are capable of breaking it themselves or at least pushing a new best from Poly.
In field events, the girls trio of Sharon Day (Costa Mesa), Kira Costa (Fresno San Joaquin Memorial) and Billie-Jo Grant (Arroyo Grande) all could win with national record marks.
Day is the defending champ in the high jump and has a season best clearance of 6-2. She's eyeing the state mark of 6-2 3/4 set in 1985 by Latrese Johnson of Clovis and the all-time national best of 6-4 set in 1985 by Amy Acuff from Calallen of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Costa set the national indoor record at 13-4 1/2 in the winter and has a nation-leading season best of 13-3. She should face her toughest competition of the year this week, though, so the national outdoor mark of 13-8 set in 2001 by Morro Bay's Shayla Balentine could be in trouble. Atascadero's Monica Pacas emerged as a title threat to Costa just last week with a 13-0 clearance.
Grant will contend for state crowns in the shot put and discus, but it's her best heave of 183-6 in the discus that approaches national record status. The mark she is shooting for is 188-4 set in 1994 by Suzy Powell from Downey of Modesto.
On the team title front, recent injury woes to Long Beach Poly on the boys side have thrown it open to several contenders. The Jackrabbits were looking good after the Penn Relays in April, but in recent weeks an ankle injury has slowed down super junior Derrick Jones. He is still the state leader in the 100 at 10.44, but did not qualify in either the 100 or the 200 from the Masters Meet.
The consensus choice for the boys team title is now Dominguez of Compton. The Dons won the 4x400 relay at the Masters Meet in 3:14.69, should get points in the 4x100 relay and have two athletes -- Lionel Larry and Craig Woods -- ready to pile up points in two events each. Larry won both the 100 and 200 at the Masters Meet while Woods has been among the state leaders in both the 110 high and 300 hurdles. At the state meet, of course, there isn't much difference sometimes between a first-place and a sixth-place finish, although that equates to a huge difference in points for a team.
Dominguez has never won a CIF state team title in boys track, but the school is no stranger to athletic success. The Dons won five CIF Div. II state titles in boys basketball in one six-year stretch (1996-2001) and were No. 1 in the nation in boys basketball once, too. Who knows, maybe Tyson Chandler (Chicago Bulls) and Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) will show up to root on their alma mater.
Helix of La Mesa was another boys team title contender that took a hit last week, but for the Highlanders it was a dropped baton in the 4x100 relay at the San Diego Section finals. At least the health of its athletes shouldn't be a problem. In the 100 and 200, Reggie Bush has plenty of state meet experience under his belt and is capable of unleashing a monster time in either race. Derrell Hutsona is in the 100 and is the current state leader in the long jump. Deun White may score well for Helix in the 200 and will be part of a formidable 4x400 relay squad. In short, if things break right, Helix could still win a team title even with the dropped baton from last week.
Bakersfield won last year's team title and could do so again if Thomas Mack once again repeats his feat of doubling in the 110 high and 300 hurdle events. The Drillers should get some relay points as well, but would probably need some bad luck to hit Dominguez for them to score enough overall points.
Coach Don Norford's Poly girls don't have a dropped baton or that many injury woes to worry about heading into their quest for the team title. With Solomon in the 100, both Solomon and Jasmine Lee in the 200, Lee in the 400 as well as both favored relay teams and even more potential points from other competitors, the Jackrabbits are projected to win their eighth girls crown and second in three years. If you're counting, the Poly boys have seven state team titles (with the first way back in 1913) and the school's all-time total of state team titles in all sports currently stands at 19. Berkeley, with 16 overall state crowns, and Bakersfield, with 13, are the only other schools within even shouting distance of the Jackrabbits.
J.W. North of Riverside, which was last year's girls state team champs, returns with an equally potent squad, and Long Beach Wilson could easily wrest the crown away from the other two as well.
To pull off another team title, North needs points in both relays as well as high finishes in the hurdle races from both Ashlee Brown, Domenique Manning and Lily Calhoun plus big points in the long jump and triple jump from Gayle Hunter and Lena Bettis. Brown is the defending champion in the 300 hurdles and Bettis is the defending champ in the long jump so these girls have shown they know how to come through in the clutch.
Wilson has MacKenzie Hill looking for a double in both hurdles races, looks for Ashley Freeman to win the 800 and probably needs to upset Poly in at least one of the relays. The Bruins will certainly be motivated to do well in the memory of assistant coach Jim Arquilla, who died two weeks ago from skin cancer complications.
Other defending champions returning to the meet on the boys side are Michael Haddan from Woodbridge of Irvine in the 800, Kyle Acorn from Buchanan of Clovis in the 3200 and Cole Herron of Sanger in the high jump. Two other girls defending champions not previously mentioned are Michelle Sanford from Woodbridge of Irvine in the triple jump and Talia Stewart from James Logan of Union City in the 100 hurdles.