California State Indoor: Good Times (And Marks) Are Here Again

California State Indoor Invitational Notebook

(FRESNO, Calif.) -- Even with the glass less than half full, California's wealth of talent can still runneth over.

Despite this year's top returnee in the state in less than 38% of the outdoor events (12 out of the 32) present, the extra-early competition date for Saturday's fifth annual "Run For The Dream" meet did little to hinder the volume of quality performances and the extent of personal breakthroughs at California's unofficial indoor state meet.

Eight meet records, two yearly indoor national leaders, and scores upon scores of lifetime-best performances by athletes converging at Fresno State University's SaveMart Center served early notice that the fast-approaching 2012 outdoor campaign should be another California barnburner on the national scene.

"Oh yea, it's going to be another hot one outdoors," Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High sprinter Khalfani Muhammad said.

Perhaps even hotter than Muhammad -- the state's top returnee in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes -- ever expected.

California's "fastest man" in the high school ranks was outperformed in the qualifying round of the 55-meter dash and then beaten head-on in the event final by a virtual unknown. The culprit each time? Kyree King.

Kyree who?

The Colony High senior, who had never in his life cracked under 11 seconds in a wind-legal race (and sub-10.90 only once -- a wind-aided 10.80), surprised the field with a 6.46 winning performance in the short dash, even stunning himself.

"I was shocked with the time, but more with beating (Muhammad)," said King. "I wanted to come here to compete and maybe do something to put my name out there."

Well, it's out there now.

Lacking the powerful, muscle-packed frame often found on leading sprinters, King courts a more lithe appearance and a soft-spoken -- if not surprisingly reserved by sprinter standards -- demeanor.

In addition, one of his coaches is Jaime Sandoval, who has carved a niche for developing technically sound sprinters and hurdlers over a lengthy coaching career. King's coaches will be challenged to refine his technique from the blocks and elevate his fitness to carry that sheer speed over 60 meters to fashion a total sprint package (speed, fitness, biomechanics, relaxation, flexibility) over 100 and 200 meters.

"I have a lot to work on, especially the blocks," said King. "I've just never been good in them… could never get comfortable in them."

How well King's name becomes known from here onward in events decided by tenths and hundredths of a second will be a byproduct of hard work and discipline.

Muhammad Figures To Shine Brightly Outdoors

While taking nothing away from King, it should be noted that Muhammad figures to be far sharper across 100 meters a few months down the road for two reasons.

First off, the power-packed speedster is notoriously stronger in the latter stages of the longer, outdoor sprint events. While his strengths are no mistake, onlookers undoubtedly may think he's just toying with a field before coming from behind to win.

Second, his training and focus was hardly fixated on this indoor meet. Admittedly racing the qualifier last week after an 11th-hour decision (hopping into a car to join teammate Eric McDaniel for the qualifier meet at Oaks Christian), he decided during a class period just a few days ago to race the final in Fresno "just to work on getting a faster indoor time."

Muhammad is considerably more focused on achieving blistering times during the outdoor campaign, where his goals of breaking the state record for 100 meters (10.25 by Hawthorne's Henry "The Heat" Thomas back in 1985) and qualifying for this summer's U.S. Olympic Trials (10.28 is the provisional qualifying standard while 10.18 is the automatic standard) are lofty carrots dangling foremost on his mind.

While the soft-spoken teen is quick to credit his competition, it's clear his horizons this spring stretch farther and wider than most of his counterparts and harbors a quiet inner confidence.

Fearless Camacho Embraces Upcoming Challenges

Another senior with grand aspirations this spring is Templeton's Savannah Camacho, who quickly bolted into a commanding lead en route to crushing her own meet record by more than four seconds in the 800 meters, purring to a nation-leading 2:12.30 victory.

Although Harvard-Westlake senior Amy Weissenbach swiped all the headlines in the outdoor two-lap challenge last spring with a National Federation record 2:02.04 stunner at the state meet, two-time state medalist Camacho appears both unfazed and inspired.

"What she did last year was pretty amazing," said Oklahoma State verbal commit Camacho about Weissenbach. "I saw her go out fast and she didn't slow down. If she can do it, I figure I can go out (this season) and do it too."

Camacho has been among the most under-raced commodities on the distance-running circuit in recent years and it has served her well, racing sharp and fast at each season's end. That includes a pair of state meet silver medals for the upbeat teen with the vibrant smile.

She's taking a similar scheduling approach in her final high school season, committing to run the Brooks PR indoor meet in Washington next month as a reward while focusing on training in the weeks before and after. Then comes her true season opener at the Arcadia Invitational in the first weekend of April before returning to training -- "I probably won't do any other invitationals besides Arcadia" -- in preparation for the postseason stretch and rematches with Weissenbach and others.

"Based on my (conservative) training so far this winter, I felt I was good for about a 2:15 or under," said Camacho. "A 2:12 right now is a bit of a surprise."

Especially considering the SaveMart Center's tightly banked 145-meter oval. Aside from the 55-meter dash and the 55-meter high hurdles -- contested on the straightaway surface laid down the heart of the infield -- competitors in all other track races were hindered by the small track. Camacho's 2:12-and-change effort indoors here was clearly worth a few ticks faster on a conventional 400-meter outdoor track. Not bad for mid-January. Not bad at all.

Confident Crampton Is Only Indoor/Outdoor Champion

Despite his seemingly quiet confidence and polite demeanor, few athletes probably arrived at the arena with more inner confidence than Anaheim Canyon's Cody Crampton. Such sureness not only stems from being the defending state champion and holding a lifetime-best mark (6 feet, 11 inches) well clear of the rest of the field, but is bolstered by being trained by a two-time Olympic bronze medalist. If that isn't enough, that personal tutelage comes from among the most respected technicians in the event, Dwight Stones.

"It definitely helps my confidence knowing I'm coming into any meet very well prepared by him," shared Crampton. "Physical, mental, technical… he helps me cover all the bases."

When asked what's the greatest asset Stones brings to his development, Crampton quickly replies: "He doesn't make me dependent on him. He's not controlling. He teaches me the keys, but then gives me the freedom and responsibility to make the most of it."

Crampton, whose off-season training regimen began in October with five-days-a-week practices and occasional competitions as well as volleyball as a form of cross-training, said another facet of Stones' style has also reaped major dividends. His frankness.

"He doesn't sugar coat anything and that's something that really helps me. He is very blunt. I thrive upon that type of direction."

Crampton was sensational at the state indoor meet, clearing on his first attempt at all heights until three misses at the meet record 6-10.25. Even at that height, the Orange County teen unleashed a pair of oh-so-close launches. Clearly, he's establishing himself in terms of consistency, confidence and focus. It also helps explains why he's the only California athlete -- male of female -- to be the reigning state champion BOTH indoors and outdoors.

The ultra-polite Crampton, a verbal commit to UCLA who said he might compete at an indoor meet in Flagstaff, Ariz., next month, is very fixated on defending his state title.

"That's the most important meet without doubt -- peaking there and not any earlier."

Walker's Swan Song in 2012?

The only prep male to set a meet record in a non-relay event on Saturday is also the one who might hang up his track spikes for good after this upcoming outdoor season.

Kennedy High of Richmond's Kenneth Walker III overcame a sluggish start to blast over the 39-inch-high barriers and win the 55-meter hurdles in a meet record 7.37 seconds, shaving 0.02 off Devon Blackmon's standard set just last year.

But indoor meet hurdle records aren't the only common link between Blackmon and Walker. Their passion for the gridiron is a common denominator as well. Blackmon starred at Fontana Summit High before matriculating to the University of Oregon, where he was a highly sought after recruit as a wide receiver. Walker has dazzled on the football field as well and has verbally committed to attend UC Berkeley, where he's pegged as a wide receiver/running back prospect for the Golden Bears.

"Football is definitely my main sport and probably the only one I'll do in college," the respectful and self-respecting youngster admits. "I love the sport and know it'll require a lot of my attention at the next level."

Thus far each spring, Walker has successfully taken the high hurdles to task, a three-time outdoor state meet qualifier in the event, including making the podium as the sixth-place finisher each of the last two years. Now he has a state indoor hurdles title to his credit. Although the meet record came, the time was of little consequence.

"I'm not really looking for any certain times, more so than winning," Walker said, who sees De La Salle's Michael Barton as perhaps his chief NorCal nemesis. "As long as I work hard and focus on improving my weaknesses, my goal of winning every race becomes more possible."

The sheer speed and the aggression across the hurdles are strong points, but there's more to work on.

"My starts and my finishes," Walker quipped. "If I can clean those up, it will really help."

Messerly Doesn't Mess Around In Big Win

Not shying away from setting ambitious goals in 2012, Great Oak's Brandon Messerly took the first impressive steps to what could me a highly successful senior campaign.

Competing in the mile run, Messerly led throughout the stretch to win in a lifetime-best 4:24.20. The Southern Section senior out-shined nine opponents who had faster seasonal outdoor times than him last year including Arcadia's Sergio Gonzalez (4:18.57 for the full mile in 2011), who was second here in 4:26.64.

Competing on perhaps the smallest indoor oval (145 meters) in the nation, decades of conversion data history on similar-sized tracks (160 yards or 145 meters) suggest that Messerly's time would easily adjust to several seconds faster and correlate to a performance in the "four-and-teens" on a standard 400m outdoor track.

Messerly first caught our attention as an up-and-coming non-varsity talent in cross-country his sophomore year, but Wolfpack Coach Doug Soles reminded us that during the spring of his tenth-grade season, Messerly then also clocked 4:27.94 for 1600 meters (4:29.50 when adjusted to a full mile) before suffering a broken foot during a playground basketball mishap that ruined his junior year.

This school year in cross-country, Messerly was the team's top runner early on, but multiple setbacks due to several maladies in the final six weeks left a bittersweet memory.

Now he dreams about challenging the national-class performances achieved in 2011 by former Wolfpack teammate Karson Fronk, who is now at Brigham Young University. Fronk clocked a school record 4:10.63 at last year's state meet final, then won the mile at the Nike Track Nationals meet in Eugene, Ore. later that month.

The lesson learned by Messerly during his up-and-down ride in the fall?

"Take better care of myself," quipped Messerly, who visited the University of Kansas on a recruiting trip last weekend. "My diet, my rest, everything. Just try to do better in all areas."

Messerly will have plenty of quality company to help achieve those goals as teammates Michael Hewitt and Brandon Emery also are primed for solid distance seasons.

Smooth Souza: The Savvy Frosh From The Central Section

One of the youngsters making a notable impact during the daylong meet was Kingsburg freshman Joey Souza. Not only did the prep newcomer win the long jump with a stout leap of 22-04.75 -- upending leading state returnee Blake Selig of Rio Mesa in the process -- he also ran a fine 6.72 in the heats of the 55-meter dash.

As impressive as his marks were, the frosh's demeanor was equally attention-grabbing. Rather than appearing tentative, Souza seemed relaxed yet focused during his competitions. There were even his attempts to cajole crowd support by leading them into rhythmic claps to kick off a few attempts on the jumps runway.

Afterward, he shared his seasonal goals with the crowd when interviewed on the infield using the arena's public address system. Most notably revealed was his ambition to soar into 24-foot range by season's end, a comment which drew an eyebrow-raising, wide-smiled reaction from Selig, who was sitting at the clerk-of-the-course area preparing for the 55m dash final.

Souza reaching 24 feet this spring would achieve very significant history: the longest-standing freshman state record in the books is the wind-legal long jump mark of 23-10.50 by Pacific Grove's Johnny Johnson all the way back in 1963. The overall Central Section record, however, is far tougher. Back in 1989, Tulare's James Stallworth stretched an eye-popping 26-04.75, which is also the overall state high school record.

Regardless of how he finishes up this season, for a freshman Souza certainly has plenty of moxie!

Our Meet MVP Vote? Holy Names' Sasha Wallace

If you absolutely had to pick out an MVP of the meet, Holy Names' Sasha Wallace would probably get the nod. The Oakland-based star not only recorded a state-leading and meet record tying 7.94 in the 55-meter high hurdles early in the meet, she then returned in the meet's final field event, stretching 39-11.00 to win over a talented triple jump field.

Only a junior, Wallace fortified her standing as among the top females on the West Coast and she joined Long Beach Poly senior Traci Hicks (19-03.50 in the long jump/7.12 in the 55-meter dash) as the only athletes to win two individual events.

Besides Walace's meet record in the highs, new meet standards were also achieved in the boys 55m hurdles (Kennedy's Kenneth Walker III in 7.37); the girls 800 (Templeton's Savannah Camacho in 2:12.30); the girls high jump (South Pasadena's Claire Kieffer-Wright in 5-08.00); the boys 4x400 (Deer Valley in 3:31.47); the boys 4x800 (Beverly Hills in 8:19.07); the girls 4x145 (Long Beach Poly in 73.48); and the girls 4x800 (Beverly Hills in 10:06.85).

Kyser Set To Go Higher

The road to the state meet title in the boys pole vault might go through Clovis in more ways than one. While the state meet is scheduled for the first weekend of June at Buchanan High in Clovis, two of the top four returnees in the state also hail from Clovis area schools: Clovis West's Kyser Anderson and Clovis High's Scott Greenman.

Although Greenman -- and a few other of the state's top vaulters -- ventured to Reno, Nev., for the highly popular Vault Summit over the weekend, Anderson and Temple City's Philippe Ueng were among the headliners opting for the the state indoor meet. In the end, Anderson secured top honors with a fine 15-06.00 clearance, just a mere inch short of his lifetime best -- to provide a six-inch winning margin over Ueng.

With close friends C.J. Albertson and Cody Brazeal of the Buchanan High track team among those lending fan support from prime elevated position in line with the plant box, Anderson's triumphant day of work included a few good looks at a 16-foot clearance, which would have drawn him to within an inch of the lifetime-best Oak Park's Connor Stark, who boasts the top lifetime mark of any current high school vaulter in the state.

Afterward, Anderson expressed some regret at not clearing a new barrier, but agreed his vaulting is coming along nicely of late and entrance into the 16-foot club could occur anytime soon. Only 10 Central Section vaulters have ever cleared 16 feet, including just four of those occurrences in the last 17 years. Anderson also would rank #2 on the all-time Clovis West HS list with such a mark. Eventual NCAA champion Doug Fraley owns the school record of 17-00.50, set way back in 1983.

Bornstein's Knee A Point of Concern

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching episode during Saturday's meet was the injury sustained to precocious multi-eventer Zack Bornstein from Oaks Christian. Competing in the pole vault, the talented sophomore saw his left knee buckle during the plant phase, resulting in a highly unfortunate and perhaps major injury to his joint. Bornstein apparently had been nursing the knee through injury in recent days as well.

The state frosh record holder in the decathlon, Bornstein was said to be focused on breaking the 7,000-point barrier this spring and hopefully qualifying for the Canadian Junior Nationals meet this summer as well. For now, that all gets put on hold and we can only hope the fine all-arounder, who improved his lifetime bests in the shot put and discus earlier this month, is back in action sooner rather than later.

(Monday update: Contacted online, Bornstein indicated that he'd visited noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bert Mandelbaum since the meet and Mandelbaum was very encouraged by the prospects of a timely return.)

Frosh Phenoms Challenge Top Vets

Two of the nation's top ninth graders were on display front and center, and each came away with impressive silver medal performances.

In the girls shot put competition, Junior Olympics national champion Nia Britt of Mission Hills Alemany heaved the shot to a mark of 42-11.50 to finish just over a foot behind all-state returnee Tanya Sapa of La Sierra (44-00.00). Britt actually led through three rounds of competition in her high school debut, but Sapa unleashed a clutch winning throw on her final-round attempt.

In the 55-meter high hurdles, Vista Murrieta frosh Jasmyne Graham -- another age-group national champ -- put the heat on mega-star Sasha Wallace before losing by a 7.94-to-8.01 margin in the final. Graham posted the top qualifying-round performance in 8.01.

Wallace tied hurling phenom Trinity Wilson's meet record, although Wilson achieved the mark as a freshman at the 2009 meet. The diminutive Graham rebuffed any speculators who questioned how she'd fare at the higher barriers; the youth level competes with 30-inch barriers while the high schoolers tackle the 33-inch height. Graham, who beat Inland Empire foe Jordie Munford in the process, also spanned 18-01.00 in the long jump competition, good enough to secure third place.

Indoor State Meet 2013: Some Food For Thought

In just three short years of the California State Indoor Invitational format, we've witnessed a litany of stellar performances, not to mention plenty of worthwhile memories. Its outdoor brethren meet is already regarded as the premier outdoor state meet in the nation based on the sheer volume of annual high-end marks across most event areas. In order for the California indoor meet to generate similar levels of excellence versus the rest of the nation -- if that is a goal -- two key items would likely need to be addressed.

For starters, create a meet date a bit deeper into the wintertime calendar . It would be beneficial not only in terms of overall fitness, but also in terms of sharpness in the technique-emphasis events.

Meet officials had their hands tied when settling on this year's date as it had to work around the schedule of Fresno State's men's and women's basketball teams, who have priority on the university's arena scheduling. By being forced to go on the only true weekend date remaining (January 21st) and allowing the typical two weekends of state-qualifier meets (January 7 and 14), that meant the two preceding Saturdays were on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when not a single all-comers meet of any sort was contested.

Since very few all-comers were scheduled on the weekend of December 17th or earlier, most kids lacked the opportunity (or ample opportunity) to fine tune for the indoor state meet this year. Next year, the scheduling wrinkle could get partially ironed out as no holidays fall on Saturdays during the winter stretch in question. That said, at least another week later on the calendar (the off week between the NFL conference championships and the Super Bowl, so as to not hurt turnout) or the week after the Super Bowl might be the best fits.

The other item that needs addressing is building better uniformity among all the qualifier meets contested. All qualifiers should (at least) run the exact same events as at the final (not variations), charge the same entry fee (not eye-gouging prices that charge two to FOUR (!) times the going rate, have full meet information (costs, locations, at-large marks, etc.) released early on, etc. The lack of congruency this year led to much griping and several coaches deciding to forego the series altogether.

Meet director Rich Benoy said the all-comers meet directors hold the leverage. That's not true. Benoy can (and should) unilaterally veto any meet as a qualifier if that director doesn't agree to set guidelines. If that director wishes to object, then strip that meet -- which loses a windfall of revenue -- of qualifier status.

The more these qualifiers exhibit uniformity/consistency in all areas, the more apt the coaching masses will gain respect for the event and choose to support the endeavor as it gains prestige. The wider the acceptance becomes, perhaps the CIF state office will actually officially sanction the event.

This year's turnout lacked several big athlete names, but it was still very nice to witness such a surprisingly strong collection of talent that DID turn out this early.

In the end, even with a highly limited indoor schedule here, there's no unconquerable reason as to why the excellence of the stables of athletes in the strongest state in the nation outdoors can't eventually be parlayed into the toughest indoor state meet in the nation too.