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Central boys, several area athletes win state track & field championships


By Gabe Camarillo

For the first time since 2019, the best track & field athletes in the state of California convened at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis to answer a simple question: who ran the fastest, threw the farthest, and leaped (or vaulted) the highest (or farthest)? 40 event finals were held at the 102nd annual CIF State Track & Field championships on Saturday, May 28, and several Central Section athletes came away with the vaunted title of “state champion.”

The story of the night was the Fresno Central boys’ track & field team, which captured the first state team championship in school history, and their unflappable senior who left it all on the track Saturday.

Jeremiah Walker, the hero of the meet

Walker could barely walk when Central track coach Cedric Pulliam made a beeline through a sea of cheering Grizzlies supporters toward him. In his hands, Pulliam grasped the state team championship trophy, but he wanted to make sure Walker held it too. Walker earned that moment, especially after the painful day he endured and the guts he displayed for the entire state to see.

Walker, a senior headed to San Jose State for track, began his day running the first leg of Central’s 4×100 meter relay. The baton switches weren’t as crisp as the Central boys wished, something they mentioned held them back from setting the meet record, but the Grizzlies nonetheless captured gold with a time of 41.36 seconds.

However, while his relay teammates Cameron Tarver, Elijah Lindsey, and Imari Conley organized themselves for post-race interviews, Walker was missing. He appeared soon after with a severe limp toward his right leg, a limp so painful that Walker eventually required crutches to catch up to his teammates and conduct the interview.

Walker suffered a right hamstring injury during the 4×100 meter relay. He said he suffered a tear in the same hamstring last year, and he wanted to get an MRI to determine whether he re-tore it or what the issue was. But in the moment, he chalked the injury up to a “cramp” and kept on running. His limp persisted throughout the evening, but so did his determination to help his team win state.

“When I got injured, I broke down in tears thinking it was going to be my last run for high school,” Walker said. “My family is a family of God. Where we come from, we believe in God and what he can do to strengthen us, strengthen my family… When my family, for them to come out there and pray, I knew it wasn’t over. This season was not over. I was going to come back stronger and be ready, because I had a lot left in the tank.”

Walker won gold in the 400-meter final by a hair — his 47.49 was just .02 seconds better than the runner-up. He also scored in the 200-meter final, finishing sixth and picking up an important three points.

But his best heroics came in the evening’s last event. Trailing Upland in the boys’ team standings by seven points, Central needed to finish either first or second place in the 4×400 meter relay. Tarver, Conley, and Jerome Brown ran the first three legs, and Walker grabbed the baton for the fourth and final leg. He started out a distant third behind leader Cathedral and Long Beach Wilson. The hopes of a state championship for Central rested on his legs — or leg, at this point.

At around the 300-meter mark, Walker began gaining ground. At the 200-meter mark, the gap was noticeably shortened, and track announcer Tim O’Rourke bellowed, “Here comes Walker!” With 1oo meters left, Walker was on the heels of the Long Beach Wilson anchor leg, and with 70 meters to go, Walker pumped his arms and motored past Long Beach Wilson for second place and a state team championship.

“I actually was trying to push to get first, but the hamstring low key held me back,” Walker said. “It was like, ‘You’re pushing me too hard’… It hurt, but like I said, I have to put my team first. My team always comes first. I love these guys to death. These guys motivate me and push me to do better. We get to practice, we laugh, we joke and build chemistry. With this team, I’ll do anything, even if it’s jeopardizing my body for them.”

Cameron Tarver picks up big points

Central won the boys’ team title, 41 to 40. They needed every single point they got, and Tarver picked up the second-most points behind Walker with 14.5. Tarver recorded two and two and a half points, respectively, for his role on the 4×400 and 4×100 meter relay team. He finished third in the 200 meter final with a time of 21.28, good for six points. Tarver also placed fifth in the 100-meter final, running 10.55 to earn four points.

“Tarver stepped up big time,” Pulliam said. “He doesn’t normally run on our 4×400, but when we need him in the big moments, we know he’s going to be phenomenal for us on that relay because he has a lot of foot speed. He’s one of our top leaders who knows when he’s called upon, he’s ready to handle business.”

Tarver will join Walker at San Jose State in the fall.

More individual state champions from Central Section

Caruthers junior Nailea Fields won the state championship in the girls’ discus throw with a distance of 157 feet, 1 inch (47.87 meters). She became the first-ever athlete from Caruthers to win a state track & field championship.

Clovis junior Sydnie Vanek is a star on the volleyball court — she’s headed to the University of Arizona on scholarship — but she showcased her state-class prowess at long jump Saturday. She won the state championship with a jump of 20 feet, 8 1/2 inches (6.31 meters). She set a personal best three times throughout the weekend, including twice in the last two rounds of the final.

Vanek said, “I knew hopefully, jumping against these girls, I was going to PR. But I didn’t think I was going to PR that much, but I’m glad I did.” Vanek said she’s looking forward to playing volleyball at Arizona but added, “Maybe I might do track there as well.”

Clovis junior Christopher Caudillo entered the state meet as the No. 1 seeded runner in the 1600-meter race, but he took it easy in the preliminaries and ran the slowest time of all finalists. It was purely strategy, as Caudillo wanted to save his energy for the final. The plan paid off; Caudillo won the 1600-meter final with a time of 4:10.72.

Caudillo said, “Honestly, I wasn’t nervous. I was excited. This was my chance to show everybody I’m one of the faces of California. I knew I’d be able to beat these guys… I just had to come with the mentality that I’m the best and I’m not going to let anyone take it away from me.” Caudillo ended his night by medaling in third in the 3200-meter final.

Clovis East senior Feyi Olukanni earned gold in the girls’ shot put final, her top throw traveling 44 feet (13.41 meters). Her best distance came in the third round and maintained the top spot for the last three. Olukanni said, “I just wanted to represent my school and show them that even though we can be the underdogs, we still have a lot of fight in us, and we can win.” Olukanni also medaled in the girls’ discus throw with a third place throw of 154 feet, 2 inches (46.99 meters).

Clovis North senior Takiya Cenci won gold twice, once in the 400-meter dash with a time of 54.01 seconds and again in the 4×400 meter relay. Cenci, headed to USC for track, dominated both races. In the 1600-meter relay, she came from behind to pass Long Beach Wilson at the 150-meter mark and lead the Broncos to gold.

Cenci competed at the state championships during her freshman year in 2019, making her double-gold performance in 2022 a full-circle moment. She said, “You don’t really know what to expect in your first state meet. You’re going in there just a baby. and there’s people that have been doing it for three or four years. From then to now, I feel like I’ve taken a lot of pressure off myself and just known that I can’t worry about other people. I can’t worry about my competitors. I’m going to worry about myself and what I can put out there.” Cenci took second in the 200-meter final with a time of 23.78, just 0.1 seconds off first.

Clovis North girls finish state runners-up, Central Valley represented again on big stage

Cenci’s sensational performance clinched the runner-up trophy for the Clovis North girls, a strong finish for head coach Rich Brazil’s team, who led the Clovis North boys to a state title in 2019. With Central Section teams winning the boys’ championship at the last two state meets, the Central Valley has “put people on notice” in the track & field community, Pulliam said.

“Track and field, we hold at a high standard out here in the Central Valley,” Pulliam said. “We work hard. Every school that you see put in the work is victorious. We definitely know that track and field in the Central Section is strong. For a lot of years, we were really not thought of in the state, but in the past 10 years, the Central Section has definitely been on the map.”

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