Austin Tamagno, left, of Brea Olinda takes the lead during the qualifying event of the 1600 meter run at the CIF State Track and Field Championship on Friday.

O.C. milers stay ahead of the pack at CIF State meet


CLOVIS – With all the pomp and circumstance of track and field’s postseason, it’s hard sometimes to keep things in perspective.

In a sport that is always emphasizing records, from a personal to a national scale, the county’s top athletes have done a remarkable job of dedicating themselves to the step-by-step process of advancing to the next stage.

The goal of trying to qualify while saving their best effort for the CIF State Track and Field Championships finals was not lost among the county’s top milers in Friday’s action at Buchanan High.

Tesoro’s Amanda Gehrich and Brea Olinda’s Austin Tamagno found themselves looking to conserve energy, but the test of a gifted field in the state preliminaries provided some stressful moments in the final lap of their 1,600-meter races.

Gehrich had taken a significant lead with 200 meters to go. As the junior coasted toward the finish line, she looked over her shoulder to gauge her finish. The pack had caught her, and Clovis North’s Lauren Moffett was on her right hip with 50 meters to go. Gehrich closed strong to get the win, clinching the automatic spot in today’s final.

“It was tense for a minute because everyone was together towards the last part,” Gehrich said. “It was kind of stressful. I was trying to gauge how hard I needed to push.”

Tamagno also had his eyes set on winning the automatic bid for the finals, answering the challenge of his competitors who pushed the pace.

“That’s the fun thing,” he said of being tested in the 1,600. “There aren’t as many superstars out there this year, but there are guys that have (guts), and they’re willing to go out there and challenge me.”

Dana Hills’ Jake Ogden and Huntington Beach’s George Gleason joined Tamagno in qualifying.

There were exceptions to the “survive and advance” approach, and the chief among those was Hope Bender in the 300 hurdles. The Newport Harbor senior broke her county record with a time of 42.18 seconds to place second in her heat.

Bender said that being a first-timer at the state meet has allowed her to focus on improving each time out.

“I think it has a lot to do with just being new,” Bender said of her recent success. “It’s super-exciting just to be here. I think it’s everyone’s track dream, but just for me to finally make it a reality is really exciting.”

On the boys side, Connor Meech delivered the best overall time in the 300 hurdles (37.21). The San Juan Hills senior has been hoping for a rematch with Carson’s Justin Collins, his primary rival in the state, since their last encounter, at the Mt. SAC Relays. Meech will get that chance today.

“We’ve been waiting for this rematch for a while,” Meech said. “I know we can both run better times. I think I can take it. I’m very confident.”

Trabuco Hills’ Cameron Hurd also advanced.

In the 800, San Clemente’s Connor Dunne won his heat with a time of 1:53.37. Los Alamitos’ Thomas Heib also qualified for the finals, and Huntington Beach’s Cassie Durgy advanced on the girls side.

The county’s remarkable depth in the pole vault was also a highlight Friday. Santa Margarita’s Kaitlyn Merritt and Kate Thomas, Canyon’s Rachel Baxter and Mater Dei’s McKenna Caskey qualified for the girls. Marina’s Jett Gordon, the county’s lone boys representative, also advanced.

The county had an equally impressive number of discus qualifiers. The consistent trio of Malik McMorris (Mater Dei), Bronson Osborn (Esperanza) and Nick Coghill (Valenica) moved on. Emma DeSilva (Mission Viejo) also qualified for the girls.

Sean Lee (Trabuco Hills), Quinten Pounds (Cypress) and CJ McCord (Sage Hill) cleared 6 feet, 8 inches to advance in the high jump.

Woodbridge’s Gabe Warner advanced in the 400, and Tesoro’s Michael Mitchell made the long jump finals.

Los Alamitos’ girls sent both of its relay teams to the title round. Woodbridge’s boys 1,600 relay also earned a spot in today’s final.

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