YOUNG & FOCUSED: Gardena Serra Chimere has the fastest time in the 400 meters in the Southern California Section and is one of the favorites heading into the final month of the track-and-field season.
Serra's Ezumah makes immediate impact
Freshman has top times in the state in 400, 800 meters
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports EditorLike most freshman, Chimere Ezumah is soft-spoken. Unlike most, she was calm and composed as she sat for an interview before the Del Rey League preliminaries.She couldn't hide her smile, though. It reminds you that she's still a kid despite the immediate impact Ezumah's made on the state track-and-field scene.The Gardena Serra freshman is tied with Long Beach Poly junior Akawkaw Ndipagbor for the second fastest time in the state in the 400 meters (54.08 seconds). It's impressive given that Ndipagbor's a state champion and runner-up in the event.She also has the fourth fastest time in the state in the 800 meters (2:12.04) and for her grade, she's the fastest in both races in addition to the 100 and 200.However, head coach Lori Smith-Thompson said at the prelims, that Ezumah would focus on the 400, 200 and both relays for the rest of the season.It's a versatility that she displayed in club track where Smith-Thompson said she ran everything from the 100 to the 1500."It's been very exciting," Ezumah said of her season. "There's a lot of tough competition in high school track.""I knew there was a lot of talent here at Serra so I wanted to come here and make a name for myself."It was a natural fit given that she already knew most of her teammates. Her attitude has been to soak up whatever advice she can get.As far as pressure, she deflected it as coolly as she ran. Her focus is just on improving her times in the 400 and 200.She's already fit in with the Serra philosophy of molding solid students in addition to athletes. Her favorite subject is English because she knows she'll need it to get far in the world.It's tough enough to adjust to high school as a freshman academically, let alone make a statement so soon in her prep career. But Ezumah has done just that.She finished third in the 400 meters (54.08) at the Arcadia Invitational in March, just barely beating Ndipagbor. At the Mt. SAC Relays, she came in second in the 800.At the Penn Relays, she ran second leg of the 4 x 100 relay squad that won the small schools title for the second consecutive year."I was very proud of myself. I just came out there and did what I had to do," she said, still sounding surprised two months later.Ezumah is part of Serra's burgeoning young corps that includes sophomore Maya Brown. It's a difference from last year when senior Turquoise Thompson - now at UCLA - led the team to two championships at last year's state meet."It's awesome having a young team because you give them that opportunity to get to know and work with each other for years," Smith-Thompson said.With talent, however, comes refinement. A veteran observer of track-and-field, Smith-Thompson has been impressed with her young freshman but knows that her potential has to be harnessed."She's experienced in the sense of competition through youth track and the Junior Olympics, but she's inexperienced race-wise so that's what we're teaching her."Most young runners come in raw with a sense of just running, Smith-Thompson said, so there's learning how to pace yourself, reach certain marks and maintain form.It's why Ezumah will focus on running the 200. Being a sprinter, running the turns will only help her in the 400.With the league finals this weekend and the CIF divisional championships looming at the end of the month, she'll be a face to watch as Serra goes for a second consecutive Division IV title...The City Section begins their league track-and-field preliminaries this week and all eyes might be on the Southern League to see if Santee senior Tevin Carter is healthy to run or not.Carter, the defending City champ in the 200m and runner up in the 100, has been out for a month with a hamstring injury and has to run in the prelims to qualify for the City Section.With Taft senior DJ Morgan already out of the hurdles due to a knee injury, Carter's status could be a blow to what many expect to be one of the most anticipated showdowns in years with Crenshaw junior DeAnthony Thomas.