| SPEEDING: Alexis Faulknor is one of three Serra freshmen looking to make an impact at the Southern Section divisional finals Saturday.
Photo by Greg Smotherman
What a difference a year makes for the Gardena Serra girls track-and-field team.
Last year, they finished 11th in the Southern Section Division IV championships with only 19 points. This year, several girls might account for that many on their own during the CIF Southern Section championships at Cerritos College on Saturday.
The team has been bolstered by UCLA-bound senior Turquoise Thompson, who sat out last season after transferring from Long Beach Poly to join her mother, Serra girls’ track-and-field coach Lori Smith-Thompson.
One of top young hurdlers in the country, Thompson posted the fastest time in the 300-meter hurdles (41.45 seconds) and the 400 (54.49) at the Division IV preliminaries last weekend. She also helped the 4 x 100 relay squad to the fastest time in the state (46.04) as well as the 4 x 400 squad posting the fastest time in the Division IV prelims.
The Cavaliers have also gotten help from talented freshmen in Alexis Faulknor (4 x 100 relay, 100-meter dash) and Maya Brown (4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays). Faulknor finished with the third-fastest time in the 100 prelims.
Their compatriots on the boys’ side are gunning for a third consecutive Division IV title, led by their 4 x 100 relay squad who won their preliminary heat in 41.66 seconds, the fastest time on the day.
Junior Robert Woods, also one of state’s top wide receivers, anchors the squad and also posted the fastest time in the 400 meters (a personal best of 47.44). Fellow junior Devin Spann will also earn points in the 100 as he had the second-fastest time in the prelims (10.90).
Woods and Spann also finished the second (21.81) and third-fastest times (21.94), respectively, in the 200.
The success comes after the 4 x 400m relay squad was disqualified from the Del Rey League finals after a runner ran out of his line. Despite video evidence to the contrary and league officials admitted their mistake, an appeal to the Southern Section was denied due to it not being submitted the day of the error.
Despite costing them a shot at the state relays, it shouldn’t keep them from a Division IV title, completing a double sweep for the Cavaliers.
In Division I, the Long Beach Poly girls team has a star ready to shine even brighter after her debut last year.
Sophomore Akawkaw Ndipagbor burst on the scene last year by winning two state titles (the 400 and the 4 x 400 relay) and she’s on track for more after posting the fastest times in the 200 (24.00) and 400 (53.54) at the prelims.
She also helped Poly finish with the second-fastest time in the 4 x 400 relay, which will be an interesting race considering the top three finishers – Long Beach Millikan and Long Beach Wilson were No. 1 and 3 – were separated by under a minute.
The Jackrabbits will get help in the field from junior Tara Richmond, the defending state champion in the high jump. Richmond and sophomore Alexus Dalton both cleared 5″6 to tie for the best jump of the day as did Millikan junior Ashley Smith.
Their male counterparts might have a tougher road ahead of them as only junior Kaelin Clay qualified in the sprints with a 10.75/21.85 split in the 100 and 200. The 4 x 100 relay squad did post the fastest time in the prelims (41.56) but they’ll face tough competition from Rancho Verde on Saturday.
Dominguez has had a quiet 2009 season after winning the state championship last year but that could change as their 4 x 400 relay squad posted the fastest time at the Division I prelims (3:17.55).
Just like Poly, they’ll have to hold off Rancho Verde to repeat as relay champs, setting up a showdown in the night’s final event.