Alexis Bembry and Karina Rodriguez had waited all season—check that, years—for another breakthrough performance in their respective events. In the Pacific Coast League Track and Field Masters/Central Coast Section Qualifier Meet on May 27, they experienced the jubilation of having everything come together.
Bembry (Christopher), Rodriguez (Gilroy), Melia Middleton (CHS) and Kingsley Okoronkwo (CHS) won events at the meet, with the top six in each event qualifying for the Central Coast Section Semifinals on June 12 at Soquel High in Aptos. Bembry hit a personal-record (PR) mark of 35 feet, 3 inches in the triple, smashing her previous best by 18 inches. The senior had been slowly working her way up to the breakthrough jump after a long layoff from the cancelled 2020 season.
“I was improving this season but always missing the mark or a little behind the board,” she said. “I worked on getting in my steps correctly so when I had that good jump, I would get every inch of the board.”
And that’s exactly what Bembry did on her career best jump. Whenever she jumps in practice or competitions, Bembry has a routine as she envisions going through the three phases of the triple jump: the hop, bound and jump.
She’ll remind herself to run on her toes, keep her chest up, and bring her heels and knees up as far as she can, among other things. On her career best jump, Bembry was anxious and eager to see if everything was clean.
“When I landed, it felt really good,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘God, I hope I hit the board.’ I was so tired of doing good jumps but being behind the board. I went back and saw my spike marks and it was right in the middle of the board. Then they read my mark and it was a foot and a half over my PR, so you can imagine how exciting that was. I was so happy to be able to finally execute what I thought I could be doing this season.”
Bembry came out for the track and field team during her sophomore year and made it to the CCS Semifinals in the triple jump. But she and countless others lost their 2020 season due to Covid, so she wasn’t about to let her final year of high school athletics go to waste.
“Just getting the chance to pick up right where I left off and going farther really means a lot,” she said.
Rodriguez had a breakthrough as well, taking first place in the 3200-meter run in a season-best time of 12 minutes, 10.96 seconds, shaving a whopping 25 seconds off her previous season-best.
“That’s about a 100-meter improvement, so it was a pretty good day,” the Gilroy junior said.
Knock on wood, Rodriguez will be making her CCS debut in the semifinals. As a freshman, she qualified for the 800 and 3200 but got a bout of appendicitis the day before the meet and had to withdraw. Of course, she lost her sophomore season due to Covid, which hit her particularly hard training-wise. After struggling through Covid, Rodriguez is finally getting up to speed from her freshman year, where she established her PR of 11:58.17 in the 3200.
“I’m definitely making moves back towards it (sub 12), which is a big plus,” she said. “I feel I had a pretty good freshman season and then after not having a season and having trouble training, it definitely hurts your confidence a little bit when you’re way off most of your marks. But I’ve got two weeks until the CCS semis, so hopefully I can dip my toe back into my all time best time range.”
Rodriguez ran a masterful race, tucking herself in between two Carmel runners for the first six laps. Breathing easy and looking relaxed throughout, Rodriguez bided her time until making the winning move with around 500 meters to go. Rodriguez unleashed a decisive kick that her nearest competitors had no answer for.
“I felt like it was time,” said Rodriguez, who also took second in the 800. “I felt good I could do it, I went for it and didn’t look back.”
Middleton grinded out a win in her signature event, the 300-meter hurdles, in 48.05 seconds. When Middleton hit a PR of 47.21 seconds in a May 21 meet, it vaulted her to the top time in the section. A couple of athletes have since bettered that mark; however, the performance showed the Christopher sophomore is one of the best when she’s on her game. She’s looking to repeat that signature run after struggling with her steps in the PCAL Masters Meet.
“I stuttered on a couple of hurdles so it wasn’t my best day,” she said. “It was definitely hard at the beginning because of a headwind. I knew at the end I had to kick it in.”
Middleton overcame a slow start and used her superior stamina to take the lead in the final 100 meters. She also took fourth in the 100 hurdles in 17.45 seconds, with Gilroy’s Katherine Turk finishing third in 17.13. The Cougars’ Sarah Arcelo took second in the 1600 in 5:46.79.
On the boys side, Gilroy’s Nicholas Guzman finished second in the 3200 in a PR of 9:49.98 and also had a huge 21-second PR in the 1600 in 4:29.93. Christopher sophomore Kingsley Okoronkwo had a meet to remember, winning the triple jump in 41-9, taking third in the long jump in 20-10 ½ and seventh in the 100-meter dash in 11.78 seconds. In all three events, he hit PRs, showing his best may be yet to come.
“I was really excited for what I did in the triple jump because I had scratched at a few meets,” said Okoronkwo, who also had a standout football season playing linebacker. “I’m hoping to hit another PR at CCS. I just have to keep working, get my marks right and widen out my second phase. If I can do that, I can definitely get a lot farther on my triple jump.”
GILROY HIGH—Anyone interested in playing football should meet on June 14 at 3pm at the 10th Street lot by the softball field. Covid rules will be in effect, so please wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart from others. Contact [email protected] for questions and further information.