Unlike the majority of the competitors in the Central Coast Section Track and Field Trials on June 12 at Soquel High in Aptos, Christopher’s Gabriela Baxter and a couple of her fellow athletes in the girls high jump event had to wait for what seemed like an eternity to see if they would be advancing to this Saturday’s CCS Finals.
Once the officials had reviewed all the jumps, it was determined Baxter had earned the 12th and final spot to the finals. Seven competitors cleared 5 feet—Baxter did it on her third attempt—creating a logjam for officials to sort out. In the end, Baxter edged Mitty’s Taylor Oden for the final spot.
“I was really happy and excited when the coaches told me I qualified,” Baxter said.
Baxter was one of four Christopher High athletes who qualified for the finals. They include Melia Middleton in the 300-meter hurdles, Liliana Jimenez in the discus and Kingsley Okoronkwo in the long jump. Gilroy’s distance ace Nicholas Guzman ran a tremendous 3200-meter boys race and finished 14th, two spots removed from the final qualifying spot. But he covered two miles in a personal-record (PR) of 9 minutes, 44.57 seconds, a five-plus second improvement from his previous best at the Pacific Coast League CCS Qualifier.
Guzman also had a fine showing in the 1600, establishing a PR of 4:25.88 which was two spots removed from advancing to the finals. Baxter is only in her first year of competing in the high jump and has made a meteoric ascent. With no prior experience in the event entering the season, Baxter knew she had to improve her technique to make some big jumps. She’s done just that, matching her PR of 5 feet after coasting through the lower marks to get to that stage. Baxter first cleared 5 feet at a May 15 home meet.
“I’ve been working on my approach and jumping form,” she said. “(Seeing the results) does motivate you to want to practice more so I can be better and perfect my form. I focus and try to imagine jumping over it and concentrating on all the elements going into my jump so I can clear the bar. I’m just trying to envision that before my jumps. Now that I’m at 5 feet, I would really like to get 5-2 in the finals.”
Baxter planned on competing in the high jump last year as a freshman but had a hip ailment and by the time she recovered, the season was shut down due to Covid. Okoronkwo is in a similar situation with Baxter as he never got to compete last year as a freshman. But he’s made up for lost time and then some with an incredible 2021 season that saw him hit some huge marks in both the long jump, triple jump and fast times in the 100-meter dash.
The soon-to-be junior took 10th in the long jump in 19-10 ½ to qualify for the finals. Okoronkwo already has two 20-foot plus jumps to his credit, including a 20-10 ½ at the PCAL CCS Trials Qualifier. It seems like the possibilities are endless for Okoronkwo, who also had a standout season for the CHS football team this past season.
Middleton has been one of the section’s most consistent performers this season in the 300 hurdles, and she did nothing to disappoint in the Trials, posting a time of 47.23 seconds, just off her PR of 47.21. Reliable and durable, Middleton has done whatever coach Jeff Myers has asked of her, competing in the hurdles events along with the 100, 200, 400, shot put, 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams this season.
She teamed with Alexis Bembry, Caitlynn Holt and Baxter in the 4×100 relay and the quartet finished 10th in a solid time of 51.84 seconds, narrowly missing qualifying for the finals. The good news is none of the relay athletes are seniors so they’ll have a chance to further lower their times next season.
Jimenez has been the Cougars’ top performer in the field events, and she got back on track with a throw of 105-9 in the discus, good for the fourth best mark of the day. The recently graduated Jimenez has a PR of 112-11 and feels she is on the cusp of surpassing that in Saturday’s finals.
“I think I am getting close,” she said. “I’m hoping to peak on Saturday. I just have to practice more on my technique and I’ll probably be golden.”
Jimenez said she received a recent tip from someone who told her to “drive forward, stay low and whip it.”
“That really helped just working on that and hopefully it will pay off in the end,” she said.
Jimenez vividly remembers her PR throw and looks to mimic the exact situation on Saturday in terms of what she did to relax herself before the competition.