All across Kern County, track and field athletes and coaches have received a not-so-welcome reminder of what this weekend was supposed to be.
For some, it came in the form of an alert on their phone. For others it was through memory photos and posts on social media.
No matter the source, it was met with varying degrees of disappointment and thoughts about what could have been.
Friday was supposed to be the start of the two-day CIF State Track and Field Championships at Clovis-Buchanan’s Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, which were canceled in early April in an attempt to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the kids, the state championships are the main goal,” Frontier coach Justin Evans said. “For most of them, it doesn’t really even matter what they do at state. Just make it there. It’s an achievement of its own.”
Of the 20 athletes who qualified for the state meet last year, 14 were underclassmen and were hoping to improve on their performances this season. There were also a number of athletes that were hoping to break through after a year of maturity or after battling through injuries the season before.
No matter what the circumstances, the cancelation of the event was difficult to handle.
“I was pretty disappointed once I realized the season was going to be canceled,” said Highland junior Jacob Yagers, the Division-II cross country champion this season who finished 25th in the state in the 1,600 last year. “I knew my team was pretty bummed about it, too, because there were a couple of us that were planning to be there and racing. I know I had set some pretty big goals for myself, and so it was pretty disappointing.”
That’s particularly true at Liberty, where the Patriots returned five girls state qualifiers from last year and were one of the favorites to win a state title.
“This would have been the one you’re looking forward to,” Liberty coach Ryan Renz said. “When you meet in January, this is the time that your top-end kids want to compete well and run well, those types of things, and it’s definitely disappointing that we didn’t get a chance. Looking at the team we had coming back, we thought maybe we could have done something, and at least been in the spotlight at the state meet. And for them to not be able to compete was obviously (disappointing).”
Renz’s junior daughter, Reese, competed in three events at the state meet last year, placing third in the 300 hurdles and sixth in the 100 hurdles. She also competed in the 1,600 relay.
“It was really challenging at the start when this whole thing started,” said Renz of dealing the coronavirus restrictions. “But I was thinking we’d at least have a state championship. They would never cancel something like that. It’s going to be fine. And as things started getting more out of hand, I saw there was a possibility they might cancel, and obviously we know now they did.”
Faith Bender, one of the top high school female throwers in the country, has tried to remain positive through it all. Last season, she was second in the discus and fifth in the shot put at the state meet as a sophomore and had high hopes this year, despite a nagging back injury.
“I'm still just trying to stay positive and keep some kind of a workout schedule,” said Bender, who has the top discus throw in the country (168-8) and is third in the shot put (47-8). “It was heartbreaking to hear because we were all prepping for the season when we found out. It was really sad and devastating.”
Through it all, the athletes have continued to try to stay in shape, in hopes that the restrictions will be lifted soon.
“I’ve just been trying to stay motivated,” said Yagers, who has started preparing for the fall running season. “I’ve continued running and am trying to do as much as I can to prepare for this next cross country. I’ve been putting in some good miles and training pretty hard to have a pretty big cross country season this next year.”
Ridgeview cross country star Alex Cuevas, who helped lead the Wolf Pack to three straight Central Section titles, was hoping to qualify for his first state meet in track and field after what he considers a subpar junior campaign.
“It's a bummer because everything was going so well early in the season,” said Cuevas, who planned on running in the 1,600. “It would have been nice to have a chance to go to the state meet, but once they started the quarantine, I figured that track season wasn’t coming back.”
Cuevas, who is scheduled to run at UC Davis the fall, took three weeks off and has now worked himself up to 40-to-45 miles a week in preparation for the cross country season. His goal is to eventually reach a maximum of 70-to-75 miles per week
Liberty senior Sky Blue Gonzales was also enjoying a strong early season before things were shut down, and was hoping to eventually qualify for the state meet in the 400. He ran in the event as part of the Patriots’ 1,600 relay team last year.
“I was really looking forward to this,” said Gonzales, who will run at Cal State Bakersfield next season. “At the beginning of this season I was doing really good. I PR’d my very first race and it’s just really sad to see all these planned dates pass, all these meets missed. But right now I’m just focused on my next season at college. I’m just trying to keep in shape and keeping that mindset of moving forward.”