The Central Coast Section Top 8 track and field meet annually serves as a useful tool, signaling the point in the season when hard training begins to soften and improvement begins to show.
But Santa Clara High's Scott Robinson saw none of that progress reflected in his time in the 110-meter high hurdles Friday. Asked how he would have reacted if someone had told him he would run a 15.53, nearly a second slower than his season best, Robinson replied: ``Please, no!''
Blustery conditions at Los Gatos High that included winds estimated at more than 30 mph -- directly in the face of sprinters and jumpers -- made Robinson's fear a reality.
Robinson didn't let it get to him, though. He took it as an opportunity and won two races. His victory in the 300 hurdles (39.64) came in the final strides. (He also prevailed in his heat in the 110 hurdles, outleaning Silver Creek's Justin Ta to win by one hundredth of a second.) His victory in the 400 was more decisive; he won in 49.13 and also pulled San Benito's Jesse Rice (49.57) under the CCS season best.
``I've just got to learn how to run in conditions, whatever they may be,'' Robinson said. ``Going over each hurdle, it was a killer. Every time you left the ground, the wind stood you up.''
For the most part, section bests were hard to come by, but the pole vaulters, taking advantage of swift tail wind, were the exception. After a section record was set in the girls event, Archbishop Riordan's Joey Fazio equaled his CCS season best of 15 feet, 6 inches, and did so moments after smashing his back against the metal standard that supports the bar.
Behind him came three others over 15 feet: San Benito's Todd Merrigan broke a school record held by onetime NFL quarterback Cade McNown, and St. Francis teammates Kyle Mills-Bunje and Ben Sheehan hit the mark as well.
Only a week after dislocating his shoulder at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays, Mills-Bunje became the third athlete on his team to clear 15 feet this season. However, the Lancers suffered a blow in practice this week when their No. 1, Casey Roche, suffered a high-ankle sprain when his spikes caught in the mesh pit cover as he ran through a jump. He may be lost for the season.
A head wind also held down the discus marks, which was disconcerting to Pioneer's Rolando Gomez. The section leader at 173 feet made five throws of more than 160 feet Friday, but he has been stuck on a plateau for weeks and, for a thrower who hopes to do damage in the state championships, is growing impatient.
``I need to get past 170,'' he said. ``I'm at that wall right now: 170, 170. I'm just trying to get to that 180.''
But this, as so many others learned, was not the day for breakthroughs.
Strong winds hindered many of the athletes Friday at the 26th annual Central Coast Section Top 8 track and field meet at Los Gatos High. They were a boon, however, for the pole vaulters, as three girls cleared the previous meet record.
Natasha Barthel of St. Francis broke the CCS record she set last month by clearing 12 feet, 9 inches. She nearly made it over 13 feet on her final vault. Barthel was pushed by Castilleja's Tori Anthony. The two used to compete in gymnastics; now they are using the athleticism and power they developed in the gym to excel in the pole vault. Anthony set a personal best with a clearance of 12-6.
St. Francis' Taylor Franklin was third with a personal best of 12-0. This meet's previous pole-vault mark was 11-10.
``Girls vaulting is starting to get to the point where it should be at the high school level,'' said Scott Slover, who coaches Anthony. ``Clearing 11 feet isn't going to win a big competition anymore. Tori just started vaulting in November. She's the new girl on the block, and I think that's helping Natasha stay on top of her game.''
Barthel finished fifth at the CCS meet last year competing for Soquel. She transferred to St. Francis to train with the school's longtime coach, Tom Tuite.
``Natasha has the athletic ability from her gymnastics training,'' Tuite said. ``But more than anything else, she is a very intelligent athlete. She listens and learns well. She's one of the most focused kids I've coached in 39 years.''
The wind did not seem to bother Harbor's Julie Dufresne, who won the discus with a throw of 131 feet, 4 inches, and the shot put with a heave of 45 feet, 2 1/4 inches, the best in California this year.
Dufresne has been training under Al Feuerbach, a former Olympian and world-record holder in the shot put.
``He's a great guy. I couldn't ask for a nicer coach passing all his wisdom down to me,'' Dufresne said. ``He's taught me a lot about mental control.'' Dufresne added that she recently switched back to the glide technique, instead of spinning before throwing the shot. ``I feel more connected that way and more comfortable in the ring.''
Another Harbor athlete won two events: Ricki Sullivan prevailed in the long jump (16 feet, 4 1/2 inches) and the triple jump (34 feet, 8 1/4 inches).
One of the best races of the day was the girls 800 meters, which Archbishop Mitty's Christine Whalen (2 minutes, 13.08 seconds) held off a hard-charging Alicia Follmar (2:13.13) of Saratoga.
``I could feel her coming hard over my shoulder,'' Whalen said. ``I was doing everything I could to hang on for the last 15 meters.''
Menlo School's Libby Jenke won the 400 with a personal best of 56.41 seconds, despite running into a head wind. She had another personal best in the 1,600, finishing second in 5:07.69. Valley Christian's Evelyn Wing won in 5:06.24.