One of just two sophomores in the sprint events, Weston Ranch High’s John McDonald was understandably wide-eyed upon his rival at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis — the site of the CIf State Track & Field Championships.
“I was sort of nervous at first, but the more I got the feel for my surroundings and the atmosphere the more of a drive it was for me to succeed,” McDonald said after his stellar performances in Friday’s preliminary heats. “I wanted to go out there and show people what I can really do.”
What he can really do is run fast.
McDonald was one of the meet’s biggest surprises, as he qualified for tonight’s finals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He did so my obliterating his lifetime best times and far surpassed even his own expectations.
McDonald entered the state meet as the 21st-seeded 100-meter qualifier (10.87 seconds) and No. 14 in the 200 (21.77) based on his third-place times from last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Finals.
On Thursday, he rambled to impressive wind-legal times of 10.62 and 21.32 — significant improvements from his previous bests — and is seeded fifth in the 100 and fourth in the 200 finals.
“I was very shocked, mostly excited,” he said. “I just went out there and ran as hard and as fast as I could.”
He was also surprised that he turned in better times than both of his SJS rivals: seniors Austin Mitsch (10.63, 21.46) of Jesuit and Robert Ellis (10.70, 21.37) of Antelope.
“I was not expecting to go out there and do what I did, but to just go out there and compete,” he said. “When I found out I beat them that felt kind of good, but at the same time they’re only just two people. Tomorrow is where it’s at, and on the last day anything can happen. I’d like to come out on top, but if I can at least finish top three, that’s my goal and I’m going to strive for that.”
Khalfani Muhammad, a standout running back and Cal commit for football, is the pacesetter in both races. The senior out of Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) is taking aim at the state-meet records, which are reachable for him. Riley Washington’s (Southwest) 100 record stands at 10.30 seconds and was set in 1992. Long Beach Poly graduate Bryshon Nellum set the 200 record of 20.43 in 2007.
The other sophomore entrant is Upland High’s Morgan Simon, who clocked the second fastest preliminary time in the 200 (21.15) and third fastest in the 100 (10.51).
“I knew I was going up against some major talent,” McDonald said. “There were some impressive kids out there who are ranked pretty high in the United States and I felt honored to be around them.”
He was humbled to learn that he is just the second Weston Ranch athlete to reach the final day of the state meet, following 2010 graduate Angell Mayfield who placed sixth in the 110 hurdles as a junior.
“That makes me feel good to know that I’m really doing something in life,” McDonald said. “All the hard work in practice with coach (Darrell) Johnson is paying off. I’m only a sophomore, and I can only get stronger every year.
“I learned and experienced a lot today. I’m gaining a lot of confidence. I feel like my journey is just now starting.”