By Daniel Hernandez
In 2019, the Riverside City College track and field teams had one of the best California Community College Athletics Association (CCCAA) State Championships showings in recent history.
The men’s team dominated, earning the title with a total of 116 points, 43 points above the second-place finisher. Meanwhile, the women’s team took home second place.
Both teams were set to continue their success in 2020. The men’s team looked to defend its title while the women’s team sought to earn its first state title since 1994.
Then the pandemic hit.
“Covid really has played a dirty trick on all of them,” men’s head coach Jim McCarron said. “As a coaching staff, we are all very aware of that.”
After the involuntary hiatus, the Tigers will return to the track for their season opener at Moorpark College on Feb. 4.
The team, like any other, has had trouble maintaining a consistent practice schedule due to the pandemic and plans to use the first couple of meets to gain momentum.
“We just want to use it as a training,” women’s head coach Damien Smith said. “Hopefully by the end of February we are kind of ready to start really competing.”
The pandemic, however, has not stopped the track and field teams from bringing some key weapons into the 2022 season.
Both teams have veterans who participated in the short-lived 2020 season and some star-studded newcomers who trained with top-tier high school programs.
“We’re good enough to where we can win almost any meet we go to right now,” McCarron said. “We’ll be a team that’s definitely top five at the state meet with the amount of talent we have.”
Here are the top track and field athletes to watch
Women’s Track and Field Returners
Rodriguez, who led the women’s cross-country team to win the Orange Empire Conference (OEC) title, looks to be the women’s go-to steeplechase and distance runner.
Pre-pandemic, Rodriguez placed second in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the OEC Invitational and 10th in the 3,000 at the RCC Invite.
Valdez placed fifth in the conference cross-country championships, which was pivotal to the team earning a perfect 15 score and the title, with a time of 21 minutes and 26.7 seconds. Now, as Valdez transitions into track season, she looks to shave some time off her previous personal record (PR).
“That’s pretty much my goal after every season,” Valdez said. “Just trying to make myself a little stronger than the last season.”
Valdez’s specialties at Riverside Poly High School were the 200, 400 and 800 events.
A horizontal jump specialist, Henry placed first in the triple jump event at the RCC Early Bird Invite with 32-5 feet and fourth in the long jump event with 14-9 3/4 feet. In both events, her PRs are 35-5 feet and 16-6 1/2 feet, respectively.
“Taylyn has gotten stronger, she is more focused,” Smith said. “I’d just like to see her jump further than she’s jumped before.”
Hunt, a sprinter, earned first in the 100-meter at the 2020 OEC Invite with a time of 12.24.
“Off in the state she will be a contender,” Smith said.
Her high school PR for the 100 is 12.09.
Women’s Track and Field Newcomers
Huntley finished her first college cross-country season 24th in the state with a PR of 19:32.10. She was also a fraction of a second behind Rodriguez earlier in the year during the OEC Championships to earn a second place spot.
In high school, Huntley’s specialty was the 1,600, earning a PR of 5:26.59 in the 2019 Ivy League Finals.
Huntley said the shortened 2020 season was tough.
“I really didn’t have the right mindset for it but I can tell it’s going to be different this season,” she said.
Bedolla, a 2021 high school graduate from Elsinore High School, is another horizontal jump specialist who reached a 17-7 feet PR in May and a 34-4 PR in the triple jump in April.
“I’m just looking for her to improve off those,” Smith said. “If she can jump anywhere in the 18 feet, she will be a contender at the state meet.”
Men’s Track and Field Returners
OEC male runner of the year, Ramos cemented himself as one of RCC’s top runners by coming in first at the OEC Championships and seventh at the CCCAA State Championships.
“Abel will be our 5k and 10k guy,” McCarron said. “He’s a top end runner.”
During the shortened 2020 season, Ramos’ strengths were in the 2-mile, finishing at 10:05.69, and the 3,000 at 9:10.18.
James is a triple threat for the men’s cross country team. Horizontal jumps are his forte, reaching 44-10 3/4 feet in the triple jump and 21-11 in the long jump during the 2020 RCC Invite. However, coach McCarron is putting him in the 4×400 meter relay where he believes James’ athletic ability will help the team shine.
“This year I want to make sure I can get faster,” James said. “So I’m going to get into more sprinting events.”
McCarron said Boyd could be a top contender in the state for the 100-meter if he stays healthy.
Boyd broke three PRs in 2020, going under 7 seconds in the 60-meter dash, 11 seconds flat in the 100 and 22.64 seconds in the 200-meter dash.
Men’s Track and Field Newcomers
If there is one thing Great Oak High School is known for, it’s top-tier running. Year after year, the Temecula school has been a Division 1 favorite. Reden was a pivotal piece of the program.
Reden is an 800-meter specialist, placing first in the Arcadia Invitational, second in CIF Southern Section finals and third in the 2021 CIF State Championships.
“Kyle has a good chance to win the state meet in the 800 meters,” McCarron said. “I love his work ethic, he’s a great team guy and everyone loves him in the middle distance.”
Orlando, another Division 1 newcomer, will bring his pole vaulting skills to RCC and has the potential to become one of the best pole vaulters in the state.
Orlando was a top Santiago High School competitor who placed fifth place in the CIF Southern Section finals with a 15-3 feet PR and eighth in the State Championships with 14-3 feet.
Don-Willies finished strong in the Division 1 CIF Southern Section finals. He set two new PRs, one in the 100-meter with 10.8 seconds and in the 200-meter with 21.78 seconds.
Hill will have another opportunity to reach great heights at the Community College level after winning the high school state championship.
Hill placed first in every high jump event in 2021 and rarely went below top five in long jump and triple jump.
He has lofty goals for 2022.
“At least 7, if possible 7-4 for high jump,” Hill said. “Long jump I definitely want to kick in the 24 feet range.”