Cuyamaca runners hold their own at Aztec Invitational track and field meet

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Several former East County high school standouts on area community college teams were featured in last Friday’s distance carnival events at the 38th Aztec Track and Field Invitational at San Diego State University.

Runners from Southwestern, Cuyamaca and San Diego Mesa community colleges were prominently featured in the men’s and women’s 1500-meter distance.

Several former East County high school standouts on area community college teams were featured in last Friday’s distance carnival events at the 38th Aztec Track and Field Invitational at San Diego State University.

Runners from Southwestern, Cuyamaca and San Diego Mesa community colleges were prominently featured in the men’s and women’s 1500-meter distance.

The three-day meet included community college, university and even high school runners. Competition wrapped Saturday, March 26, at the AzTrack on the SDSU Sports Deck.

Last Friday’s distance carnival started with the high school boys and girls mile, followed by men’s and women’s mile races before launching into the steeplechase, 5000 meters, 1500 meters and finally the 3000-meter races including separate men’s and women’s heats.

Runners from Cuyamaca College put on a prominent display in the men’s open 1500 races. Isaiah Thomas (Otay Ranch), Kiernan Elam (West Hills), Oscar Soto (El Cajon Valley) and Ryan Najera (University City) each competed in separate heats.

Soto led the bunch with a time of 4:01.66 while Thomas timed 4:07.56. Elam timed 4:13.03 while Najera won his heat in 4:19.11.

UC Santa Barbara turned in the top five times between all the heats, with Shyan Vaziri leading the Gauchos with the top time of 3:47.54.

Soto, who placed second in the Grossmont Valley League finals in 2014, was the top community college runner in the event.

Last Friday’s time was a season best in the 1500. He also ran 1:54.40 earlier in the 800 earlier in the day at the Aztec Invitational to record the fourth-best time overall behind Nicholas Thorton’s top time of 1:52.78.

“Last year, my first at Cuyamaca, things went well,” Soto explained. “I ran a personal best 3:55.30 in the 1500 (11th in the state) and 1:53.48 in the 800 (ninth in the state). This year, I’m coming back from an injury and looking forward to improving as the season goes on.”

Soto has already made improvement, shaving a second off his time in the 800 and three seconds in the 1500 from his performance two weeks earlier at the Occidental distance carnival.

Soto placed third in the section 800 finals with a career best time of 1:53.43 to qualify for the high school state meet. He finished 14th in the state prelims.

Thomas, a 2015 ORHS graduate, posted a career best time of 1:55.90 to place fifth in the 800 section finals last year. He won the Mesa League title in the 1600 with a time of 4:23.55.

His 1500 time in high school was 4:10.38. He won the 800 Mesa League title in 2:01.20 as a sophomore.

Thomas said his move to Cuyamaca was made to further develop his running ability.

“I wanted to PR,” he said. “I thought that I ended high school on a good note, but I find at the JC level I can get a little farther in the 800 and 1500. I’ve been doing pretty well in the 1500; I’m struggling a bit in the 800 but I’m still keeping an eye on making state.”

Elam, a freshman at Cuyamaca, placed fifth overall in last year’s combined Grossmont Conference 800-meter run with a time of 2:03.94 (first among Grossmont Valley League runners). He dropped that to a 2:02.43 at the section prelims the following week but did not advance to the finals.

His best time in the 1500 in high school was 4:37.00.

A theater-arts major, he came to running fairly late in his prep career. “Once I got a taste of winning, I started becoming more and more interested in running,” he said.

He’s still improving by leaps and bounds at the collegiate level. He dropped seven seconds off his 1500 time at Friday’s Aztec Invitational.

“This was the first time I’ve ever raced at night,” Elam noted. “I’ve never had that big meet mentality before and I think that played a part in how I placed. The first 100 meters I was essentially sprinting before I dropped back and worked my way back up.”

Najera, a sophomore with the Coyotes, bolted into the lead midway through his heat.

“It was a pretty good race for me,” the former Centurion explained. “My coaches told me to go our and do my best. If I found the pack moving too slowly, then I could just go for it and take it.

“It was a little slower than I thought. After the second lap, I felt I had to take off and do my thing.”

Highlights

Cuyamaca’s Nathan Martinez finished eighth overall in the men’s decathlon with 4,745 points. Dan Golubovic of UC San Diego was the overall leaders with 7,139 points..

CS Los Angeles’s Rakel Rosshagen won the women’s heptathlon with 4,766 points.

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