Although changes in the Southern Section divisional alignments have altered the face of track and field’s 3-A Division, it remains one of the most competitive levels among area track programs.
The powerful Baseline and Foothill leagues have been bumped up to the 4-A Division, and the Angelus League has stepped down to the 2-A, but two league additions make the 3-A as formidable as ever.
The distance-running-dominated Marmonte League from the 4-A and the Northern League, which boasted three of the top seven teams in the 2-A last year, have moved into the neighborhood.
And many veteran 3-A coaches are looking forward to the arrival of their new adversaries.
“I ran in Division I in college (at UC Santa Barbara),” Oxnard High Coach Derek Turner said. “If the 3-A is where the tough people are, that’s where I want to be.”
Santa Barbara and Buena, the 3-A runner-up and seventh-place finisher, respectively, a year ago, compete with Oxnard in the Channel League.
Southern Section administrator Dean Crowley said the divisions were shuffled because of fluctuations in league members’ enrollments and not because of overall league strength or geographic desirability.
“It’s all based on the average enrollment of the league,” Crowley said. “That’s why it’s difficult for some schools to do well in track. They say, ‘Oh, we haven’t done anything in track for so long, so we want to move down.’
“The council has never accepted that. It’s based on numbers.”
Some of the numbers from the Marmonte and Northern leagues are impressive.
With the Marmonte League comes Thousand Oaks sprinter Jack Bellamy, the 1990 regional leader in the 100 meters (10.73) and 200 (21.83), and teammate Bryan Krill, a 49.52 400 runner. Camarillo pole vaulter John Crumrine, the 4-A runner-up last year, brings with him the No. 1 mark in the 3-A and the region at 14 feet 4 inches.
However, the Marmonte League traditionally has been known for its distance runners.
Newbury Park junior Jeff Wilson timed 4 minutes 23 seconds for the 1,600 as a sophomore and has since added Ventura County and state Division III cross-country titles. Wilson ran 4:19.0 to finish first in his 1,600 heat in the 4-A preliminaries last year but was disqualified.
Camarillo’s Josh Gerry was eighth in the 4-A’s 3,200 final last year and has clocked 9:26.76. Twenty-two of Camarillo’s 30 points in the 4-A finals last year were scored by distance runners.
Agoura Coach Bill Duley, whose Chargers went from the 1-A Frontier League to the Marmonte League this year, said he is relieved that the league will compete at the 3-A level in track.
“The jump from 1-A to 3-A is a lot more palatable than the jump from 1-A to 4-A,” Duley said. “The 3-A is more competitive, but the 4-A is just a monster division.”
Thousand Oaks Coach John Hansen put the Southern Section’s divisional breakdown into perspective.
“It really doesn’t make that much difference what division you’re in,” he said. “Once you get to the (divisional) finals, they take the top nine times to the Masters Meet.”
INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH
Jorge Barajas (Fillmore, distance events)--A 9:19.9 runner in the 3,200, Barajas is the top returnee in the 1-A Division in that event. The senior also has timed 4:23.36 for the 1,600 and placed second in the state Division IV cross-country final.
Ruben Benitez (Taft, 400)--Seventh in the state 400 final last year, the senior recorded the top mark for regional 400 runners with a 47.89 clocking last year.
Brock Chase (Antelope Valley, high jump)--Chase, a senior, leaped a region-leading 6-8 last year and soared 6-10 in a meet Saturday.
Dave Hartman (Canyon, distance events)--Hartman, one of the top cross-country runners in the nation last fall, did not qualify for the state track meet in the 3,200 as a junior because only five runners advance from the Southern Section Masters Meet. Hartman was sixth in 9:06.28.
Ryan Kieling (Crespi, hurdles)--As a junior, Kieling won 2-A Division titles in the 110 highs and 300 intermediates and was ranked third (14.63) and second (38.52) in the region, respectively. He advanced to the state preliminaries in the highs last year.
Rob Landtiser (Canyon, hurdles)--Landtiser’s 38.5 clocking in the intermediates as a junior ranked third on the regional list, but a false start in the Golden League finals kept Landtiser out of the 4-A preliminaries.
Tim Ross (Royal, jumping events)--Ross ranked second regionally in the high jump (6-7) and eighth in both the long jump (22-1) and triple jump (45-3) last year.
Howard Schrier (Birmingham, pole vault)--The defending City champion returns with a 14-0 mark, which ranked him third in the region as a junior.
Derrick Stewart (Granada Hills, 400)--Six of the eight City 400 finalists last year were juniors, including Stewart, who finished sixth. But his 48.61 mark makes him the No. 4 returnee in the City behind Lamont Warren (47.60) of Dorsey, John Floyd (47.83) of Locke and Benitez.
Patrick Van Scoy (Rio Mesa, weight events)--The senior ranks as the No. 2 returnee in the 3-A in the shotput (59-3 3/4) and discus (168-2 3/4).