Blaine Bussey keeps picking up speed. Matt Lea finally ran out of steam.
Neither runner could offer an explanation for their polar performances in recent weeks in the 400meters. But the trend continued Friday during qualifying in the high school track and field state championships at Cerritos College.
Bussey, a junior from Taft High and City Section champion in the event, ran his fourth personal best in the past five races by running a top qualifying time of 47.49 among 27 participants.
Bussey, who timed 47.52 in the City finals, Friday pulled away from the pack in the final 50 meters and finished nearly a half-second ahead of Raheem Barnes of Gardena (47.97).
Bussey, who also qualified with the Toreadors' 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams, leads nine qualifiers in the 400 final today at 5 p.m.
His time tied him with Ramsey Jay of Ventura for sixth on the region's all-time list. Jay timed 47.49 as a junior in 1994.
Former Taft standout Quincy Watts holds the region's fastest 400 mark with 46.67 in the 1988 City finals.
Taft's top sprinter shrugged off Friday's performance.
"I'm just feeling a lot stronger and faster as I go on," Bussey said. "I don't really know why. I'm just working real hard these days and trying to do the best I can.
"I've been eating a lot better this season. I cut out the candy bars and the soda and stuff like that. Now, I eat a lot more pasta and carbohydrates."
Lea's fifth-place finish in 48.54 in the same heat with Bussey was difficult to swallow for the Camarillo senior. Only a few weeks ago, Lea appeared ready to challenge for a state title.
On May 1, Lea ran a personal best 47.38 in the Ventura County championships, then the fastest time in the state. It also was Lea's fifth performance of 47.7 or faster.
However, Lea might have peaked too quickly.
Lea timed 48.51 to win the Marmonte League finals, and 48.73 in the Southern Section Division I preliminaries and Division I finals. Lea timed 48.67 last week in the Southern Section Masters Meet.
After the race, a dejected Lea sat among friends for several minutes with his head buried in his arms. Lea described the slide as perplexing, yet increasingly predictable.
"I can't explain it, but I know it started about three weeks ago and I haven't been able to come back since," Lea said. "I used to run 47.3 consistently. I've been sick, but I feel pretty good today. I'm just so disappointed in myself. I know I didn't deserve to win this today.
"The first 200 meters, I felt all right. But I just couldn't hold off the guy I needed to."
Lea, running in Lane 3, was passed by Tyrol Springs of North Salinas in the final 100 meters.
Senior Rod Arzu of Notre Dame qualified sixth in the 400 with a personal best of 47.99. Senior Lawrence Jones of Taft was a nonqualifier, finishing fifth in the second heat in 48.68.
Bussey ran the third leg as Taft finished second in its heat in the 400 relay in 41.64. He anchored the Toreadors to victory in their 1,600 relay heat in 3:15.73.