Taft Hopes Title Time Has Come

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The time is now for the Taft High girls' track and field team to win a City Section championship.

After finishing third in the 1996 City finals and second last year, this season would appear to be the Toreadors' best chance of winning their first girls' title.

Two-time defending champion Dorsey defeated Taft, 79-71, last year, but the Dons lost sprinter Janice Thomas, hurdler Khameel Flemming and high jumper Mia Gramata-Jones to graduation. That trio had 44 of the 65 points that Dorsey scored in individual events in last year's City championships.

In contrast, Taft will have every point scorer from last year's team back if sophomore Jayda Bailey becomes academically eligible in early April.

"It's so important," Taft Coach Mel Hein said about winning a City title. "To the athletes, to the coaches and to the seniors who have been here for four years, it would really be special if we could win it this year. . . . I thought we had it last year until [Dorsey] buried the heck out of us in the field events."

Dorsey, led by high jump champion Gramata-Jones, outscored Taft, 29-1, in the field events, in the City championships.

The Toreadors aren't apt to score many points in the field events this year either, but seniors Eboni Grayson, Frances Santin and Wendy Chan, junior Tiffany Smith, and sophomores Bailey and Deneeka Torrey could top the 70 points they combined for in track events last year.

Grayson is the defending City champion in the 100 and 200 meters and has personal bests of 12.00 seconds in the 100 and 24.29 in the 200. She also ran legs on Toreador squads that placed first in the 400 relay and second in the 1,600 relay in the City championships and moved to third on the all-time region list in each event with bests of 46.67 and 3:45.16.

Santin had a down year--by her standards--in the hurdles as a junior, but still placed third in the 100 highs and 300 lows and ran on both relays in the City finals.

After failing to break 45 seconds in the 300 lows at the end of last season, Santin has dipped under 45 and clocked 2:19 in the 800 in all-comers meets this year.

"She's looking tremendous," Hein said of the 1996 City champion. "She's lean and mean and really going after it. I think she feels like she's got something to prove."

Chan finished third in the 800 in the City meet last year and was fourth in the City cross-country finals in November.

Smith placed fourth in the 400 in the City meet after being slowed by a midseason leg injury and Torrey ran legs on both of the Toreadors' relay teams.

Bailey could be the most gifted of Taft's standouts.

She ran 2:11 in the 800 as an eighth grader, won the City title in that event last year as a freshman and clocked 54.48 in the 400 while running for the West Valley Eagles track club last summer. She's also run a hand-timed 12.1 in the 100.

Teams to watch:

Birmingham--The Braves placed fourth in last year's City championships and appear capable of another top-five finish behind senior Ika Eliashvili and junior Tiffany Burgess.

Eliashvili, a native of the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, is the defending City champion in the triple jump and has a personal best of 37 feet 10 inches.

Burgess is the two-time defending City champion in the 1,600 and has run 5:08.80 in that event and 10:29.88 in the 3,000.

Cleveland--Sophomore Malinda Malone and junior Jamie Jones helped the Cavaliers tie Banning for seventh in the 1997 City championships and they could finish in the top five this year with the addition of freshman Schquay Brignac.

Malone won the 400 with a career best of 55.85 in the City championships last year and Jones ran a personal best of 11:22.02 to place third in the 3,200.

Brignac cleared 5-10 in the high jump as an eighth grader and could contend for the state title this year.

Notre Dame--Junior Tiffany Thompson, freshman Sierra Howser-Price and senior Stephanie Werth will lead the defending Mission League champions.

Thompson is the No. 2 returning 100 and 200 sprinter in the region behind Grayson with bests of 12.07 and 24.49. She also placed fifth in the state championships in the 200.

Howser-Price won the 100 in 11.9 and the 200 in 25.9 in a season-opening meet last week. Thompson didn't compete because she was recovering from a knee injury from soccer season.

Werth has bests of 35-8 1/2 in the triple jump and 16-8 in the long jump.

Palmdale--Juniors Brandy Smith and Kaysie Burnett and sophomore Desiree Withers are the top returners for a Falcon team shooting for its third Golden League title in four years.

Smith has run 48.5 in the 300 low hurdles and cleared 5-4 in the high jump.

Burnett has run 12.75 in the 100 and 26.49 in the 200 and Withers has bounded 35-4 in the triple jump.

Rio Mesa--Freshman Porchea Carroll, junior Natasha Pomele and sophomore Michelle Villa lead a Spartan team that is shooting for its first Channel League title in five years.

Carroll ran 12.0 in the 100 and 25.0 in the 200 and spanned 17-0 in the long jump as an eighth grader.

Pomele has bests of 35-6 in the shotput and 129-0 in the discus.

Villa has run 2:21.05 in the 800.

Thousand Oaks--Junior Amanda Armstrong, senior Erin Sorensen and sophomore Erin Brzezinski, who combined to win five individual Marmonte League titles last year, all return for the Lancers.

Armstrong, the defending league champ in the 800 and 1,600, has bests of 2:19.50 and 5:10.79 in those events.

Sorensen ran 11:28.55 to win the 3,200 in the league meet.

Brzezinski has bests of 12.69 in the 100, 25.43 in the 200 and 17-5 in the long jump and is the defending league champion in the 200 and long jump for Thousand Oaks, which has won or shared four consecutive league titles.

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AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: Hoover junior Bridget Pearson is the defending state champion in the pole vault and has a personal best of 12 feet in the event. Camarillo senior Heather Sickler is the defending Southern Section Division I and Masters Meet champion in the pole vault and holds the region record of 12-3 1/2. Junior Lauren Fleshman of Canyon was the runner-up in the West region cross-country championships in December and is the No. 3 returning runner in the state in the 3,200 with a best of 10:38.13. Sarah Foster of Valencia is the defending Southern Section Division I champion in the high jump with a best of 5-6. Fellow sophomore Jessica Cosby of Granada Hills is the defending City champion in the shotput with a best of 43-8.

* THE PROMISING: Junior Becky Rauth of Harvard-Westlake will be looking to break the 44-second barrier in the 300-meter low hurdles this year after clocking 45.11 during an injury-filled sophomore season. Sophomore Temitote Ogunyoku of Palmdale has little track and field experience, but Falcon Coach Steve Wilson says the Nigerian native could be a 57-second quartermiler by the end of the season.

* FAST FACT: Sickler and Pearson are the No. 2 and 3 returning vaulters in the nation behind senior Brooke Lankard of Visalia Golden West, who cleared 12-4 last year.

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