Jason Lovell of Cleveland High is in good shape for this time of the year, but it wasn't easy to tell during an indoor track and field season that included more lows than highs.
Lovell, defending City Section champion in the boys' 400 meters, ran a hand-timed 47.5 seconds in an all-comers' meet at Cal State Northridge on Jan. 13. Yet his first indoor season concluded Sunday with a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Nike Indoor Classic at the Prince George Sports and Learning Center in Landover, Md.
Lovell, who ran a state-leading 47.43 in the 400 last year, won his qualifying heat in 49.38 on Saturday but clocked 50.76 in the final after nearly missing the race because it started 15 minutes earlier than he expected.
"I was told we were going to run at 1:30," Lovell said. "But when I came in [from the warm-up track outside] to check in at 1:15, they said, 'That race is already on the track.' "
A panic-stricken Lovell was able to delay the start of the race, but only long enough for him to take off his warm-ups and lace up his spikes.
"It was terrible," he said. "I wasn't ready to race at all."
Lovell's indoor prospects looked bright after his performance at Northridge, but he finished fourth in a heat of the 500-yard run in the L.A. Invitational at the Sports Arena a week later. Another runner fell in front of him entering the second curve of the tightly banked 160-yard track.
"I basically had to shove him out of the way," Lovell said. "That killed me."
Lovell ran a 400-meter leg in 47.8 while representing the USA Panthers Track Club in the Simplot Games at Idaho State in mid-February, but then came last weekend.
"This indoor experience hasn't been so great," he said. "I'm ready for the outdoor season to begin."
You're only as good as your last race.
That was the message Chris Wells-Anders of El Camino Real took from the Nike meet.
Wells-Anders, a senior, is the eighth-fastest returning 800 runner in the nation with a best of 1:52.28, but mediocre indoor times this winter kept him out of the top heat in Landover.
Wells-Anders won his heat in 1:56.22, but the runner-up in last year's state championships was sixth overall as Marc Sylvester of Cleveland had the fastest time at 1:52.75 and James Hatch of Boulder, Colo., had the second-fastest at 1:54.67.
"I was just cruising in my race," Wells-Anders said. "I know I would have run a lot faster than that if I had been in the other race. But I can't complain about that. You do what happens when it happens and you try and learn from it later."
It turns out senior Schquay Brignac of Taft is the only returning scorer from last year's team that won its third consecutive City Section girls' championship.
Junior Ashley Lynn, fifth in the shotput, is enrolled in a home-study program this year.
Junior Tim Gregory of Hart, who underwent surgery in October to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a mild cartilage tear in his right knee sustained playing football, could learn Friday if can run track this season.
Gregory, runner-up in the 100 in the Southern Section Division II final last year, has been working out on the track three times a week since late January, but has yet to run in a meet.
"It's possible," Gregory said of competing this season. "I'd like to, but I have to see what the doctor says Friday. I'll probably have a pretty good idea after Friday."
Rio Mesa, the No. 4-ranked boys' team in the region by The Times, will travel to No. 5 Hueneme today for a meet that will have Pacific View League title implications.
Rio Mesa defeated Hueneme, 76-51, in a dual meet last year and clinched the Pacific View title with a 119-92 victory over the Vikings in the league finals.
Lovell, Wells-Anders, Brignac and Chris Morgan of Taft top the local entries in the Northridge-Alemany Relays at Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
Morgan, defending state champion in the boys' 110 high hurdles, is entered in that event, the 100, long jump and 400 relay.
Lovell will run in the 100 and 200 and on Cleveland's 400 and 1,600 relay teams.
Wells-Anders is entered in the 800 and 400 relay.
Brignac, defending state champion in the girls' high jump, will compete in that event, the long jump and 200.
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The Top 10
Rankings of track and field teams in the region
RK School (League) 1 Taft (West Valley) 2 Birmingham (West Valley) 3 Cleveland (West Valley) 4 Rio Mesa (Pacific View) 5 Hueneme (Pacific View) 6 Palmdale (Golden) 7 Royal (Marmonte) 8 Camarillo (Pacific View) 9 Notre Dame (Mission) 10 Crescenta Valley (Pacific)
RK School (League) 1 Birmingham (West Valley) 2 Rio Mesa (Pacific View) 3 Notre Dame (Mission) 4 Thousand Oaks (Marmonte) 5 Cleveland (West Valley) 6 Canyon (Foothill) 7 Crescenta Valley (Pacific) 8 Camarillo (Pacific View) 9 Ventura (Channel) 10 Royal (Marmonte)