NORWALK — Four athletes from Newport Harbor High started the school year on the same team.
Three earned the right to end it together next week on the same team in a different sport.
Since September, Ethan Cochran, Ryan Andrews, Steve Michaelsen and JB Salem had each other's back. The foursome started on defense for the football team.
When the football season ended in November, a month later the four went to work in track and field. Tony Ciarelli has been there since Day One, coaching the four as the defensive coordinator in football and then the throws coach in track and field.
Ciarelli led the four throwers to the CIF Southern Section Track and Field Masters meet for the first time Friday at Cerritos College. Ciarelli is now taking three of them to state next week.
Cochran and Michaelsen advanced in the discus throw. Cochran placed fourth with a heave of 182 feet, 11 inches and Michaelsen's 176-6 effort was almost seven feet better than the state qualifying mark.
Andrews qualified in the shot put with a mark of 58-7½, good for fourth place. His best friend, Salem, fell short in the shot put and he is not moving on to state at Buchanan High in Clovis.
"We hate leaving JB behind, but a bad day to have a bad day," Ciarelli said after Salem's best toss, a 53-9, was short of the 55-2 state qualifying mark. "But we all competed well and it's been a great season. We got one more week."
Cochran, Michaelsen and Andrews are giving up prom for next week. Competing at state will be just more memorable. This will be their first state appearance.
That will be the case for Newport Harbor pole vaulter Mark Sakioka. The senior is joining the three throwers at state after he placed third with a 15-8 clearance.
Two other local athletes not advancing to state were Newport Harbor's Fritz Howser in the pole vault (seventh place, 14-8) and Corona del Mar's Karlèh Wilson in the girls' shot put (eighth, 39-9¼). Only the top five in each event earned automatic berths to state, except if an athlete hit or bettered the state at-large standard.
The trip to state will be a special one for Ciarelli. The throwing contingent he will have at state is the most in his 17 years at Newport Harbor. The last time he had three throwers reach state, he said it was back when he was a coach at Edison in the late 1980s.
It is tradition for the Sailors making it to Masters to go out and eat afterward at Captain Jack's in Sunset Beach. Ciarelli expected the bill to be a little high this time around.
"The one thing about Captain Jack's, you get your money's worth," Ciarelli said with a smile.
Ciarelli got his money's worth out of his throwers.
He said this is one of the best throwing groups, if not the best group, he has ever worked with. That is saying a lot because Ciarelli is one of the best throws coaches in the nation.
Ciarelli did not need to wait long for Cochran and Michaelsen to book their ticket to state.
The two juniors qualified on their first throws in the discus. Ciarelli was happy to see Cochran and Michaelsen take care of business right away.
For Cochran, he could afford to foul his remaining five throws. He was already in, and as he put it, "I was just trying to have fun."
Michaelsen just felt better than he did a week ago, when he tweaked his back in the days leading up to the Masters meet qualifier, the CIF Southern Section Division II finals. How he tweaked his back, Michaelsen said, was a fluke because he did it just by picking up the discus.
Another problem arose for Michaelsen before Masters.
"This week I actually got a blister on my throwing finger," Michaelsen said. "I never had that, so I had to deal with that."
Michaelsen survived and finished in sixth place.
When the discus event ended, Michaelsen and Cochran walked toward the shot put area to support Andrews and Salem. They watched the two seniors warm up.
Salem went first, but he missed the state qualifying mark by almost two feet. Andrews fouled his first attempt, which surprised Ciarelli.
"Ryan hasn't fouled a throw in, I don't know how long," said Ciarelli, adding that the throwers might have been nervous since they were near the track and stands.
Andrews shook the nerves.
Fans nearby helped. They had a rhythmic clap going, a sound that pumped up Andrews before he spun and released the ball.
The claps worked as Andrews hit 58-7½ on his second throw. Andrews deserved the applause after he failed to get to Masters last season.
"It feels good, really good," Andrews said of bouncing back this season and getting to state. "That's what we set out to do since the beginning of the season. Happy most of the team is still with us. Left one behind, which is sad."