Track & Field: Speedy record Breakers

It had been etched in the books for 48 years, but within a span of three days last week, the seconds had been wiped away — twice.

School annals show that back during the 1965 track and field season at Laguna Beach High, the boys' 400-meter relay team of Buddy Abrams, Jim Murray, David Collen and Chris Paulsrud made their way into the school's record book. The foursome did so by racing to a record time of 45 seconds in the event.

The group's near-half century run in the top, has come to an end.

In its season opener March 6, a tri-meet against Riverside La Sierra and El Dorado, the Laguna 4x100 team of Reece Barton, Robert Clemons, Nate Lancaster and Drake Martinez erased that '65 record time, by setting the new school record with a time of 44.67 seconds. An outstanding effort, indeed, but before their names could be inked in as replacements in the record book, that time also was eclipsed two days later.

On March 8, at the Irvine/Asics Invitational, the 4x100 team of Barton, Spencer Anderson, Lancaster and Martinez turned in a time of 44.65 to set yet another school record for the relay.

After the record had been set March 6, Laguna boys' coach Scott Wittkop said he wasn't surprised Barton, Clemons, Lancaster and Martinez had topped the previous record.

"Most played football together, so they have a unity about them," he said, referring to Clemons, Lancaster and Martinez.

Wittkop also figured the new mark would be toppled again during the course of the season. But two days later?

Barton, Lancaster and Martinez ran on both record-setting days. Clemons was part of the March 6 team, but Anderson took a turn on the track for the March 8 Irvine event.

"They all have earned a spot on the team, therefore we rotate them," Wittkop said of the lineup change. There was no run-off held before the start of the season. They are very competitive and want to leave their mark.

"It is nice to have five guys who can compete in this event. That way, if anyone is sick, there is someone that can step right in and feel comfortable in the race."

Anderson said the quintet was confident of its potential.

"Before the season started, I knew that there was a lot of speed in this group, a lot of natural ability," said Anderson, who is in his fourth year in the track program. "By breaking the record, it really confirmed our optimism about what we could do this year. Although we broke the record, twice, I definitely think that there's room for improvement. That's what I'm most happy about this season, the fact that we can continue to get better."

In addition to the speed and talent the relay team possessed, Laguna sprints coach Mark "Preacher " Harris points to a turning point before the start of the season, that he feels has added an extra dimension to the team's success.

Harris said he heard a talk given by veteran Rio Mesa High sprints coach Brian Fitzgerald regarding the use of the under-handed baton exchange between runners during relays, at a track and field seminar held in January at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

"[Fitzgerald's] seminar really hit home, and I bought into it," Harris said. "His talk deepened my knowledge about using the under-hand version, and it was really profound.

"We brought it to our sprint teams before the start of the season, and there was a lot of enthusiasm. The seniors, at first, kind of gave a sideways look to the new approach but now, the kids are really liking it. I'm passionate about it. We work on it every day at practice. One thing I have noticed, is that since using the under-hand exchange, our guys have had two or three steps on their opponents during races."

"That's one area where I think we can improve," Anderson said of the under-hand baton exchange. "With the over-hand exchange, you sort of run awkwardly for a few steps. But with this new handoff, it's more smooth. It's definitely been beneficial for us, but we still need to work on our technique."

All five Breakers compete in several events during any given meet. Barton, a standout soccer player for the Breakers who was named Co-Offensive MVP of the Orange Coast League in 2012, competes in the 100, 200 and 400 meters; Lancaster (all-league football), the 100 and 200 meters and shot put; Martinez (OCL MVP in football), the 100, 200 and 400 meters and shot put; Clemons (all-league football) the 100 and 200 meters; and Anderson (OCL football Lineman of the Year), the 100 meters and 110 and 300 hurdles.

Both Lancaster and Anderson qualified last spring for the CIF Southern Section Track and Field Championship preliminaries, and Anderson advanced to the finals. Clemons and Martinez are in their first year on the track team.

"What it really comes down to, is that you always have two guys, maybe three, who are really fast on a sprint team" Harris said. "This year, it's the perfect storm, with all five guys that we have.

"To put it into perspective for the guys, I told them the record they broke, was older than most of their parents. So far, the relay team has run twice, and broken the school record twice."

Wittkop has a strong feeling that the 4x100 record will yet again be broken during the season.

"One-hundred percent," he said of his prognostication. "They will run faster as the season progresses."

The 4x100 relay team will take the track again on Saturday when Laguna hosts its annual Trophy Invitational at Guyer Field. Running events will take place on the Eric Hulst Track. Wittkop said this year's event is the largest Trophy Invitational to date, with 33 schools, including teams that have won CIF state titles in either track and field or cross-country, in the past five years, and 2,500 athletes.

The schools competing Saturday are: Laguna Beach, Crean Lutheran South, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Dana Hills, El Dorado, Estancia, Godinez, Harvard-Westlake, JSerra, La Quinta, La Sierra, Laguna Hills, Orange Lutheran, Rosary, Santa Ana Valley, Servite, St. Margaret's, Trabuco Hills, Valencia, Beckman, Santa Ana, Victor Valley Christian, Frazier Mountain, Corona Centennial, Valley View, University, Oxford Academy, Los Amigos, Baldwin Park, Hillcrest and Warren.

Wittkop called this year's Trophy Invitational field, "fast, very fast."

All running and field events start at 8:44 am. Gates will open at 6:30 a.m. Admission is $5 per adult, $4 for students without an ASB card, $3 for students with an ASB card, and under age 10 is admitted free.

Twitter: @MikeSciacca

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