It came down to the final race.
Locked in a tight battle with Lawndale for the Ocean League championship, the Santa Monica High boys track and field team needed a victory in the last event of the day. And the Vikings delivered.
Samohi edged Lawndale in a thrilling 1,600-meter relay race to capture this year’s conference title, a landmark accomplishment for coach Tania Fischer’s program.
Fischer, who has led the boys team to 10 league championships in her 20-plus years at the helm, said it was one of the most exciting high school track meets she’s seen in a long time.
“I am extremely proud of all our young men who ran with heart to capture the Ocean League title,” she said. “They knew what was at stake. It created this great tension.”
Brighton Mills, Jared Hassim, Reece Pecoco and Darren Dixon rose to the occasion and combined to clock in at 3 minutes 26.17 seconds in the decisive relay, edging the Lawndale quartet’s time of 3:26.94 by less than a second.
Their collective win was a highlight of a league finals that included 12 total event victories for Samohi’s boys and girls and a record-breaking day for standout senior Marcel Espinoza.
Eighteen members of the team qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 prelims, which will be held May 14 at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo. The divisional finals are slated for May 21 at Cerritos College.
Espinoza sped to first-place finishes in the boys 200- and 400-meter races, making history along the way.
He ran a 21.87 in the shorter event to edge Culver City senior Cahlil Hooper (21.96), the league champion in the 100-meter dash. In the 400, he logged a personal-best 47.42 to break the school record of 48.10, which was set in 1976 by Tim Chambers and matched by Mark Hill in 1984.
Espinoza now holds Samohi program records in the 100, 200, 300 and 400.
“We always knew he could do well in the 400,” Fischer said. “He’s just been putting it together. It’s kind of long for him, so having the endurance and confidence to push it all the way around was always a test for him. Each time, he’s getting more and more confident.”
Mills won the boys 800 in 1:59.39, senior Lucas Jackson ran a 4:25.29 for top honors in the 1,600 and sophomore Ariel Dyrek claimed first in the pole vault with a mark of 12 feet 3 inches. And the Vikings relay squad came through with victory No. 6 for the boys.
“It was very, very close, and that made it even more exciting,” Fischer said. “That’s what track is all about.”
Meanwhile, Halimat Adeyemi and Anya Sturm led the way for the Samohi girls. Adeyemi swept the sprints with a 12.78 in the 100 and a 26.10 in the 200, while Sturm secured two distance wins with a 5:08.46 in the 1,600 and an 11:31.88 in the 3,200. Janaya Bruce won the conference title in the 800 with a 2:23.33 and Danielle Roth had the league’s best showing in the discus (90-8).
Other qualifiers for the section prelims include Kasia Krzyzanowski (girls 800 and 3,200); Biruke Alemu (boys 3,200); Dixon (boys 200 and 400); Sturm (girls 800); and several relay groups.