By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys track and field team came within 2 points of the Division II CIF championship.
University City scored 64 points at the CIF San Diego Section finals May 28 at Mount Carmel High School while Ramona accumulated 62 points. Ramona won the Division II championship in 2008 and 2010, and the Bulldogs finished 2009 as the Division II runner-up.
“Being top two four years in a row is quite impressive for a school that’s not as populated as some of the others,” said Ramona High School Athletic Director Damon Baldwin, who as track and field assistant coach handles sprinters.
Baldwin’s sprinters include senior Zach Kovach, who set a school record in the 200-meter dash. Steve Albanese, assistant coach for the distance runners, will be accompanying Ramona junior Dylan Blankenbaker to the state meet June 3-4 in Fresno after Blankenbaker’s third-place finish in the 1,600-meter run qualified him for a berth in the state competition.
Blankenbaker had a time of 4:15.84, a personal record that placed behind winner Matt Carpowich of Torrey Pines and Rancho Buena Vista’s Chris Brewer but ahead of the 4:16.28 posted by Rancho Buena Vista’s Kyle Lynch.
“The last lap I just put myself in position to be able to make a move, and it came down to the last 50 meters,” Blankenbaker said.
Blankenbaker was last after the first 400-meter lap, which took him 62 seconds but was completed by the leaders in 60 seconds. “It went out pretty hard,” he said.
Blankenbaker gained positions on the next two laps and was in fifth place with about 200 meters remaining. He gained one position about 150 meters from the finish line before passing Lynch with about 50 meters left.
“I had no expectations of running that fast at all,” Blankenbaker said.
Blankenbaker missed four weeks of the season after being diagnosed with low iron levels and being advised to take time off for recovery. He was cleared to return to running in late April.
“I really didn’t expect to come back and run,” he said. “Just running made me happy, and racing as well made me ecstatic.”
The athletes from Division I and Division II combined with the top three times or distances in each event qualify for the state meet. Team points are awarded for finishes within a school’s division, and Blankenbaker’s time was the fastest of any Division II runner.
Senior Trevor Dotson also earned Division II first-place points for Ramona with a distance of 45’8” in the triple jump. That figure shared fifth place overall.
Kovach’s time of 21.89 seconds in the 200-meter dash was second among Division II runners and sixth overall. Although the time was considered wind-aided, school records do not take wind into account. On April 14 Kovach set the hand-held school record when he ran 200 meters in 21.80 seconds, which would convert to an electronic time of 22.04 seconds. His electronic time at the CIF meet was faster than the 21.92-second performance in 2004 by James Rhoades, who is now the sprints coach at El Capitan High School and who congratulated Kovach for breaking his record.
“It is something that was one of his goals from Day One,” Baldwin said of Kovach’s school record. “That was a huge end-of-the-year deal for him. He peaked at the right time. He just had a great race.”
Kovach also set a personal record in the 400-meter run with a time of 48.96 seconds, earning third among Division II runners and fourth overall.
“The kid from San Pasqual just outleaned him a little bit,” Baldwin said of Kovach narrowly missing a lane in the state meet. “To hit 48.9, that’s a phenomenal run.”
Baldwin noted that Kovach shaved more than half a second off his personal record.
“He saved his best for the end of the year,” Baldwin said.
Bryan Kelly, Kovach, Dotson and Nathan Cherek comprised Ramona’s 4x100 relay team, which took 43.56 seconds to place sixth in Division II and 13th overall. William Wenberg, Matt Maple, Dotson and Kovach ran the 4x400 relay and had a time of 3:25.95 to earn fourth-place Division II points and finish ninth overall. Preston Johnson threw the shot put 50 feet 4-1/2 inches to take second among Division II throwers and fifth overall. Dotson’s long jump of 20 feet 10-1/4 inches was the fifth-longest jump for a Division II athlete and placed 14th among the 31 total long jumpers.
Blankenbaker was one of three Ramona runners to score Division II points in the 3,200-meter run. Forrest Riley’s time of 9:33.54 placed third in Division II and eighth among the 24 total runners, senior Chance Varnado-Richardson closed out his high school career with a time of 9:38.56, which gave him fifth place for Division II and 10th place overall, and Blankenbaker’s time of 9:44.71 was sixth among Division II competitors and 13th overall.