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Back in November, I wrote a column about cross country playoff time describing the state meet as one of the most exciting and electrifying high school sporting events.

Well, it is now track and field playoff time and it, too, is at the very zenith of exciting sports events.

It all begins with CIF preliminary competition at various venues throughout California. There are four divisions all based on enrollment of a school. The smallest schools are in Division 4, then it moves to Division 3 and D2, then D1, the largest populated schools.

After the prelims, the athletes move to their sectional finals to crown each event’s individual and then team champions and other medalists in their respective divisions. In other states, athletes then go on to compete in their state championships, remaining in their divisions, but not in California.

In California, each section has what is called a Masters Meet. Its purpose is to determine the best athletes in the section regardless of division.

For the Southern Section, where our Central Coast teams reside, this meet holds a competition where the best athletes, based upon marks and times achieved at the finals, compete against each other.

If you are a D4 kid but were the ninth best or better out of all four divisions you are invited to the Masters Meet. Then the top six finishers here go on to the State Championships. There is also an at-large standard so that if you aren’t in the top six, but hit that standard, you get invited to the dance.

California holds a true state championship. There are no divisional distinctions. This means if you win as an individual or a team you are California’s best. A kid from a school with 200 students has to compete against kids from schools with 5,000 students.

Whoever is the best is state champion. He or she is not state champion for small schools but for all schools. That makes it unbelievably exciting.

Several Central Coast athletes have won individual state titles over the years. I think Arroyo Grande has probably crowned the most individual state champions.

But Cabrillo has some, as does Lompoc and I think San Luis Obispo. There could even be more that I just don’t recall.

Lompoc almost won the state team title when Napoleon Kaufman competed. He won the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. He was the favorite in the long jump but injury prevented him from competing.

As it was, his 20 points put the Lompoc team second. Had he been able to do the long jump, he and Lompoc would have won.

In 2010, St. Joseph had two girls at the state finals. One of them, Teresa Loya, was there for her third time in the shot put and she medaled. The other one, Natasha Kolbo, was making her first appearance in the pole vault event. She finished second.

What made Natasha’s finish so amazing was that she had only been vaulting for eight months. She went 12 feet, 9 inches and had the lead until the ultimate winner cleared a higher height.

Our team wound up 11th. When you think St. Joe’s only had about 500 students at the time, to finish 11th in the state of California is pretty cool.

If you get the chance, go watch the meet. It’s held at Buchanan High School in the Fresno area and you will get to see the best track athletes in California and really, the best in the nation.

Not only that, you will see several Olympians. Arroyo Grande’s Stephanie Brown Trafton won an Olympic gold medal in the discus and it all started at the California State Track Meet.

Wow!

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Greg Sarkisian coached high school athletics on the Central Coast for around 30 years. At St. Joseph, Sarkisian's track and field athletes won 24 individual CIF championships under his tutelage. He also taught mathematics for 38 years at the high school level and for 27 years at Allan Hancock College.

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