Leading the Empire contingent at the North Coast Section track and field finals opening in Berkeley today are a sizable stable of top prep athletes with solid shots of advancing to the state championships.
Competition will be stronger than ever within the concrete confines of historic Edwards Stadium, on the University of California campus.
This year the top three finishers in each event at the NCS Meet of Champions qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation meet. The section's top four have qualified in the past.
Hopefuls include these athletes with marks among the section's top three in their events:
Sadia Ibrahim, Santa Rosa High. The Panthers great is ranked first in the girls 800 meters and has the Empire's third-fastest time ever in the event.
Herbie Polk, Maria Carrillo. The Pumas speedster tops the section in the 400 meters — third best all-time in the Empire. Polk also is ranked second in the 200, with the second-best Empire mark.
Alison Scranton, Petaluma. Just a sophomore, Scranton leads the section in the shot put. She also is third in the discus with a mark that measures sixth all-time for the Empire.
Dante Hay, Maria Carrillo. Starting the season strong, Hay has lowered his 800-meter time to lead the section.
Kathleen Durand, Maria Carrillo. The section's top discus thrower set the Empire record in the event this season. Durand also is fourth in the shot put.
Jackie Chalmers, Montgomery. Another two-race standout, Chalmers is second in the 400 meters, also the Empire's second best all-time mark. Her time in the 200 is eighth for the section and fifth-fastest ever in the Empire.
Morgan Bertsch, Santa Rosa. Soaring to the second-best all-time Empire girls high jump mark, Bertsch is No. 2 in the section.
Ryan Douglas, Petaluma. Still seeking this season's best 1600-meter race, Douglas is second in the section and last year ran two seconds faster.
Kiana Herold, Sonoma Academy. Right behind Bertsch in the high jump, Herold is a multi-event standout who took off in the high jump this season.
HelenAnn Haun, Healdsburg. The latest Empire girls pole vault standout is second in the section with the area's sixth all-time height.
Maria Barragan, Healdsburg. Third in the section for the 800 meters, Barragan has the ninth-best Empire time ever.
Nolan Nagle, Cardinal Newman. Third in the section for the shot put, Nagle also has the region's fourth best distance in the discus.
Justin Zinnerman, Rancho Cotate. The Cougars sophomore joins a long list of high jumpers tied for the section's second-best mark.
With fewer state qualifying spots available at the section meet, athletes still could move on with marks meeting CIF at-large standards. Those are tough thresholds, however, with only a few Empire athletes yet to surpass those standards.
Empire athletes who already have reached state performance standards and would move on if they reached those marks again are: Polk, in the boys 400; Bertsch and Herold, in the girls high jump; and Durand, in the girls discus.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here