During a Valencia track and field practice this spring, it started to rain, much to the dismay of just about all the runners in attendance. All of them but one.
“Everyone wasn’t used to running in the rain,” said JaCore Johnson. “I was like, ‘This is nothing. This is easy.’ Everyone is like, ‘Of course this is easy for you.’”
Johnson had moved to Valencia from New Jersey before the school year began, so he’d seen rain before. But more so than his acclimation to wet weather, it was his attitude that made him want to work through the conditions.
That attitude – combined with a short Valencia career that ended in a state meet appearance – earned the senior the title of All-SCV Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“He’s always the first kid in and the last one to leave,” said Valencia relay coach James Berkley. “He’s at practice warming up before everyone else … He always wanted to do an extra set.
“(If I said) ‘Let’s run an extra 300,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He was so quiet. He was a quiet kid. But just worked hard. After that I knew we had something special.”
Johnson first concentrated on the 200-meter dash, then expanded to the 400. As parts were being interchanged in the 4×400 relay team, Berkley saw an opportunity for Johnson.
In the Vikings’ fourth Foothill League dual track meet of the season, Johnson was assigned the anchor leg against Saugus.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to put him in there,’” Berkley said. “He hates to lose.”
Trailing by about 100 yards in the final stretch, Johnson picked it up and managed to pass the Centurions’ anchor at the finish line.
Berkley was stunned. Johnson was not. After running the 200 and the 400 earlier in the day, the Valencia runner was well-prepared for the relay.
“For the 4×4 I just think about having fun,” Johnson said. “I ran my hardest race (in the 400) and a 4×4 is like jogging at that point, because you ran it already. It feels like it gets easier.”
Johnson, who didn’t begin running until his junior year, won Foothill League titles in the 200, 400 and the 4×400 relay, which he ran with teammates Tanner Berney, Antonio Marroquin and Kai Wingo.
He continued through the postseason and made his way to the CIF state meet. He broke the league record in the 400 at the state meet, running the event in 47.89 seconds. The day after, he ran it in 47.62 for fifth place at the state finals.
The relay team made history by becoming the first Valencia relay team to appear at a state meet. At the finals, Johnson and his fellow runners earned eighth place and a new personal record of 3:16.39.
“I’ve never went to state with my two years running … I think it was pretty nice to see all the fans watching and everyone was PR-ing,” Johnson said of his time at the state level. “…It makes you want to push harder and at the smaller meets, there’s not really people yelling you on and I think it was a good experience on my part.”
Johnson will be running at College of the Canyons next season with aspirations of joining a four-year program, and while he’s left a mark on the Foothill League record books, he’s also made a more intangible change at Valencia.
“All these kids have been texting, ‘When are we going to start summer practice?’ All these kids want to go to state now,” Berkley said. “We made history. It’s beautiful and the way he worked out, he left a good example for everybody and they see how he worked. And other kids think they can do it now.”
Antonio Abrego, freshman, Golden Valley
Despite being the only freshman in the field of competitors for the 800, Abrego pulled off a seventh-place performance at the Masters Meet. He came in third in the event at the CIF-SS finals, recording 1:57.02 and was a crucial piece of the Grizzlies 4×400 relay team that reached the Masters Meet.
Tanner Berney, senior, Valencia
Berney excelled in both the triple jump and the 4×400 relay this season. He jumped 44-07.75 on his only attempt for fourth place in the triple at the CIF-SS finals. He was also on the first Valencia relay team to appear in a state meet.
Danny Bryant, senior, West Ranch
After spraining three fingers in his first attempt in shot put at the CIF-SS prelims in May, Bryant had to re-learn how to throw. He got the hang of it just in time for the CIF state meet, where he placed fourth with a toss of 59-00.
Ethan Danforth, junior, Canyon
Danforth won the Foothill League title in the boys 3,200 and CIF-SS finals, then followed up with a second-place finish at the Masters Meet. At the state level, he placed fourth in the event with a time of 9:30.00.
Mya Davis, junior, West Ranch
With constant competition from Hart’s Cole Shirakata, Davis was able to win the league title in the boys 300-meter hurdles and take seventh in the event at the CIF-SS Division 2 finals.
CJ McMullen, senior, Hart
McMullen stepped up his throwing in a major way towards the end of the season. He claimed the Masters Meet title in discus with a throw of 184-06 and came in sixth place at the CIF state meet.
Solomon Strader, sophomore, Trinity
Following up on a breakthrough freshman year, Strader was first in the 200 and 400 at the CIF-SS Division 4 finals. He then came in second in the 400 (47.49) and sixth in the 200 (22.06) at the Masters Meet.
Christian Valles, senior, Canyon
Transferring in from Burroughs, Valles made an instant impact in the Foothill League. He cleared 15-08 for the league’s pole vault title and 15-06 for second place at the CIF-SS finals. At Masters, he maxed out at 15-09 for fourth.