Vikes’ Johnson takes move in stride

Valencia's JaCore Johnson sprints the 400 meter dash at the CIF Southern Section Masters meet at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. on May 26, 2018. © Katharine Lotze/Special to the Signal

Last summer, Valencia sprints coach Joey Tureaud got an email from the Hanover Park High School track and field coach. The message was simple: the Vikings were about to get a very fast runner named JaCore Johnson.

The black text on a glowing screen could only slightly prepare Tureaud for what he saw when Johnson arrived.

“When everybody first saw him run, okay, this is going to be the fastest guy ever at Valencia High School,” Tureaud said.

“You could tell by his running style. He was very fluid when he ran without any effort at all.”

Johnson – who transferred from New Jersey’s Hanover Park – joined the 4×400 meter relay team in addition to running in the 200 and 400 for the Vikings. To no one’s surprise, he excelled in all of them.

However, there was one element of his 400 that needed work: the last 100 meters.

“Different people have different things to work on,” Tureaud said. “He wasn’t lasting all the way so his last 100 was poor. You have to fix that, so individually you have to look at that.”

Johnson had done all of the preliminary work before moving to Valencia for his senior year. He researched who held records for the Vikings and if they had graduated or not.

When it came to physical training, it was really just the West Coast climate he had to adjust to.

“I did the same training, it was just like, I had to drink way more water,” Johnson said. “…It was just the weather. Getting used to the heat all the time and in Jersey, you have all season weather, winter, fall all that. But here in California, it’s just heat.”

Making friends wasn’t a problem, either. Of course, when you’re the fastest kid on the track team, friendships tend to develop fairly quickly.

The switch from Hanover Park, which has an enrollment of 858 students, to Valencia, which has 3,103 students, couldn’t have gone any smoother.

“It just felt like I walked across the street,” Johnson said of his move from New Jersey to Valencia.

Month in and month out, Johnson developed chemistry with his relay teammates, Tanner Berney, Kai Wingo and Antonio Marroquin and, of course, worked on that last 100 meters.

At the CIF state prelims, he broke the Foothill League record in the 400, clocking 47.89 seconds to surpass Sam Pika’s 2017 record of 48.08. At the finals, he logged 47.62 to take fifth place.

“I got everything I needed to do done,” Johnson said. “So I had my strides perfect, my arms, my breathing techniques and that was pretty much that whole last 100 meters.”

The 4×400 relay team became the first Vikes relay team to make a state appearance. Although they narrowly missed setting a Foothill League record, they recorded their fastest time of the season at 3:16.39 for an eighth-place finish in the CIF state finals, which were held on Saturday at Buchanan High School in Clovis.

With blinding stadium lights looming above, Johnson and his relay teammates celebrated by taking a victory lap around the track.

Of all the final 100 meters that Johnson had ran throughout the season, few held as much meaning as the final 100 of that victory lap.

“It was the last time we’ll ever run together so we decided just to run a lap,” said Johnson. “…It was just mixed happiness with sadness. Like, I was just really happy that we made it this far and that we managed to get our goals done.”

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