Carpinteria High School runner Vincent Rinaldi, finished in second place in the CIF 100m dash final. | Credit: Erick Madrid

The dawn of a champion sprinter occurred in the hours before sunrise last autumn. The Carpinteria High campus was closed because of the coronavirus from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Vincent Rinaldi, hoping that there would be a track and field season in the spring, was determined to work out. Entering his senior year, he wanted to improve his times in the 100 and 200 meters.

“Mateo Handall [a junior 400 runner] and I got on the track at 5 a.m.,” Rinaldi said. “There were no distractions. It was train, train.”

He received workouts from John Larralde, a longtime Carpinteria coach, who was well-versed in the science of running fast.

“It’s been a four-year journey,” Larralde said of Rinaldi’s prep career. “He was frequently injured. We had to figure out how much training to load. It’s quality over quantity. He runs intervals at full speed but does no jogging during rest periods. Running slowly leads to poor mechanics.”

Rinaldi had shown promise as a sophomore, running the 100 in 11.40 seconds and the 200 in 22.72. But he missed big meets like the 100th running of Carpinteria’s Russell Cup, and the pandemic wiped out all competitions the following year.

His training paid off on May 8 at this year’s Russell Cup. Rinaldi shattered a pair of school records while winning the 100 in 10.87 and the 200 in 21.87. A week later, he pulled off another double victory in the Santa Barbara County Championships. 

In the 100, he trailed four others at the midway point, including two football standouts — Darien Langley of St. Joseph and Sheldon Canley Jr. of Lompoc — who never got caught from behind in the open field. Rinaldi kept his form in the final 50 while the others decelerated, and he overtook them in the final strides.

“I like being a smaller guy and see these six-foot, 180-pound guys wondering who this kid is in lane five, and them getting dusted,” said the 5′11″, 155-pound Rinaldi.

Next up for the county’s fastest young human was this month’s CIF Division 4 Championships, bringing together many top prep athletes from Southern California. For the first time, the finals as well as the preliminary qualifying meet were held at Carpinteria Valley Memorial Stadium. It was a major undertaking, but Warrior head coach Van Latham and his crew were old hands at running an efficient meet.

Rinaldi blazed to new school records of 10.72 and 21.57 in the 100 and 200 prelims. Also displaying elite speed was Rodrick Pleasant, a sophomore from Gardena Serra High. His prelim 100 was 10.65, while Oaks Christian freshman Chase Farrell also clocked 10.72.

In the June 12 finals, Rinaldi caught Farrell at the finish in 10.71, shaving another tick off his record, but Pleasant stormed out to win in 10.46.

Pleasant unleashed another spectacular sprint in the 200 finals, clocking 21.02, the fastest time in the state and a new division record. “It was fun racing against him,” said Rinaldi, the runner-up at 21.58. “I knew he was going to be fast, but not this fast.” 

Pleasant was a cornerback on Serra’s football team, and after his track triumphs at Carpinteria, it was reported that he picked up offers from Oregon, Arizona, TCU, and several other colleges to join their 2023 football recruiting classes.

Rinaldi said he will continue sprinting next year at Chico State. He has one more prep meet. The top 40 performers in California this year have been invited to compete in a “State Championship” event June 25-26 in Arcadia. Just to make the finals — his best chance is in the 200 — would be a crowning accomplishment for the Carpinteria comet.

In other Division 4 finals, Carpinteria senior Esai Vega placed second in the boys’ discus throw (138′1″), and Handall finished third in the 400 meters (52.02). Bishop Diego sophomore Clara McDonald claimed the girls’ shot put title with a heave of 36′2 ½″, while Sue Luamanu, another Bishop 10th grader, placed fourth in the boys’ shot (45′7.75″).

Juanita Webster-Freeman | Credit: John Zant

U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS:  Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former Santa Barbara High athlete Randall Cunningham, punched her ticket to Tokyo by winning the women’s high jump with a leap of 1.96 meters (6′5″) in the track and field trials at Eugene, Oregon. Coached by her father in Las Vegas, Vashti also competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Santa Barbara Track Club, which trains at Westmont College, sent two athletes to the trials. Tim Ehrhardt, a former Michigan State athlete, placed 11th in the decathlon last weekend. He scored big in the pole vault by clearing 5.45 meters (17′10 ½″) but fell almost 300 points short of his personal best with an overall score of 7,772.

Juanita Webster-Freeman will take her shot at the women’s heptathlon this weekend (June 26-27). Hers is an inspirational story, as she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, at an early age. SBTC coach Josh Priester took her into the fold after she won the state community college title at Cerritos College. Webster-Freeman scored her personal best of 6,006 points this year but will have to top that to make the Olympic team.

MILESTONES:  UCSB graduate Barbara Nwaba FitzSimons, who won the 2016 Olympic trials heptathlon and represented the U.S. in the Rio Games, was unable to overcome injuries and announced her retirement earlier this year. She is a member of the SBTC/Westmont coaching staffs.

Barbara Nwaba FitzSimons | Credit: John Zant

Zola Sokhela, who came to Westmont from South Africa on an academic scholarship, was named the 2021 NAIA Men’s Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year after winning a middle-distance double (800 and 1,500 meters) at the national championships and also helping the Warrior men take second in the 4×800 relay. 

Happy trails to Marty Davis, who retired after 22 years as UCSB men’s tennis coach. His teams won 13 Big West titles. 

San Marcos junior tennis player Masato Perera has committed to Harvard, but first he will have a championship to defend next year. He rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Alex Michelson of Aliso Niguel in the CIF singles final.

Santa Barbara High won its first CIF boys’ volleyball crown in 29 years. Coach Chad Arneson’s Dons overcame Huntington Beach in the Division 2 final, 25-21, 25-18, 29-31, 21-25 and 15-9. UCSB-bound senior Sam Meister crushed the championship point off Peter Tebbe’s set.

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