SOQUEL — The Aptos boy’s track and field team, back on top of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League after finishing runner-up last season, took a victory lap around the track at Dewey Tompkins Field with its league championship banner.

The pack of Mariners held strong through the first 300 meters but then started to slowly thin out. Aptos senior sprinter Danner Pardue was one of the athletes falling off pace down the final 100 meters.

It was the first and only time Pardue looked slow all day.

On Saturday, Pardue dusted the competition in the 100- and 200-meter sprints to claim the title of fastest in the county a year after missing the entire season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which he suffered in football.

“It was terrible,” Pardue said of having to sit out last season. “I wanted to be out there every day but I just couldn’t because of my knee. I’m happy that it’s gotten better and I’m bouncing back.”

Pardue wowed the crowd on hand at Soquel High with a blistering 100 in 11.06 seconds and then finished off his day by running the 200 in 22.38.

His time in the 100 was only one hundredth of a second off his personal best, which he set just a week before, and the 200 time was easily his best mark of the season.

Pardue said he feels like he’s peaking at the right time, especially with the Central Coast Section meet just two weeks away.


“I’ve been trusting my training, trusting my coach,” he said. “I feel good right now.”

He’s also had good vibes rolling through his mind during his races thanks to a tattoo on the inside of his right forearm dedicated to his late grandfather, Eduardo Zuniga. Pardue said he got the ink in the weeks after helping the school’s football team win its sixth straight league championship.

“I think about him when I run,” Pardue said. “I wish he was still here but, yeah, I do think about him when I look at it.”

His dominant victories also helped Aptos to its third team title in the last four years.

The Mariners won five events and had several athletes place within the top six to score points. It all added up to a whopping 167 points. Santa Cruz High finished a distant second with 94. San Lorenzo Valley High took third (88), Scotts Valley High was fourth (69), St. Francis High placed fifth (43), Soquel High was sixth (16) and Harbor High rounded out the pack in seventh (2).

“We talk about it all the time, it’s all about team track,” said Aptos first-year head coach Zach Hewett, highlighting athletes like freshman Vaughen Holland that did multiple events. “In general, we have a really good, young team that went out and performed when it mattered. It’s really nice to see the younger guys step up and lead.”

Aptos, which also went undefeated in SCCAL dual meets, produced three other individual champions in junior Jorge Benitez and seniors Jon Gospodnetich and Ethan Rasmussen.

Benitez knocked off last year’s champ Chris Anderson, of SLV, in the 1,600 with a time of 4:28.91.

Gospodnetich claimed the pole vault title with a leap of 11-feet-even after finishing runner-up last season and third the year before. He also took second in the triple jump (38-6). He will advance to CCS in both events.

Rasumussen, a two-time CCS finalist, three-peated as the SCCAL discus champ with a toss of 144-8.

St. Francis, meanwhile, produced its second-ever league champion on Carson Cuzick’s 42-1.5 toss in the shot put.

Cuzick, who St. Francis head coach Ramona Young described as “athletically gifted,” was busy taking his five-hour SAT on Saturday morning but made out to Soquel just in time to win the title. He also took fifth in the discus (108-2) and the long jump (18-4).

A star on the school’s football team, Cuzick admitted that he only uses track and field as a “precursor” for the upcoming football season. Still, he said he’d make the trip to the CCS meet and continue his season in two weeks.

“I might as well,” Cuzick said. “A couple of other kids from my school are going, too.”

Fellow Sharks Justin Parker, a sophomore, and Braxton Rico, a senior, will join Cuzick at CCS.

Parker qualified in the 100 (11.29) and 200 (22.78) after finishing second behind Pardue in both events.

Rico placed second in the 800 with a time 1:58.11 to qualify for the section meet and achieve sweet redemption after an injury-marred season in 2016, when he tore his hamstring weeks before the league meet and failed to advance to CCS.

“That’s what I’ve been working for this whole year,” Rico said. “Putting in those extra miles, those hard workouts. That’s what’s been motivating me through this whole year — that shot at redemption. I did it. It’s time to push on from here now.”

On the girl’s side, Aptos finished third and St. Francis took sixth. Santa Cruz edged SLV, 137.5-127, for the team title.

Sophomore Indra Lyons was the Mariners’ lone individual champion, winning the 100 hurdles with a time of 16.9.

Aptos, however, started the day off with a bang with its 4×100 relay team. Senior Lauren Inman, junior Faith Dennis, sophomore Emma Burke and freshman Shiori Oki teamed up to win the league title in the event and also break the school record with a time of 50.15.

Inman said she wept tears of joy when she heard the news.

“I was screaming. I was crying. I was so excited,” Inman said. “I was so hyped because we were so ready for it.”

It’s an accomplishment a year in the making, really.

Inman, Dennis and Burke were all on the 4×100 that advanced to CCS last season and nearly broke the record then with a 50.7. This season, Hewett threw Oki into the mix early on and the youthful speedster turned out to be the perfect fit.

“They had chemistry right away,” Hewett said. “They came out and almost broke it a few weeks into the season. Once I saw that, I knew I couldn’t mess with them. They’ve been it. Period.”

Oki said despite being the youngest and newest runner in the quartet, she’s felt right at home.

“They made me feel like it was nothing,” Oki said. “Like, ‘oh yeah, we’re just running.’”

Aptos senior Bella Dufek qualified for CCS with a runner-up finish in the high jump (5-3) and fellow Mariner Brynn Mitchell also made the CCS cut in the triple jump. Mitchell, a freshman, took second (34-2) in the triple jump.

SLV’s Cassie Ackemann and Scotts Valley’s Reece Stratford won the Bob Enzweiler Outstanding Athlete Award, which is given to the boy and girl who individually scored the most points for their team.

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