Back and on track
PUKALANI – Winds gusting in the 30-mph range Friday night at King Kekaulike Stadium delivered bone-chilling conditions to the first Maui Interscholastic League track and field meet of the season, but Baldwin High School’s Amber Kozaki had a smile on her face nonetheless.
A?day earlier, in field events that were moved to Yamamoto Track & Field Facility in Wailuku, Kozaki opened with an 11-foot pole vault, 3 1/2 feet in front of second place.
With a lifetime best of 12-3, the recent University of Hawaii track signee is the second-best female pole vaulter in MIL history, behind former teammate and current Washington State freshman Kristine Felix, a three-time state champion.
“I talked to my coach and we wanted to get 11 (feet) – we knew that would be good for the start of the season,” Kozaki said. “Yesterday was really nice, it was good weather, the wind wasn’t that bad.”
Kozaki also won the long jump Thursday at 16-0 3/4.
In her single event Friday, she finished second in the 100-yard dash in 14.05 seconds into the stiff headwind, behind Seabury Hall freshman Alyssa Bettendorf’s time of 13.88.
Kozaki has been second and third in the state pole vault over the last two seasons and was third in the long jump last year.
Her pole vault Thursday matched her state-meet mark from 2012 and her long jump was less than 10 inches behind her state performance.
The meet was Kozaki’s first high school competition without her buddy Felix.
“She was my teammate – we used to practice together, do warm-up stuff together, we used to do everything together,” Kozaki said. “It is always good to have someone there to push you. I think we made each other better.”
Kozaki signed a letter of intent with UH last week.
“It is a lift off my mind because now I don’t have to look for colleges and try to get to them, so that is really good,” she said.
Kozaki’s 100 time was a full second off her lifetime best.
“It was really windy today, so it was really a challenge,” she said. “Once that 50 hit, I was, like, ‘Wow.’ We were going right against that wind, but I guess it is only the first meet, so that’s OK.”
Kozaki said her pole vault goal this season is 13-0 – Felix owns the state record of 12-6.
“She always calls me, she lets me know how she’s doing,” Kozaki said of Felix, who finished second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor championships last week. “She gives me little tips here and there.”
Other standout marks Friday included Ally Smith’s 1:01.86 in the girls 400 and Kiana Smith’s 5:35.62 in the 1,500, just part of the depth that makes Seabury a state title contender.
“The wind was tough, but we have been practicing a lot in the wind, so I kind of got used to it,” Kiana Smith said.
Six-time state champion Dakota Grossman skipped her distance specialties, finishing third in the 100 in 14.77.
“This is a training meet for everybody,” said Spartans girls coach Bobby Grossman. “I put Dakota and some other athletes in shorter events for speed work. Unfortunately it is windy today, so we are not getting everything out of it, kind of a time-trial thing for them. Overall, it was good.”
King Kekaulike’s Jordan Romero cleared 6-0 to win the boys high jump, Friday’s lone field event for boys and girls.
“I didn’t even practice for the high jump either, I just kind of winged it,” Romero said. “That’s a state-qualifying mark, so I’m kind of happy to have that out of the way. Shucks, in this wind I didn’t think I could clear 5-8. I guess the wind probably helped me get over, probably helped me get higher.”
Na Alii’s Jake Jacobs, the state runner-up in the 400 last season, won by more than two seconds, in 51.95.
Baldwin’s Keelan Ewaliko, the defending state champion in the 200, won the 100 in 11.49 and the long jump in 20-10, and anchored the 400 relay team to a time of 44.16, more than two seconds in front of second-place Kamehameha Maui.
* Robert Collias as at email@example.com