3 Comets at CCS Top 8 Meet: The Rise of James Lick’s Lady Throwers

In 2014, I came on alongside a few other JL coaches to become the head coach of the James Lick track team. Early into the season, I was introduced to coach Jonathan Vela, an alumni of Prospect HS and Fresno State, who had been working as a coach for the JV football team. He offered to work  with the throwers on the team, and after speaking with him, I was very eager to have him join our staff. At the time, I was only a 20 year old coach, one of many coaches brought into to fill the coaching void at JL, utterly obsessed with building the program, and helping JL succeed as a school. I knew very little about what building the program would entail, but I knew for certain that it would require coaches who could build the right team culture, and train athletes to the best of their abilities.

For this reason, I was very excited to gain a coach in throws, the area I myself was least confident in coaching. In a short time watching Coach Vela’s results, I knew that we had a legitimate throws coach. I could not have known then, that we had just added a coach who would transform our throws program completely, (especially on the girls side). The CCS has over 150 member schools. Many of those schools have outstanding throws coaches, but only one has 3 different girls throwers who qualified for the CCS top 8 meet this year.

Valeria Cortez and Charli Chircop both qualified for the prestigious meet in the Discus, and Alejandra Ceron qualified in the Shot Put. The CCS Top 8 meet has been contested for decades, and these three are the first lady Comets on record to compete in throwing events at the meet.

Valeria and Charli both thew decent marks, though not close to their PRs. Valeria threw the disc 96-11, and Charli threw 94-1. The big result for the team came in the girls Shot Put. Alejandra had been the last girl admitted into the meet at 33-4, ranked 20th/20 girls. Her very first throw of the meet went for a massive PR of 35-8.75, establishing a school record and helping her to a 6th place finish. This makes her the first Comet to score at the Top 8 meet since Joe Amendt in 1988. In fact, Alejandra is the first female Comet to score at the Top 8 meet in school history. The accomplishment puts her in elite company, the only Comets ever to score at the CCS top 8 meet are Henry Barba, Joe Amendt, and now Alejandra Ceron. Henry and Joe both were double champions of the Top 8 meet, Henry in 100/200 and Joe in the 800/1600 but we’ll happily take the 6th place performance from Alejandra!

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Left to Right: Charli Chircop, Coach Vela, Valeria Cortez and Alejandra Ceron all pretend they don’t see me taking a picture of them near the Los Gatos discus ring during the Top 8 meet.

Alejandra’s mark is just the latest in a very impressive progression under the tutelage of coach Vela. The story of the girls track team is similar to the story of the girls XC team. Many of JL’s greatest achievements on the boys side came in the first 25 years of the school’s participation in track (1950-1975). This includes the school records in boys Shot Put and boys discus.

Dan Lloyd holds the Shot Put school record with a toss of 59-9 in 1972, a few years later a Comet named Webster threw 56-0.5, and Bill Pabst threw 51-0.5 in 1969.  These 3 marks stand as the best Shot Put marks in school history by quite a margin. For reference, the CCS Top 8 meet was won this year with a toss of 51-0.25 by Mountain View’s Owen Mountford.

The top 2 discus marks in school history belong to James McGhee 159-9, and Bill Pabst 149-7, both achieved in 1969. (As always, these records are based on my research of results and communication with former JL coaches and athletes, if you have any more information about past teams, please feel free to contact me). 

So while the best boys marks in school history were set in the 60s and 70s, girls were not even allowed to compete until the mid 70s. Even so, Kathy Shelby’s Shot Put school record of 34-0 was set in 1975. A few years later a Comet named Dwyer threw 89-5  in the discus to set a school record that stood until 2002. A Comet named Ward threw 96-6 that year, a standout mark in an era of overall weak teams for the Comets.

Before 2013, one Comet girl had thrown above 90 feet in discus, and one Comet girl had thrown over 32 feet in the Shot Put. In 2014, coach Vela helped Robert Rios to a massive improvement in the boys Shot Put, from 35-10 the year before, to a WVAL title in 40-3. The next year Robert threw 43-2 to win the WVAL title again, and move into 8th on the school’s all time Shot Put list.

While the boys are not throwing close to the marks of JL’s glory days in throws, the Comets of today under Vela are building up year by year, in pursuit of excellence. This is the first year that Coach Vela has had 3 boys over 100 feet in the discus for example. Given the team’s steady improvement, the team could be a force in years to come, the way that girls throwers already are.

In that 2015 season, we had two very talented freshmen join the team in Alejandra and Charli. They both showed great ability, throwing the Shot Put in the 23 foot range,and the discus in the high 50s, with essentially no prior training. By the end of that season, Alejandra threw 29-6 for Shot Put and 75-8 for Discus, while Charli threw 27-11 and 76-2. Alejandra qualified for BVAL championships as a freshmen. Charli lost most of her Sophomore year to injury, but did throw PRS of 29-1 and 79-4. Alejandra progressed to 31-9.5 in Shot Put which put her #2 on the all time list, and gave her and Coach Vela the firm goal of trying to break the school record of 34 feet. Alejandra also threw 90-10 in the girls discus to become the 2nd lady Comet to throw 90 feet in school history.

2016 saw the addition of Valeria Cortez, just to add to the riches of Vela’s dynamic duo. Valeria was as good in Shot Put as Alejandra and Charli were when they were freshmen, but better in discus. At her first HS meet she threw 25- 5 in the Shot Put and 65-10 in the discus. By the end of the season Valeria would beat both Alejandra and Charli’s freshmen marks, throwing 31-1 in the Shot Put (#5 all time at the time) and at BVAL Championships, threw a school record 99- 9.5 to make CCS trials.

The girls have reached even greater heights this season. Alejandra opened the season with a toss of 32-3 for a new PR. Charli opened her season by breaking the 80 foot barrier, and 90 foot barrier in discus with a throw of 95-11, followed by a cracking of the 30 foot barrier in the Shot Put. This years team is the first JL team ever to have 3 girls above 90 feet in discus, and 3 girls above 30 feet in the Shot Put.

A few weeks into the season, Valeria threw over 100 feet to extend her school record. The record was then taken by Charli when she threw 103-2, and then taken back by Valeria’s recent toss of 106-2. Charli and Valeria threw 32-7 and 32-5 in the Shot Put around the same time that Alejandra threw 33-4 to move ever closer to her coveted school record.

The top 8 meet would be the venue for the achievement, her mark of 35-8.75 a PR by over 2 feet. Alejandra is now ranked #2 across the entire BVAL, and should be a lock to make CCS Trials. She is also now ranked 8th in the CCS as a whole. A top 12 performance at CCS trials would advance her to CCS finals, which no Comet has qualified for since Ruth Lebeau in 2008. Valeria and Charli are currently ranked 3rd and 4th in the BVAL in the discus, putting them in an excellent position to make CCS trials as well.

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Alejandra preparing to throw the Shot Put. Alejandra uses the glide technique, popular among many professional Shot Put throwers.

 

The throws team is in great hands under Coach Vela and the fruits of the teams labor are paying off in this regard. With the girls 6-0 on the season, it’s been clear that James Lick is the best girls throws team in the WVAL, but it may be the very best girls throws team in the entire BVAL at this point.

The team’s three-headed monster in throws will lead the team against Del Mar next week, as the team will try to cinch it’s second consecutive undefeated season.

The team will then begin its championship season with WVAL finals. The girls will be pursuing a 1st place finish to hopefully clinch a 2nd West Valley Division championship in a row. The boys will be hard pressed to win their own title, (Independence will clinch the boys title with 2nd place at WVAL finals) but they will attempt to beat Del Mar and earn a 6-1 record, and then will try to place 1st at WVAL finals regardless of final standing.

The season is fast approaching its climax,

Thanks for reading.

-Benny Reeves

Best Girls Marks Under Coach Vela (2014-present) 

Name Grade Mark Location Date
1 Alejandra Ceron 11 35-8.75 Los Gatos 4/22/17
2 Valeria Cortez 10 32-7 Overfelt 4/1/17
3 Charli Chircop 11 32-5 Fremont 3/25/17
4 Leysmi Saldana 11 24-6 Overfelt 4/21/16
5 Karina Venegas 12 23-7 Live Oak 5/1/14
6 Mariah Santos 9 23-3 Gunderson 3/29/17
7 Arlet Miranda 10 21-0 James Lick 3/25/17
8 Ruth Rodriguez 9 20-11 James Lick 3/15/17
9 Valerie Flores 11 19-10 James Lick 4/14/16
10 Adriana Marcelino 9 19-5 James Lick 3/15/17
Name Grade Mark Location Date
1 Valeria Cortez 10 106-2 James Lick 5/15/17
2 Charli Chircop 11 103-2 De Anza 4/8/17
3 Alejandra Ceron 11 93-5 James Lick 4/12/17
4 Karina Venegas 12 74-3 James Lick 3/27/14
5 Mariah Santos 9 74-1 Fremont 3/25/17
6 Leysmi Saldana 11 72-8.50 Overfelt 5/4/16
7 Adriana Marcelino 9 65-1 James Lick 3/1/17
8 Karen Montes 12 57-11 James Lick 4/7/16
9 Valerie Flores 11 56-10 Overfelt 5/6/16
10 Audrey Nguy 9 52-7 James Lick 4/12/17
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