Led by a pair of record-breaking performances from Aydon Stefanopoulos and Wil Brennan, the Los Gatos High boys track and field team won the Central Coast Section Championship at Gilroy High on May 20.
It was the second CCS title in program history, the first coming just four years ago in 2019. This time the Wildcats totaled 61 points to best runner-up Serra by 14 points. Brennan, a senior, won the 400-meter run, anchored the victorious 4×400 relay team and was a part of the 4×100 relay squad that finished in fourth place.
Brennan and Stefanopoulos are headed to Veterans Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High for the CIF State Championships May 26-27. They’ll be joined in Clovis by several other teammates, including the rest of the 4×400 team of Brady Kamali, Jake Bohane and Levi Romero, who finished second to Brennan in the open 400 to qualify for State in that event as well.
The Los Gatos girls also had a standout meet, led by sophomore Nicole Steiner, who finished second in the shot put with a mark of 40 feet, 7 inches. Hannah Slover, the defending state champion in the high jump, also is headed to Clovis after clearing 5-5, the at-large qualifying mark.
Slover did it on her third and final attempt, a performance that doesn’t look impressive on the surface but upon deeper introspection deserves plaudits. That’s because Slover—who has a PR of 5-8—has been hindered this season by a left ankle injury she suffered during basketball season.
“At the beginning of [basketball] season, we were getting in such good shape and I was grabbing rim and was ready [for the upcoming track and field season],” she said. “Then I got a pretty bad sprain, and it’s my sixth one on this [left] ankle, and there’s a little tear in there. So it’s been a really tough season coming back from that, and definitely has limited me in my ability. But I’m really glad I could make it happen and glad to be on the bus to state this year.”
Indeed, Slover overcame adversity to qualify for State for the second year in a row. A UC-Santa Barbara-signee for Division I volleyball, Slover surprised even herself last season after winning a coveted State championship in her first year of track and field competition at the high school level.
“It felt amazing,” she said. “I never went into that season thinking I was capable of that or that was going to be the outcome of the season, but I progressed really quickly and kept improving throughout the season. I jumped 5-8 at Arcadia which was a super, super exciting experience just being there around all the other good jumpers and it kind of let me know, ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’ And at the state meet my whole family was there, my grandpa is my coach, so it was a really good moment and an experience I’ll never forget.”
Nicole Steiner also qualified for State for the second straight year after finishing second in the shot put, continuing her rapid ascent in the event. Brennan, a senior, improved on his own school record in the 400, finishing in 48.02 seconds.
A productive wide receiver on the football team last fall, Brennan took the race out well and incrementally pulled away to the point where by the time he hit the final straightaway, it was clear no one was going to catch him.
“I wanted to build throughout the race, really push in the first 100 because last week [in the CCS Semis] I didn’t run a great time because I didn’t really push hard at the beginning. So it feels really good to get out there and run the race that I really thought I could run.”
Brennan was on a mission after taking second last year in the 400.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was to win this race,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. This is a feeling you literally chase all year, this is the meet we’ve been working toward all year.”
And going 1-2 with his close friend Romero?
“It’s awesome,” Brennan said. “Our goal was to go 1-2 at CCS and we made it happen.”
Stefanopoulos, the sophomore distance ace, won the 3200 and took second in the 1600, putting on a show in the process.
Not only did Stefanopoulos unleash a devastating kick in both races—passing a handful of runners on the back stretch—he broke some of the oldest school records as well. Paul Cox held the previous Los Gatos record in the 1600 from 1981, and Scott LaForce previously held the record in the 3200, which was set in 1986.
Stefanopoulos nailed a big PR in the 3200, finishing in 9:00.33. Positioning himself in fourth or fifth near the back of the lead pack for the first six laps of the race, Stefanopoulos started to pick up the pace with 450 meters to go and made his big move with one lap remaining, picking runners off one by one in what can only be described as a devastating kick.
It seemingly came out of nowhere, though it was his strategy all along. It was an impressive performance considering it came roughly an hour after he had used a similar strategy, passing three runners on the final lap, to take second in the 1600 in a PR of 4:10.66.
“I’m confident in my kick, I leave it to the kick,” Stefanopoulos said. “I go as slow as I can for the first few laps and the last lap, if you’re within 10 meters of me, I’m going to catch you. I know I don’t have the most endurance of everyone here, so I let them take the wind and I usually outkick them within the last lap.”
After the 1600, Stefanopoulos said he was expecting to go around 9:05 in the 3200. Well, he went a lot faster in an event he was competing in for just the second time this season. Stefanopoulos said he “knows” he can go 4:07 in the mile at State and sub-9 in the two mile.
Stefanopoulos felt so great after the 3200—which is the last individual event in the CCS Finals before the closing 4×400 relays—that he said he was ready to run another race.
Is he in peak condition?
“No, not yet,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard for it this year, but I know I can do more.”
Another great story has been Romero, who is in just his second year of competing in the sport and has made the fastest gains of any of the top CCS runners in the mid-distance events from last year to this year.
Also a football standout, Romero is headed to Cal Poly for track, a remarkable ascent given his top time last year in the 400 was 51.17. However, a year of experience under his belt combined with a great off-season training program with Brennan made the close friends that much faster.
After clocking 50.47 in the season-opening meet this year, Romero went sub-50 every single meet after that, including a PR of 48.20 in the CCS Top 8 Invite at Los Gatos High on April 21. Accordingly, Romero was all smiles after he and Brennan went 1-2 in the CCS Finals.
“I was honored to be here and being able to run this race,” Romero said. “Wil and I put in the work and training constantly, and it’s always been our dream to be at the highest level and we’re doing great so far. Just a lot of hard work and pushing myself more than my body could take very often, and competing with great teammates.”
Other notable performances came from junior Matthew Gladney, whose remarkable junior season ended with a 14.95 in the 110 hurdles. Talk about ending the year on a torrid streak: Gladney nailed a PR in six of his final eight races.
Kamali cleared 6-1 in the high jump, good for sixth place. Sophie Tau capped a notable running career at Los Gatos with a sixth-place finish in the girls 1600, her 5:00.13 representing her third fastest time ever.