“It’s easier to run faster when you’re running against faster people,” the 5-foot-4-inch tall sprinter says. “Early in the season (last year), we didn’t have the four permanent runners in place.” And, competition didn’t rise until partway through the spring track season, at the Arcadia Invitational and the Mt. SAC Relays.
Meanwhile, one of Eaton’s returning stablemates, the affable Sierra Roberson, a year in school younger than Petra as a sophomore, talks about the fine-tuned psyche one must have to pursue speed on the track.
“Well, the thing is, I don’t think when I run because it would mess me up. I’d be thinking about the pace. I’ve been running since I was young, so I have the technique. I don’t want to be thinking about that. When I run, I don’t think about my issues. You have to focus on the fact you’re racing, but you don’t want to overthink it. Otherwise, your whole technique is going to be off.”
Roberson, 15, is one member of the “burn sisters,” with her older sister Sakura, a senior, also taking the baton. Along with Satori, who graduated from La Jolla High last year, the three made up 75 percent of the record-setting relay, with Eaton carrying the other part.
Satori, whose name means “the reach of enlightenment,” moved on to Grossmont College this year, where she is pursuing her dream in playing basketball. Sakura’s name means “cherry blossom,” according to Sierra.
Hannah Kinsey moves up from alternate to fill the spot vacated by Satori’s graduation.
“She traveled with us to state last year,” says head coach Paul Byrne. “She can run as fast as the fourth person did last year. We are expecting only to improve upon last year’s time.”
“Petra and Hannah are both back again in the hurdles and looking good,” reports their coach. “Petra held the freshman record in the 300-meter hurdles until Hannah, now a sophomore, broke it last year.” Petra hurdled in 50.00 seconds as a freshman. Hannah broke her record with a 48.82 last year.
Eaton ran a 48.78, her personal record to this point, in the 300 hurdles at the Dick Wilkings Soph-Frosh Invitational last year.
Her sister’s name is Portia. The name comes from a character in the Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice.”
“My grandma knew somebody who worked on the play,” explained the older sister.
Regarding team culture and ethos, Byrne, in his third year as head coach, eighth total on the staff, which includes mentoring his pole vaulters, points a spotlight on Caitlin Wischmeyer, who has grown up in the program.
“Caitlin is a senior captain this year. She has always had leadership ability,” says Byrne, who came on as head coach three years ago to steady the ship after multiple head coaching changes. “This year as a senior Caitlin has taken over as a leader. She’s organizing the students on her own. As you know, it’s really great when you have student leaders like this.”
Byrne tries to foster a positive atmosphere of connection and team-building. “I think so,” he says in response to a reporter’s observation of the all-for-one kind of team culture that appears evident. “They’re coming out and having a good experience. Of course, there are star athletes among team members.
“I teach the new athletes. I also teach the seniors. There is no preference. It’s a team atmosphere,” he says. “There’s camaraderie. It’s supporting one another, being there to congratulate them. Growing up. Maturity.”
He acknowledges his pole vaulters bear up to the reputation vaulters have in general as independent spirits who are into taking risks. “They’re crazy guys,” he laughs. “You have the strength and the speed and the coordination. It’s gymnastics in the air.” Anyone has to be a little deranged to hurtle their bodies down a runway, balancing a giant stick, then at full speed jam the stick into the ground and give flight to an attempt to sail over a crossbar 10 or more feet in the air. That is the definition of insanity.
Jackson Scherrer, now a sophomore, ranked as the No. 2 freshman in the county last year in the event. He vaulted 11 feet in 2016. Already this year he went 12-feet-six-inches at the Mt. Carmel Invitational March 4.
Andrew Mitchell enthuses over his switch in the shot put from a spin technique to a glide. You won’t see him whirling around in the new Edwards Field circle. Rather, he’ll start from a position facing the back of the throw area, now located at the far northwestern corner of the new facilities, then, with a simple 180-degree turn, he’ll slide his foot, the “glide,” as he catapults the shot. He threw 39 feet in 2016.
“I P.R.’ed in the discus by 34 feet last year,” says Mitchell, a senior with a big frame who also starred on the Viking football team last fall on both defense and offense. His P.R., or personal record, is 134 feet. The La Jolla High School record that he’s going to shoot for this spring is 168 feet.
He went to the CIF finals in the event last year.
“Both Jackson and Andrew are trying long jump this year as well,” says Byrne, “and are currently looking very good in that event, too.”
Maddie Fike returns in the sprints, the 100 and 200. She went to the CIF finals last year.
What blows Byrne away is the explosion in how many athletes are on his team this spring. “Lots of numbers. The seniors have doubled in size from last year, pretty much because of sixth-period P.E.” The season started with about 130 student athletes. “Lots of young athletes: lots of freshmen, lots of sophomores.”