The Santa Margarita track and field program has had plenty to boast about in its history, most recently three straight CIF-SS championships won by the girls.
But the Eagles have never claimed as much speed as they own this season, and seniors Blake Hennesay and Nikki Merritt are the main burners.
Hennesay posted the third-fastest time in Orange County history in the 300-meter hurdles–and the fastest in 17 years–when he finished second in his preliminary heat at the state finals last June in 36.95 seconds.
That time would have been good for sixth place in the finals the next day, but Hennesay didn’t get the opportunity because he was disqualified for a false start. Still, he was the only non-senior to qualify for the finals, meaning he has a good shot at winning it all this season.
Merritt didn’t qualify for state in an individual event last season, but helped the 400-meter relay team finish third in 46.71, and the 1,600 relay place fifth in 3:49.08.
Earlier in the season, Merritt had teamed with Mallory Barnes, Lauren Drysch and Tessa Green to set the school record in the one-lap relay (46.28), and did the same with Barnes, Drysch and Erin Gerardo the four-lap relay (3:47.82).
Barnes and Green are also back this season, giving the Eagles an excellent chance of going even lower this season.
Merritt came close to qualifying for state in the 100 hurdles last season, finishing seventh at the CIF-SS Masters Meet in a personal-best 14.31 seconds. It’s an experience she hopes will come in handy this season.
“That was just a really cool experience in general,” Merritt told the OC Register. “I was really happy with my time. I got to race against some of the best hurdlers in the country.”
Merritt has shown improvement already this season, breaking her own school record in the 100 meters with a wind-legal time of 12.07 seconds in a dual meet against Trabuco Hills on Feb. 28. She also set a new lifetime best in the 200 of 24.89.
Hennesay is also more than just a hurdler.
He qualified for the state finals in the 100 meters as well, finishing ninth in 10.85, which was somewhat disappointing considering he ran 10.57 in the preliminaries the day before. He owns the school record in the event at 10.54, and also teamed with Derek Brajevich, Richie Caragao and Kyle Hastings to set the school record in the 400 relay (41.97), and with Brajevich, Hastings and Tru Fulton to set a new mark in the 800 relay (1:30.21).
Brajevich, Caragao, Hastings and Fulton are each back this season.
Hennesay signed with TCU in November and his versatility has coach Darryl Anderson excited.
”Blake is unique in that he does the 300 hurdles and 100,” Anderson said. “He’s made it to the California state final in both events and will be a guy who can do a lot of different things for us.”
Santa Margarita’s first Trinity League dual meet is March 15 against visiting Mater Dei. The Orange County Championships are scheduled for April 14 at Mission Viejo High School, and the postseason begins with the league prelims on April 26 at Santa Margarita with the state meet scheduled for June 1-2 at Buchanan High School in Clovis.