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Golden Valley girls track and field thinks bold

Golden Valley girls have won 2 straight Foothill titles

Posted: May 11, 2014 8:13 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2014 8:13 p.m.
Golden Valley girls track and field members (from left) Crystal Orellania, Azaria Hill, Jada Selexman, Zakora Merriweather, Samiyah Hawkins, Bianca Tinoco and Caitlyn Zindroski have led the Grizzlies to two straight Foothill League championships. Golden Valley girls track and field members (from left) Crystal Orellania, Azaria Hill, Jada Selexman, Zakora Merriweather, Samiyah Hawkins, Bianca Tinoco and Caitlyn Zindroski have led the Grizzlies to two straight Foothill League championships.
Golden Valley girls track and field members (from left) Crystal Orellania, Azaria Hill, Jada Selexman, Zakora Merriweather, Samiyah Hawkins, Bianca Tinoco and Caitlyn Zindroski have led the Grizzlies to two straight Foothill League championships.

The group of girls who anchor Golden Valley’s successful track and field team aren’t looking for anyone’s congratulations.

They want to be feared.

They want the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley to loathe the very idea of competing against them. It’s a welcomed target on their back.

These girls want to start something that hasn’t been seen before in the short history of Golden Valley athletics — a dynasty.

“It’s not just a one-time thing for us,” says Golden Valley sophomore sprinter Azaria Hill. “Let’s leave a legacy for other future, upcoming athletes coming to Golden Valley to get inspired from and motivate to be at.”
It might sound ambitious, bordering on bold, but two years ago the same could have been said about the idea of the Golden Valley girls winning back-to-back league titles.

And yet here they are.

“That’s kind of where the groundwork was laid last year,” says Golden Valley track and field head coach John Quam. “They started believing in themselves. Almost a competition within the team. If you’re working hard, I have to work hard.”

When the girls track team won the Foothill League title last year, it was the school’s sixth overall league title across all sports, but it was the first by any girls team.

A big reason why is due to a perfect storm of athletes converging all at once at Golden Valley.

It’s an ideal mixture of talent and work ethic with certain girls stepping into leadership roles and others simply producing one incredible result after another.

There are the four seniors who set the tone with their consistency and unyielding work ethic: thrower Samiyah Hawkins, sprinter/hurdler Zakora Merriweather, sprinter/jumper Jada Selexman and hurdler/jumper Caitlyn Zindroski.

And then there are the younger, but very talented bunch with junior sprinter/jumper Crystal Orellana, sophomore relay runner Bianca Tinoco and Hill, who has been the Foothill League’s top sprinter since she set foot on campus last year.

Together, this group of girls combined to win seven league titles in individual events on Thursday at College of the Canyons.

And that was despite the fact the Hill didn’t run in the 100 or 200 due to a pulled hamstring suffered earlier in the day.

It was still more events than any other girls team won on the day.

And it means all seven girls qualified for the CIF-Southern Section Division II prelims coming this Saturday.

“We needed to set standards and now that it’s up there we need to keep it up there and not lose it,” says Orellana, who owns Golden Valley’s school record in both the long jump and triple jump.

She also runs for both the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay teams, which are the fastest the school has ever had.

Orellana is one of the longtime track and field athletes in the group. She’s been running competitively since age 7, while Zindroski has been doing it since 5 years old, Hawkins since 4 and Hill since she was practically old enough to stand up.

Hawkins was a sprinter growing up, but she switched to the shot put and discus after breaking her ankle two years ago. Now Hawkins holds the school record in the shot put, is a league champion in the discus and she plans on walking on at Cal State Northridge next year.

“I get to say that I played a part in scoring points for the varsity team and becoming league champions,” Hawkins says. “I did my part, and the other girls did their part too.”

Hill comes from a long line of elite athletes. Her mother and father are both former Olympians and her brother was a multi-sport athlete at Valencia High before playing baseball professionally.

Merriweather started running track a few years before she attended Highland High School in Palmdale. She transferred to Golden Valley for her junior year when her family moved to the area.

She won the 300-meter hurdles title on Thursday and helped the 4x400 relay team win.

As for Selexman and Tinoco, neither one started in sports until high school, so they’ve had to learn quicker.

Selexman battles asthma, but says it’s easier when she can look around and see what it takes to succeed.

“We see each other and the all the hard work we put into it as an individual and it just makes us want to work harder as a group,” says Selexman, who won the 400-meter league title on Thursday.

The roots of this championship team can be traced back several years when the boys cross country and track and field teams at Golden Valley started emerging as top flight programs in the area.

Under former cross country and track co-head coaches Rob and Chris Evans, the Golden Valley boys cross country team won league, CIF-Southern Section and CIF state championships in 2011.

That later translated into two straight boys track and field league titles in 2012 and 2013.

“They saw the success that those boys had under Rob and Chris,” says Golden Valley track and field co-head  coach Sara Soltani. “So when you’re a witness to hard work and where it can take you, I think it can rub off a little bit.”

Before the Evans brothers resigned as head coaches in 2012 after five years leading the program, plenty of strong female athletes came through.

The foundation was laid with NCAA Division I caliber athletes like Lauren Hackney, now at UC Irvine, and Chelsey Totten, now at Arizona State.

It set the example for this group of athletes and the new coaching staff to follow.

“Golden Valley doesn’t have a good reputation in sports, and it feels good that we’re the first girls team at this school to actually win a championships and get a banner in the basketball gym,” Zindroski says. “It just feels good that everyone wants to beat us.”

Zindroski is also one of Golden Valley’s top players on the girls basketball team, which is fresh off its first playoff win in school history in February.

Her older brother Connor also ran track and Golden Valley and now runs for UC San Diego.

Another legacy-in-the-making is Tinoco, whose older brother Brendan graduated from Golden Valley in 2013 and is now running for the University of Arizona.

Bianca already made school history when she became Golden Valley’s first female runner to make it to the state cross country finals when she was a freshman in the fall of 2012. She finished seventh.

But a streak of bad luck, a sprained ankle and mononucleosis, forced her to miss nearly all of her sophomore cross country season and most of this year’s track season. She finally made her return to varsity running on April 24, and now she’s an integral part of both of Golden Valley’s relay sprint teams.

“I’ve come this far, placing, running the relays, and it’s great,” Tinoco says. “I’m so happy. It’s great. I didn’t expect this to happen. I didn’t even expect to have a season for track.”

That’s the funny thing about expectations at Golden Valley, though. There was a time when there weren’t any.

But it seems like that’s all changing in a hurry.


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