Redwood Empire Girls Track & Field and Cross Country history Part II (1982-1991)

By Jim Crowhurst

Part I (1972-1981) of this series ended with the emergence of two outstanding distance runners, Petaluma’s Lori Shanoff in the NBL, and Piner’s Laurie Hollingworth in the SCL, which included what they did in 1982.

You can find Part I (1972-1981) here.
Now let’s pick up from there.

This new period (1982-1991) produced some of the greatest high school girls ever for the Redwood Empire. Some of the marks they made have never been duplicated to this day.

The 1982 track season kicked off this era with horizontal jumping like had never seen before or since.
Montgomery’s Deanne Neff had held the long jump record (18-0) for five years but in 1982 Petaluma’s Dee Peary broke the sand at 18-2¼ to take down that mark and later in this section two other athletes will take it well beyond that.
1982 also saw the introduction of the triple jump for girls and Montgomery’s Cherlyn Paul wasted no time establishing a solid record jump of 34-8½.
The next two years however Piner’s Tammy Wessendorf added nearly two feet to that mark as she went 36-5¼ in 1983 and then 36-6 in 1984. But even those amazing marks pailed compared to what would soon come.

1984 also saw some great high jumping by Petaluma’s Tara Grieser who moved to 2nd All-Time behind Neff with a winning 5-5 jump to be crown NCS Champion that year. She was the NBL champion from 1981 to 1983.

Sherri Minkler section 1983-1985
The next great distance runner on the track was Analy’s Sherri Minkler.
Minkler crushed the SCL records. She won the 3200 from 1983 thru 1985 lowering the 3200 down to the still standing 10:58.5. She also won the 1600 in both 84 and 85 setting a new meet record there as well in 5:09.6. In 1984 she would win the NCS MOC 3200 in 11:03.5. She ended her high school career with a fourth place finish at State with a 10:37.78 mark that would stand as the Empire record for nine years. Watch that race here.
She was also the best cross country runner of 1984 winning SCL title before running the fastest ever Woodward Park time for the Empire in 18:14, still the 14th fastest ever.

Analy’s Sherri Minkler
Analy’s Sherri Minkler

Minkler wasn’t the only hot distance runner of the early 80’s as the Redwood Empire would own the NCS 1A and 2A Championships. Minkler’s first years of cross country she ran in teammate Jennifer Bocca shadow.

Bocca was the 1982 2A champ followed in 83 & 84 by Ursuline’s Julie Ruiz. Ruiz would clock a 17:22 3-miler. Sonoma Valley’s Kathy Dalton would win the 1986 2A meet over 5k course in 18:00. Dalton won the 1985 & 1986 SCL titles by 2 minutes and 1:58 respectifully. Dalton obit
Meanwhile in the NCS 1A Calistoga had a star as good as any of them in Jeannise Eisenman. Eisenman would own the 1A from 1984 thru 1986 and followed that up with a 10:50.80 3200 to win the NCS MOC track title in 1987.

How about those shot putters

The Empire had some great shot put battles during this time.
1985 saw Ukiah’s Lisa Jordan win both throw titles at the NBL finals and produce a new Empire record in the shot at 41-3. Meanwhile in the SCL Casa Grande’s Rene James broke the meet record in the shot at 34-11½.
Then in 1986 Piner’s Becky Barragan won both SCL titles and in the shot cranked one out to 42-11¼ breaking the Empire record and still stands as the SCL Meet Record and would hold up as the Empire best until 1993.
But it would be James who would go on to win the NCS MOC title that year at 40-8¾ and then become the Empires first ever top 8 finisher at state with a 7th place finish.

Wendi Simmons section 1985- 1987
Then came Wendi Simmons
Simmons crop
Read interview with Simmons on her career here.

In 1985 Santa Rosa high’s Wendi Simmons came on the scene and dominated everything she did. Sports writers may over use the word dominate but that is exactly what Simmons did in what sometimes seemed like every event there was. In the 80’s SRHS was just a three year school but there is no doubt Simmons would have ruled as a ninth grader also.
We could look at her career in different ways but I think I will do it by meets.

North Bay League Finals
Ten individual titles and one relay in just three meets. * Six meet records.
1985 400 58.7, 800 2:23.9, LJ 18-2¼* also Mile Relay
1986 400 58.0*, 300LH 44.7*, LJ 18-4*
1987 400 58.3, 300LH 44.4*, LJ 17-11, TJ 36-9½*
Triple jump meet record still stands while the 400 record held for 11 years.

NCS Meet of Champions
Three titles
1986 Long Jump 18-1¾
1987 Long Jump 17-11½
1987 400 56.86

State Meet
In 1986 Simmons would qualify for the finals in both the 400 (57.15) and the 300 hurdles at the state trials.
She decided to drop the 400 and run just the hurdles finishing in 5th at 43.55.
You can watch that race here, Simmons is out in lane 8.
In 1987 she would run even faster but a stellar field put her in 7th at 43.27.
You can watch Simmons, still standing Empire record here. Simmons is out in lane 8 again on the 9 lane track.
Simmons is in lane 8 of the 9 lane track. This race was won by Janeene Vickers whose 40.26 trials time was the number 2 HS performance in US history. Vickers also won the 100H in #3 All-Time mark of 13.34 and won the 100 at this state meet. She would go on to win the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics at the 400 hurdles.

Simmons was the first to ever break both 45 and 44 seconds for the hurdle race and the time still stands as the Empire record.

A few notes about events she did.
Did not take up the triple jump until her senior year. Her 38-10 jump added more than 2 feet to the Empire best and no one has come within a foot of it since.
Her 300 hurdle time has only been bettered one time.
She added almost a foot to the long jump record and only one girl has past that mark so far.
Had range from 25.9 200 to being NBL champ at 800.
Her 400 record held up for 12 years.
Came within 0.3 sections of breaking Empire record in Mile relay.
High jumped 5-2.

Not surprisingly she went on to be a top Heptathlete.
6,078 at 1996 Atlanta Olympic trials
(100H/14.15, SP/42-4¾, HJ/5-8, 200/24.31, LJ/20-8½, JT/125-5, 800/2:09.32)

Simmons helped her team to a number of league titles but Montgomery won the NBL title in 1987. After that Santa Rosa owned it again from 1988-1997 before the Vikings ended their streak again. So dominate were the Panthers that in 1995 they scored 231 points to second place Ursuline at 72.
Petaluma moved to the SCL in 1987 and starting in 1988 has won at least a share of 13 of last 24 pennants.

Analy’s Jennie Dempsey was a two time SCL cross country champion winning the 1987 and 1988 titles by over a minute each time. In 1988 she placed 7th at Division II State meet. In track she won the SCL 1600 in 88 & 89 and the 3200 in 89 & 90.

Sharon Polley Section 1985-1988
Polley scan
Until recently the Redwood Empire has not been known for producing state quality girl sprinters, with one exception.
That one, was El Molino’s Sharon Polley who was a four time NCS champion and made her best mark in the 100 hurdles.
Polley sprinted onto the scene her freshman year in 1985 winning both the 100, equaling the SCL meet record at 12.4, and the 200, breaking the MR in 25.8.
She would continue to do this over her four year career lowering the meet records down to 12.1 and 24.9 for a total of nine SCL individual crowns.
The ninth came in her senior year when she took up the 100m low hurdles with another meet record of 14.3.
She would leave El Molino with four Empire records: 12.34, 25.09, 14.10 and member of sprint medley team at 4:15.15.
4:15.15* El Molino 1986 Heidi Weckerle, Ylisa Stanford, Sharon Polley 60.8*, Mara Konopasek 2:20.5*
In 1993 the hurdles went up 3 inches to 33″ tall. The closest anyone has come to Polley’s time (14.10 at 1988 NCS finals) is 14.57.
What separates Polley from the other Empire female sprinters was how she did at NCS and state.
Polley is the only girl from the Empire to ever win the 100 or 200 at NCS MOC.
Her sophomore year she won the 100 in 12.59
Junior year she she was the 200 champ at 25.53.
Then her senior year she took both (12.48/26.44) plus taking second in the 100 hurdles to the eventual state champion.
Polley then capped off her prep career with our only girls state sprint medal so far.
You can watch that race at the page below by clicking on the video for 100LH.
You will she her running in lane 2 placing 6th in 14.55. She runs in 7th place until sprint after the last hurdle.
Watch 1988 races here.
That 1988 NCS meet and State medal almost never happened for Polley because of a concussion suffered days before NCS trials.

Read interview with Polley on her career here.

Click on to enlarge

Amey Mitchell Section 1988-1991
This era started off with record long jumping but nothing like what would come from Rancho Cotate’s Amey Mitchell.
Mitchell burst on the scene her freshman year (1988) winning both horizontal jumps at the NBL finals.
Read interview with Mitchell on her career here.

She won both NBL jumps again in 1989 plus the 100.
Then at the NCS MOC she was the first and only jumper we have ever had to break the 19 foot barrier winning the section at 19-1¾ for a new Empire record. At state that year she became our first jumping medalist with a 5th place finish.

Mitchell continued to get better her junior year winning three individual events at NBL’s (100LH, 100, LJ).
She followed that with her second NCS long jump title at 19-5¼. At the 1990 State Meet she would come within one place of being state champ at 19-3. Her season best of 19-8 has stood the test of time as the Empire record for 26 years so far.

At the 1991 NBL finals Mitchell would win her third straight 100 title, fourth straight long jump title and Rancho Cotate’s first ever 400 relay title.
At NCS Redwood meet she would tie the still standing long jump meet record at 19-2½.
At the NCS MOC she would win her third straight long jump title.

Nika Horn Section 1989-1992
Interview with Nika about her prep career and family
Nika Horn started her high school career while a ninth grader at Rincon Valley J.H.
I believe she might have been the first junior higher in Santa Rosa allowed to compete in the high school qualifiers for state.
She unoffically won the NBL cross country finals at Spring Lake in 18:58, beating the official winner Piner’s Michelle Ferguson (19:14) by 16 seconds.
Horn went on to qualify for the State meet in division I and placed 44th.
She won again in 89 and 90 holding the Spring Lake course record at 18:09. At the time it almost seemed like no one could ever break the 18 minute barrier. That mark did eventually fell to a girl named Julia Stamps, but that’s another story.
Horn would officially win the next two NBL finals (1989 & 90) before having an off day in 1991 When teammate Rhonda Mazza would blaze 18:10 at Spring Lake. Horn’s 1989 win was by an astounding 1:17 over second.
With Horn, Mazza and Megan Reeder going 1-3 in most meets in 1990 and 1991 the Panthers dominated the NBL.
At cross country NCS MOC meets the Panthers would own the NCS division I race taking first from 1990 thru 1998.
Horn would win the 1991 meet with the fastest time of all divisions. Mazza took the 1990 and Reeder with them graduated taking the 1992 meet.
After Horn’s 44th as a ninth grader she took 16th at state the following year and then 33rd in 1990.
Her senior year was the best with a division I 7th place finish in a blazing 18:34 over the 5k Woodward Park course.

So much for her success on the trials. On the track she was also the shinning star of her time.
The NBL track finals were all hers. All three years she would win both the 1600 and 800.
In the 800 she would twice break the meet record, set by Lori Shanoff, the last being 2:19.1.
In the 1990 finals she would take all three distance races adding the 3200 that year.
Besides her endurance Horn also had good speed running on most of Santa Rosa’s 1600 relays during her years there.
The Panthers won NBL 1600 relay all three years with last setting a new meet record at 4:04.8.
The closest any 1600 meter relay team had ever come to breaking 4 minutes was the 1981 Santa Rosa team in 4:03.04. Then in 1991 a Panther team made up with two distance runners, Horn and Mazza, along with Kellie Baralt and Azmina Hanna destroyed that old Empire record with a 3:59.54 time before lowering it again with the same foursome down to 3:59.10 in 1992. To this day it is still the Panther record. Horn clocked 59.1 for her split.
One relay she anchored still stands up as the Empire record to this day, the Sprint Medley. 1600m Sprint Medley (200,200,400,800)
4:13.17* Santa Rosa 1992 Anke Kneifel, Kellie Baralt, Rhonda Mazza 60.6*, Nika Horn 2:19.3*
Plus her 4X800 team held the Empire record as well until that Stamps girl came along.
4×8 9:40.28* Santa Rosa 1992 Kari Horn 2:27.8, Rhonda Mazza 2:21.0, Megan Reeder 2:33.1, Nika Horn 2:18.3
After league Horn became our first NCS MOC 1600m champion taking the 1992 in 5:06.84.
Besides her 800 in 2:19.1 she also had prep best of 5:02.62 1991 and 11:18.42 1992.

Early in this era Tara Grieser shown in the high jump.
At the end of this era it was Analy’s Jackie Hurt who would leap above the rest.
Deanne Neff’s 5-6 jump had lasted for the Empire record for 11 years before Hurt would go one better winning the 1989 NCS MOC title with a 5-7 jump.
That mark would hold up even longer last as the record for another 14 years.
Hurt would win the SCL titles from 1987 thru 1989 and held the SCL meet record from 1989 for 15 years.

Kerri Woolheater Section 1989-1992
The last shining star of this period was Casa Grande’s Kerri Woolheater.
Her best year was actually 1992 but with her three preceding years in this period I’m showchasing her here.
As a freshman she let everyone know she would be someone to watch over the next years as she began her brilliant high school career with an SCL title 800 and a season best of 2:17.13.
1990 saw another 800 title after adding the 1600 title and helping establish an SCL meet record in the 1600 relay at 4:11.8 that would remain for 22 years.
1991 she showed her incredible range winning SCL titles in 1600, 800 and 200.
She would take down Laurie Hollingworth 2:13.16 Empire record with a still standing junior record of 2:12.16. Capping her junior year was a 5th place finish at state.

Junior year photo when Woolheater, in yellow shorts, would finish 5th.
Junior year photo at State when Woolheater, in yellow shorts, would finish 5th.

Her senior year, 1992, would not disappoint.
Her SCL finals dominated the meet with four wins 1600/5:11.4, 4oo/59.0 MR, 800/2:21.7 and 200/26.0.
Her fourth place finish at state that year is still the best ever for the Empire in that event.
She would end her prep time with what is still four of the eleven fastest 800’s ever and she lowered the record down to 2:11.71 which has never been bettered.
1992 25.6, 57.8 2:11.71 5:08.90, 4:45.4 1500m

But more about that in part III, including names like Tamika Brown, Julia Stamps, Katie Schukle, Sara Bei, Rose Criss, Jenny Aldridge, Tia DeSoto, Amber Trotter and many more. When I get to Part III (1992-2001)