If Vashti Cunningham had to predict the day she would make history, Saturday would have been way down the list.
Cunningham was feeling fatigued after needing five attempts to win the long jump during the morning, and the searing heat at Palo Verde didn’t help matters, either.
But none of that stopped the Bishop Gorman sophomore.
Cunningham cleared 6 feet, 3 inches — the second-best mark ever in the United States — to win the girls high jump at the Division I Sunset Region track and field meet and, in the process, put her name in the high school record book alongside some of the event’s biggest stars.
“I had to do more jumps in the long jump than I was hoping, and I thought I would be worn out,” Cunningham said. “When I was standing on my mark and all the people were watching, I’ve been working the whole season to get there. I just told myself, ‘You’re not going to quit now. You have to push through.’ “
Cunningham smashed her own region record of 5-10 and also set a personal record. Her previous best was 6-2 set April 12 at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational.
Cunningham’s winning mark Saturday is the best ever in the high jump by a prep athlete from Nevada, topping the 6-2¼ by Reed’s Gabby Williams at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. It also tied five-time Olympian Amy Acuff for No. 2 all time in the U.S., according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book.
Remarkably, Cunningham missed her first attempt at 5-6 — she said her father and coach, former UNLV and NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, put down the wrong starting mark —and needed three tries to get over 5-11.
After missing her first two attempts at 6-3, she scraped the bar on her final try but it stayed up, drawing a huge ovation from the crowd. Cunningham then failed in three attempts at 6-4¼, which would have topped the national record of 6-4 set by Toni Young of Del City (Okla.) in 2009.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t believe I would make 6-2,” Cunningham said. “I watched videos of myself from last season and this season, and the change is like night and day. Something happened, and I’m way better now than last year.”
Cunningham’s record was one of four set in the Sunset Region. Ivy Dobson of Arbor View won the 200 meters in 21.01 seconds, Gorman’s Randall Cunningham II won the boys high jump at 7-1 and Centennial’s Dajour Braxton was first in the 1,600 (4:16.59) to help the Bulldogs claim the boys team title with 210 points.
Centennial also won the girls team title, scoring 199½ points. Sydney Badger was first in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, while Tyler Rowlette (200 and 400) and Tiana Bonds (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles) added two wins each for the Bulldogs, who also swept the four relays.
The Sunrise meet saw seven region records broken or tied, including two by Foothill sprinter Drea Austin. The senior, who competed at last year’s region finals with two pulled hamstrings, set records in the girls 100 (12.05) and 400 (57.41) to go with her victory in the 200.
“This year I wanted to make a name for myself and redeem myself, and I think I did that,” Austin said. “I’m just really proud. It’s really humbling, actually.”
Silverado’s Amari Norris equaled the record of 14.57 in the 100 hurdles, and Ashlie Blake of Liberty bettered her own record in the discus with a throw of 157-9.
Coronado’s Sarah Dort was first in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 to help the Cougars win the girls team title with 155 points.
On the boys side, Liberty’s Reno Tu’ufuli set the record in the shot put (60-4½), Silverado’s Dominic Smallwood soared 50-1 to break the mark in the triple jump, and Canyon Springs’ Demarcus Walker won the 300 hurdles in a record-time of 38.33.
Also, Liberty’s Martin Ponce was first in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, while Green Valley’s Ian Mack captured the 100, 200 and 400 as the Gators won the boys team title with 138 points.
When Sunrise Mountain’s Manuel Hernandez took the baton to run the anchor leg of the boys 3,200 relay with a three-step lead over Faith Lutheran, the competitive phase of the race was over.
The only drama remaining was if the Miners would set a Class 3A/Division I-A record. The Miners didn’t just break the record, they shattered it.
Hernandez crossed the finish line at 8:09.32. The previous mark of 8:25.83 was set in 2008 by Moapa Valley.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Hernandez said. “I knew my team had the strength to give me a good lead. During the last 100 (meters), I was really pushing myself.”
Sunrise Mountain won the team title with 122 points. Faith Lutheran was second with 104, followed by Desert Pines (95) and Boulder City (85).
“This was impressive,” Sunrise Mountain coach Cooper Harris said. “It takes a lot of training by the kids, and a lot of effort by our coaching staff to make sure our athletes are healthy by monitoring their bodies, their diets, their sleep and anything else that goes into helping these athletes perform at the highest levels. I cannot do it all.”
The 3,200 relay was not the only event in which Hernandez set regional records. He also set records Friday in the 800 meters (1:55.74) and on the 1,600 relay team (3:22.57).
“All the hard work has paid off. All the 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. runs were worth it,” Hernandez said. “All the times I felt sore and I kept running and pushing was worth it.
“This is for my parents, my friends and my friend who is blind. I dedicate these medals to them.”
The Miners also set a record in the 800 relay, and Sherman Nash won the 400 in a meet record 49.43. Javon Banks won the triple jump with a mark of 40 feet for the Miners, and teammate A.T. Sanders took the high jump at 6-4.
Faith Lutheran’s Mark Rubalcaba set meet records in the long jump (23-7) and triple jump (45-7½).
Faith Lutheran’s Chase Wood won the 1,600 (4:33.95) and 3,200 (10:00.17), Desert Pines’ Eric Wilkes won the 100 (10.99) and 200 (22.17), and Pahrump Valley’s Devon Montgomery took the 110 hurdles (14.6) and 300 hurdles (38.93).
Faith Lutheran’s Cayla Nikodemus was first in three events as the Crusaders won the Division I-A girls meet with 188½ points. Sunrise Mountain was second with 115, followed by Cheyenne (88) and Mojave (57).
Nikodemus won the 100 (12.23), 200 (25.31) and high jump (5-1).
Clarissa Maxey won the 400 (57.7) and was second in the 100 and 200 for Faith Lutheran, and teammate Haley Vinson won the triple jump (34-9¾.)
Sunrise Mountain’s Brittany Veal set a meet record in the 300 hurdles (45.03) and also won the 100 hurdles (15.72). Her teammate, Ebonique Diaz, was first in the 1,600 (5:28.1) and 3,200 (12:24.02).