State loss stings but Falcons’ Ryan Thomas pleased with senior year success

Senior Ryan Thomas winning the CIF 1,600 run.
Senior Ryan Thomas winning the CIF 1,600 run.
(Photo by Dennis McClanahan

Torrey Pines senior Ryan Thomas entered last Saturday’s CIF State Championship final of the 1,600 meters as one of the pre-race favorites and through the first 1,200 meters in Clovis’s Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, nothing had occurred to make him think he was anything but a solid choice to hit the tape first.

The pace had been legitimate, the field was still tightly packed and Thomas knew he had one of the best finishing kicks in the group. But along with the 800, which Thomas ran at the 2022 State meet in the same venue, the 1,600 is one of the sport’s most tactical events and as the runners headed into the final backstretch, the 18-year-old’s afternoon went from comfortable and confident to complicated and desperate in a matter of seconds.

“My plan, knowing I have a really strong kick, was to hang back the first two laps and let someone else do the work up front,” said the 6-0, 160-lb. Thomas. “Heading into the last lap, I wanted to surge a little bit and get into position to make my move when it felt right.” Things were going according to plan, until they weren’t.

“Early in the last lap, I got caught in the back, had trouble getting clear and it went downhill from there,” he said. “With about 300 to go, I knew I was in some serious trouble. People were making moves around me and I just couldn’t get loose and respond like I wanted.”

Twice he had to take up to maneuver around runners on the back straight and then had to come off the rail and go wide in the last 100 meters to finally launch his closing rush. Once free, Thomas started picking off opponents but ran out of room, finishing second to Santa Barbara junior Andreas Dybdahl, his time of 4:08.82 just .18 seconds short of the winner’s mark.

Three days later, the final result still stung. “I was definitely really disappointed,” said Thomas. “I was very confident that I was the best runner in the state and this was my chance to prove that.

“It was such a bummer that I wasn’t able to make a move at the right time. I was boxed in and there was really nothing I could have done about it.”

Looking back at his Torrey Pines career through a wider lens, Thomas, who had clocked a personal best of 4:07.90 in March at the Azusa Pacific Distance Meet of Champions, can view his runner-up effort in Clovis and what led him to that point in a much more positive light.

His three siblings all ran track at Torrey and his sister Kate was a two-time San Diego CIF runner-up in the 300 hurdles (2017-18) and State Meet participant. But until he got to high school, Thomas claims he wasn’t fully aware that there was a running tradition in his family, including a grandfather who had competed collegiately for BYU and Northern Arizona. His catalyst for giving track a shot was coming up short in an attempt to earn a spot on the perennially elite Falcon boys’ soccer team.

“When I didn’t make the soccer team, I was looking for other things to do and finally tried out for track,” recalled Thomas. “I ran 4:51 in my first race and that set me on my path.”

Fast-forwarding from those humble beginnings to the spring of 2022, Thomas, then a junior, was fixed on the 800m, and ultimately qualifying for the State Meet in that event following a second place finish in the San Diego section. After reaching the final with a lifetime best 1:52.34 in the prelims, he was heartbreakingly DQ’d from the race for “incidental contact.”

An aerobic-building fall 2022 stint with the cross country team, led to the decision to concentrate more on the 1,600 as a senior, envisioning a better opportunity in the longer race to improve his top times and potentially reach the CIF State meet in both the 800 and 1,600.

Thomas came into the season with a 4:16 pr (a 35-second jump from that initial effort) and after posting a 4:10 early in the season scrambled to re-adjust his goals for the remainder of the campaign. The 4:07 in March resulted in a firm collegiate offer from Brigham Young, which he accepted, and he posted a new personal mark in the 800 (1:52.04) at the Escondido Invitational in late April. Earlier in the year, at the Mt. SAC Relays, he was part of a school record-setting 4x1600 quartet that was ranked No. 1 in the nation in that event. All-in-all, a pretty impressive collection of achievements from any perspective, even that of a competitor whose final prep race left him one step below the top of the podium.

“Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I was able to accomplish at Torrey Pines,” said Thomas in retrospect. “I fell in love with the sport and it’s exceeded my wildest expectations.

“I think one of the biggest highlights was getting the school record in the 4x1600. It was a great feeling because I was able to do it with those three other guys—Nathan Christmore, Matt Conway and Jonas Rickert. Getting to see my teammates succeed like I have was super special.”

Although the high school season is concluded, Thomas still has one more race on his immediate agenda. He’s been accepted into the boys’ championship mile at next weekend’s Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, OR. (he competes Sunday, June 18) where he will face a stellar field of racers from across the country.

In August, he will be heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he will start a two-year Mormon mission as part of his matriculation to BYU. He’s looking forward to both challenges.

“The Nike meet will be a great test,” said Thomas. “I certainly wasn’t satisfied with my performance at the State meet and it will be a chance to maybe turn a few heads and show what I can do against some really top runners.

“I’m also super excited about the mission and going to Brazil. I’m proud of all that I’ve done to get to where I am but really ready to start the next chapter of my life and ready to perform to the best of my abilities moving forward. I may try to train a little bit down in Brazil but that won’t be the focus. Taking a break from running and kind of resetting mentally should be good and so will being able to serve the Lord which is an important part of my faith.

“I plan to come back in two years, head to BYU and pick up where I left off.”

Joey Weisman’s first taste of state meet positive; looking towards future

Another Torrey Pines standout who earned a berth in the CIF State Championship meet was pole vaulter Joey Weisman. After clearing 15-0 to win the Division I San Diego title, he jumped 15-6, just two inches under his personal best, good enough for sixth in his first trip to Clovis. The height tied him for fourth but he was dropped to sixth based on misses.

“It was a great experience,” said Weisman after returning to San Diego. “California’s a pretty tough state in my event and there was definitely some pressure there.

“But there was a piece of me that kind of thought ‘hey, nobody’s expecting me to win or place’ and I was happy I was able to perform well.”

An interesting sidebar to Weisman’s story is the fact that he and Coach Kyle Brown decided to roll the dice at the season’s biggest event. In an event where so much is dependent on being perfect with your run-up, plant, pole size, etc., Weisman and Brown made a somewhat dangerous move on site, extending his run and using a bigger pole, hoping it could potentially create an opportunity to hit a higher height.

“We changed a lot right there but the thought was that since I was sort of an underdog, this was our year to kind of play around a little and take some chances,” said Weisman. “If things went right, it could have set me up for 16-6, which the top three guys were all capable of doing—or it might not work at all.

“I thought I handled it pretty well, the 15-6 was a good mark and I had a close miss at 15-10.” Of course, Weisman has the luxury of being a junior, knowing he will likely have another shot at State meet glory.

Like Thomas, he’s set to compete at the Nike Outdoor Nationals but after that it looks like it will be strictly off-season training and prepping for his senior year. The plan calls for minimal vaulting, maybe once a week, with plenty of gym time and body maintenance.

“I’m looking to work on my shoulder strength and really want to improve my speed,” said Weisman. “Those two in combination will set me up for bigger poles.

“Bigger and stronger physically, a bigger pole, more confidence—I hope to be in the high 16’s in a year. You see some vaulters who are happy when they get a three-inch gain in their p.r.—I couldn’t imagine myself doing that.”