As several high school runners discovered Saturday, outperforming a Mt. San Antonio College Invitational field frequently is no less challenging than outperforming the nation.
For the second consecutive year, the Mt. SAC meet produced four nation-leading marks. And for the second year in a row, a Rio Mesa High sprinter topped the national list in the girls' 400 meters.
Meanwhile, Agoura High's Bryan Dameworth lost a 1,500 race in which a nation-leading mark was recorded. But Pasadena Muir's Inger Miller, national leader in the girls' 100 and 200 meters, was unable to compete because of a sprained ankle. Miller also missed last year's meet with a hamstring injury.
Marion Jones, Rio Mesa's heir-apparent to five-time state sprint champion Angela Burnham, broke the nation-leading time of Bakersfield's Janice Nichols with a 54.21-second clocking in the 400.
Nichols, a sophomore who has run 54.50, was disqualified after a false start.
"It took a lot of pressure off me," Jones said of the disqualification, but the freshman still was impressed by her fast company. "The first 200 was quick. I mean \o7 everyone \f7 ran quick."
Jones said that she was planning to run 26- and 27-second splits for each 200 but was still within the reach of runner-up Camile Noel (56.11) of Canada and Tanya Dooley (56.57) of Bret Harte High in Altaville despite crossing the halfway point in 25.8.
In the 400 at Mt. SAC last year, Burnham, now at UCLA, raced to the top of the national list with a 54.09 mark.
The Spartans' 400 relay team was fifth Saturday before Danielle Tanner handed the baton to Jones on the final leg. Jones stormed past Hawthorne, Bakersfield and Morningside anchor runners and almost overtook Muir's Deanna Knowles en route to a second-place finish (47.54). Muir timed 47.35.
Jones also ran in Rio Mesa's victorious 4 x 200 relay (1:40.90). The mark is the nation's second fastest this year.
In the 1,500 Dameworth faced Southern Section 1-A Division rival Coley Candaele of Carpinteria. With 440 meters remaining, Candaele surged past Dameworth to win in 3:52.01. Dameworth, third in 3:53.53, was passed by Venice's Danny Jordan (3:52.73) in the homestretch.
Dameworth's coach wants a swifter start.
"For four years he's been coming through the half-mile in 2:07 and until he gets the nerve to go out faster he won't beat them," Charger Coach Bill Duley said. "For some reason he wants to outsprint them, and a 53-second quarter-miler isn't going to outkick a 48-second quarter-miler."
Nation-leading times in the 4 x 800 were set by the Rialto Eisenhower boys (7:48.59) and the San Diego Mt. Carmel girls (9:25.99).