Jose Gonzalez drops to one knee, closes his eyes and visualizes his approach and how it will feel – arms pumping, legs churning, hips high as he angles over the bar.
He always used the high jump as a time-filler, a fun way to stay in shape for soccer and football. Only now, everything has changed.
A No. 1 ranking in the Sac-Joaquin Section, along with peers clapping in unison as he begins his run-up, flips the priority list every time. When he prepares to jump these days, he’s being watched.
“It’s overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting to do this,” said Gonzalez, the high-energy Modesto High senior, moments after he easily won the high jump Thursday at the Modesto Metro Conference Track and Field Championships. “I hear people talking about me.”
Gonzalez owns the MMC’s best storyline this spring. He arrived on the scene April 4 when he cleared 6-8 and snapped a 54-year-old school record. Last Saturday at the Sacramento Meet of Champions, he one-upped himself by topping 6-9 – his heels barely grazing the bar – the section’s best mark to date.
All this from a 5-9 overachiever with spring in his legs and a motor always in overdrive.
Last year, I could just get my fingers to the rim when I tried to dunk,” Gonzalez said. “Now I can get up to here (pointing to his elbow).”
Gonzalez, sore from Saturday’s long day and a demanding workout on Monday, wasn’t at his best Thursday at Modesto Junior College Stadium, but the day didn’t call for heroics. He entered the MMC competition after all but one in the field was eliminated, and he negotiated 6-4 before he missed three times at 6-6.
All he needed to do was advance to the Section D-1 Divisional on May 21-23 at Elk Grove. MMC athletes who finished in the top four of their respective events qualified, so Gonzalez and company saved their best. No one knew the best for Gonzalez, however, would take him this high off the ground.
“He’s got hops. He’s figuring things out,” Modesto coach Arlen Peters said. “Last week he didn’t miss until 6-11. He just gets into a good rhythm when he runs.”
Gonzalez’s domination has become the norm for his teammates at Modesto. The Panthers have swept to MMC titles during all but one year since 2000, and this year was no different.
Lovell Collins starred with wins in the 100 and 200 meters (10.8 and 22.3) and joined with teammates Lesean Collins (Lovell’s twin), Eric Robinson and Nate Phillips to smash the school record in the 4x100 relay. Their 42.7 erased a record that stood since 1966.
Sophomore Kendall McNair doubled in the 110 and 300 hurdles (15.2 and 40.7) for the Panthers, who also got wins by pole vaulter Zayn Largent and long jumper Nathan Phillips.
One of the meet’s most competitive races was the 400, when Downey’s Jaeden Webb (51.8) rallied in the closing meters to overtake Grace Davis’ Alex Walker.
A fast-improving sprinter is powerful Downey sophomore Erykah Hall. Her 12.2 in the 100 was the fastest time by a Modesto high school athlete in many years.
“Getting out of the blocks is hard for me,” Hall said. “I’m getting better at it.”
One of the most productive MMC athletes was Gregori senior Julia Walderich, a foreign exchange student from Germany, who anchored the Jaguars’ march to their third straight league championship.
Walderich tripled in the long jump, high jump and pole vault and nearly made it four in the shot put.
“The high school experience has been great,” she said. “We don’t have proms, school sports or spirit at home. Definitely more spirit here.”
Enochs’ Claire Seymour turned in a difficult double in the 200 and 400 (26.8 and 57.5).
As for Gonzalez, scrutiny only will multiply in the upcoming weeks. He’s never even competed at the Section Masters – he qualified but elected not to compete last year – and he thinks he’s got 6-11 in him.
“I feel I’m rising up in the big meets,” he said. “I told myself, ‘I’m here for a reason.’ ”