ELK GROVE — For many athletes here on a warm Friday night, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Track and Field Championships amounted to a high-pressure dress rehearsal.
The top 12 finishers – the eight finalists plus the top four in the consolation finals of the lane events – automatically advance to the Section Masters next week.
Many are competing to win, of course, but others just try to sustain momentum for at least another week. They’ll advance, but that doesn’t mean all is well in their world. Track and field’s capricious nature – feels great one day, rotten the next – affected more than a few athletes.
Modesto High senior Jose Gonzalez, the co-leader in the state this season in the high jump (6 feet, 9 inches), managed to clear only 6-3 for fifth. Before the D-I, he had not finished anywhere below first place this season.
Worse, he missed on five of eight total attempts and no doubt was bothered by a sore left (takeoff) knee. He’ll need every minute of rest and rehab before his return to Elk Grove on Thursday. Cyle Clancy of Davis-Yolo won the competition with a 6-7 in 91-degree heat.
Gonzalez did a backflip, gown and all, before he received his diploma Thursday night. Alas, his best jump of the week came a day early.
“I had not jumped in two weeks (since the Modesto Metro Conference meet). My coach (Arlen Peters) thinks it’s tendinitis. My knee hurts,” Gonzalez said. “No excuses, though. I have to do better next week.”
Conversely, there is Pitman junior Lauren Cariaso. On her sixth and final attempt in the triple jump, she flew to a personal-best 36-8 for third place. That clinched her third trip to Masters.
“I did bad the first two times (at Masters),” Cariaso said. “Today I was confident and attacked more. When I get to Masters, it gets all in my head and I overthink everything. I don’t plan on doing that this year.”
The Pitman girls, the six-time reigning Central California Conference champions, turned in two solid days at the D-I meet. Late Wednesday night, junior Lindsey Phillips pole-vaulted 10-9 for second place.
“She’s had a couple of 11-foot vaults. That’s where she is comfortable,” Pitman coach Thad Moren said. “We’re trying to get her onto a bigger pole so she can go for 12 feet.”
There’s still time, of course, for those who are Masters-bound. Pitman’s Jamie Stroup moved forward, thanks to a ninth in the high jump (4-11).
Others weren’t so fortunate. Modesto’s 4x100 relay team took a third in the consolation finals, which should have extended their season. Instead, the Panthers were disqualified for an illegal pass.
On the plus side, Golden Valley’s Ryan Pust vaulted 16-5 on Wednesday, tying him for 10th-best in the nation.
At one point this season, Pitman’s Chance Hagar challenged Pust for valley supremacy. Hagar cleared 15-8 and on April 25 won the Penn Relays with a 14-10. But on that vault, he tore his hamstring and never fully recovered.
Each athlete can tell his or her story on how she got here or how fate conspired against them. Pitman senior Aaron Mayfield earned a berth in the finals of the 800 and took home a fourth in 1:59.49. His entire game plan pointed toward next week.
“I cruised through the first lap and tried to train on my kick at the 150-meter mark,” he said. “It was like a workout.”
Pitman’s seniors graduate next Thursday, the first day of the Masters meet. For Mayfield, there was no choice.
“I’m running,” he declared. “Not that many people can say they ran at Masters. A lot of people can say they graduated.”
Two Beyer seniors, triple jumper Christopher Augustus (seventh, 42-71/4) and Ryan Garrett in the discus (12th, 136-8), earned Masters berths.
Downey sophomore Erykah Hall, an improving sprinter this spring, reached the finals of the 100 but finished eighth (12.74), far behind 100-200 winner Brandy Coward of Buhach Colony.
For Hall, the lesson was learned before her first official stride. The starter shot his gun twice for a false start and the lane judge approached Hall.
“Stay home next time,” he gently warned.
“Not my best race,” Hall said. “I’ll do better next time.”
Fortunately for her and the rest of the section elite, “next time” is next week.