Modesto High athlete likes underdog status heading into State

ragostini@modbee.comJune 5, 2014 

  • At a Glance

    What: CIF State Track and Field Meet

    Where: Veterans Memorial Stadium, Buchanan High, Clovis

    When: Friday (field events, 3 p.m.; track events 5 p.m.) and Saturday (field events, 4:30 p.m.; track events, 6 p.m.)

    Locals Competing: Hannah Chappell, Oakdale, Discus; Kyle Peterson, Oakdale, Discus; Jose Gonzalez, Modesto, high jump; Steven Grolle, Sonora, 3,200; Ryan Pust, Golden Valley, pole vault; Afolabi Olabode, Golden Valley, shot put; Brandy Coward, Buhach Colony, 100, 200

— Modesto High School senior Jose Gonzalez stands only 5 feet, 9 inches, and he looks up at virtually every fellow high jumper.

His height handicap makes him the underdog today at the 96th CIF State Track and Field Championship. By the way, he enjoys that status.

“Jumping is what I like to do,” Gonzalez said. “I’m competing with all the tall guys.”

Gonzalez is the only Modesto city athlete who’s qualified for State, arguably the nation’s most prestigious high school track meet. In fact, only seven from the Stanislaus District will compete today and Saturday at Buchanan High’s War Memorial Stadium. That’s down from 10 in 2013, 16 in 2012, 12 in 2011 and 10 in 2010.

Local track observers hope quality will trump quantity this year.

Gonzalez’s chances depend on how you grade the season’s marks. He’s scaled 6-9, and only three in California have leaped higher in 2014. But at last week’s section meets up and down the state, all but four in today’s field of 30 topped Gonzalez’s 6-5 for third place at Sac-Joaquin Section Masters.

That said, all that matters is today. High jumpers must place in the top nine in the trials to earn a spot in Saturday’s finals.

Gonzalez was inspired two years ago by the State Meet performance of Oakdale’s Manny Hernandez, who’s barely two inches taller at 5-11. Hernandez leaped a personal-best 6-101/4 for third place in 2012. No one outjumped him that steamy night. He took third due to more misses.

“Hit the opening height, get in rhythm and make it to the finals,” Gonzalez said.

Oakdale’s field-events strength continues today with sophomore Hannah Chappell and senior Kyle Peterson, both two-time Masters discus champions. They must place in the top 12 to reach Saturday.

Chappell finished seventh last year, while Peterson failed to qualify for the finals.

“Go to State all four years. That’s the goal for me,” Chappell said. “I’m hoping to get on the podium and get a medal (for the top six).”

Golden Valley senior pole vaulter Ryan Pust might carry the district’s best chance for a title. No one in the state came within five inches of Pust’s 16-7 last week, though three have topped Pust’s PR during the season.

Afolabi Olabode, another Golden Valley senior, returns to State for the second consecutive year in the boys shot put. He was 10th in 2013.

Buhach Colony junior Brandy Coward makes her third appearance at State, and she’s prepared for a busy night in the 100 and 200 meters. She took home a Masters title in the 200 last week in Elk Grove.

Sonora senior Steven Grolle, a state qualifier in the 1,600 as a sophomore, prepares for his 3,200 race Saturday night. He will enroll this fall at Stanford.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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