CLOVIS — Credit Modesto High School’s Jose Gonzalez for being true to himself to the end.
There will be no medals or finals berth for the Panthers’ skywalker. He bowed out of the high jump preliminaries at the 96th CIF State Track and Field Championship, but not before he bade farewell with his signature move.
After Gonzalez cleared 6 feet, 9 inches in Sacramento, he celebrated with a cartwheel and backflip. When he graduated, he backflipped in gown.
So why not one more as he finished his thrill-ride season?
“When I jump, I’m happy. It’s my way to celebrate. I really enjoyed competing today,” Gonzalez said. “When I was running up to the bar, I thought, ‘This might be my last jump.’ So after I missed, I had to do it.”
His performance Friday at Buchanan HIgh’s War Memorial Stadium was filled with Gonzalez’s greatest hits – a little drama after he opened with two misses at 6-5, a successful clearance to give himself a chance, and rhythmic clapping as he stepped to the bar.
But like last week’s third-place effort at Sac-Joaquin Section Masters, he couldn’t negotiate 6-7, though two of his jumps nearly sent him safely over. Had he made it, he’d be a finalist tonight.
Gonzalez will enter Modesto Junior College this fall as the young man who broke Ted Watkins’ 54-year-old school record (6-6).
“I think I’ll be in the top 20 in the state,” Gonzalez said after tying for 10th. “It’s a big state.”
As the Modestan learned, the first day at State presents a different kind of pressure for the 800-plus athletes here. They can’t win titles on this day, but they could be eliminated.
It’s a “survive and advance” assignment and – in the girls discus – only the top 12 from 25 advanced to tonight.
Oakdale sophomore Hannah Chappell (pronounced shuh-PELL), the two-time Sac-Joaquin Section Masters champion, placed sixth and moved forward. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as it appeared.
She opened with a 134-11 which, as it turned out, would have been good enough. She didn’t improve on her second, however, and Brett Chappell, the Oakdale throwers coach who doubles as Hannah’s father, fretted.
No matter. A year ago, Chappell was 14th going into her final toss. She showed her competitive moxie and launched her day’s best, eventually finishing seventh.
A year year later, Chappell again saved her best for last with a 141-3. Both father and daughter allowed grins of relief.
“I felt like I wanted to do something more just to reassure myself,” Chappell said. “I don’t like that iffy thing.”
Chappell has improved this season to 149-6, though her goals called for steady forays into the 160s. That hasn’t happened due to injuries in December (shoulder) and March (ankle) which stalled her training.
Her best is No. 2 in the state, but the run-away leader is Dos Pueblos senior Stamatia Scarvelis (172-7). She carries herself like a regal owner of the realm, which no doubt comes from her winning the state shot put title and taking third in the discus in 2013.
Just to remind everyone who’s in charge, Scarvelis unloaded a final 158-11, more than 13 feet farther than the field. Chappell, on her good day, can beat everyone in the field – except Scarvelis.
“I look at her and think, ‘That could be me some day,’” Chappell. “I definitely have a good shot at medaling (top six).”
Oakdale senior Kyle Peterson, another two-time reigning Masters champion, feels the same way after he placed ninth at the prelims. His opening 174-1, No. 3 on his best-ever list, became his pressure-release valve. His toss hugged the left side of the sector and maxed out the right-to-left crosswind.
Peterson’s result contained more personal meaning than Chappell’s. He failed to reach the state finals in 2013.
“I knew better what to do this year with more experience. The first throw was more relaxed,” Peterson said. “It’s been bugging me (about last year), not overly much but it was on my mind.”
Like other athletes who willed themselves through the prelims, Peterson bought himself another day – the season’s biggest.
“I think I have a lot left,” he said.
So does Golden Valley senior Ryan Pust, one of the favorites in the pole vault, who advanced at 15-9. His teammate, shot putter Afolabi Olabode, qualified for the finals for the second consecutive year (60-41/2).
Sonora High graduate Steven Grolle wraps up his career tonight in the 3,200.
Buhach Colony junior Brandy Coward, making her third appearance at State, failed to advance in both the 100 and 200.