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No rest for EU’s frosh standout

Volleyball, hoops star finds her niche in spring sport

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No rest for EU’s frosh standout

Three-sport standout Loretta Kakala of East Union is the area’s only freshman competing in an individual event in this week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships at Elk Grove High. She is com...

JOHN-JOEL GRIFFITHS/Bulletin file photo

POSTED May 29, 2014 2:20 a.m.

Despite her disappointment, Loretta Kakala stuck around near the Cal State Stanislaus discus ring, watching closely as if taking mental notes of some of the more experienced competitors still alive in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV/V meet on May 20.

She failed to advance to the final round after scratching all three of her attempts in the preliminaries and would not get another chance at improving on her best mark of 116 feet, 7 inches, a new personal record achieved the week prior in the Valley Oak League Championships. 

That toss had her as the No. 2 seed, behind only Oakdale sophomore sensation Hannah Chappell — the section’s overall reigning champion in the event. Kakala was, in theory, a near shoo-in to make it through to the SJS Masters Championships, which begins today at Elk Grove High.

She still qualified for Masters in the shot put after placing fourth at the divisional meet with a toss of 37-4 — a half inch short of a PR. She won the VOL meet in the shot, and as the section’s youngest Masters qualifier in the event Kakala gets to throw with the competitive second flight.

The 6-foot-2 Kakala is known more for her volleyball and basketball prowess, but as a mere freshman she has already cemented her place among the area’s best three-sport varsity athletes. As a late-season call-up from the sophomore squad she helped the East Union volleyball team hit the 20-win plateau. In the fall she earned All-VOL First-Team honors in leading the Lancers’ basketball contingent to the second round of the postseason.

“Initially, we knew we had this great athlete whose main sport is basketball,” East Union coach Todd Dunaway said. “We just had to fine tune her footwork and hand-eye coordination, which would help her in the other sports. She quickly developed into an elite thrower in the VOL and she really enjoys it. She found a third sport she enjoys almost by accident.”

Dunaway said her basketball coaches and friends helped to convince her to join the track team. Dunaway himself did a little recruiting on campus.

“I jokingly said, ‘So, you’re going to come out for track this year, right?’” Dunaway said. 

She did. And she’s taking it seriously.

It is common for athletes to participate in track to stay in shape for their main sports. For some, it’s simply a chance to hang out with friends and earn another varsity letter. Not for Kakala.

“I didn’t get to speak with her (after the discus at divisionals), but in talking with some of our coaches I know she was extremely disappointed,” Dunaway said. “She is one of those athletes who is her own worst critic. She is not satisfied with mediocrity.”

No matter what happens Friday, expect to see plenty more of Kakala the next three years, from August to May.

“She is physically the prototypical thrower,” Dunaway said. “I’ve talked to many of the throws coaches in our conference and they just drool over what she can do. They know of her reputation as a basketball player but they’re seeing her as a track and field athlete. I’m excited to see how she matures over the next three years.”

Dunaway has already seen one of his young and promising athletes blossom before his very eyes.

Junior sprinter Jordan McNeal is making her third appearance at Masters but has yet to make the finals. She gets another crack at it today, this time with the fourth-seeded time in the 100-meter dash after winning the Division IV/V finale in 12.34 seconds. 

McNeal and Manteca’s Regan Both (fourth, 10.71) both topped highly-favored Cosumnes Oaks standout Natsumi McGee, the 2013 Division IV/V champion and state qualifier.

McNeal ended up with two first-place finishes last week, as she anchored the winning 4x100 relay that included Katie Allen, Alyssa Drew and Haley Cook. They nipped Manteca (49.24) and Cosumnes Oaks (49.29) with a new season best time of 49.21.

“That was the most amazing finish I’ve ever seen in my nine years with East Union’s track and field team,” Dunaway said. “It can’t get any closer than that.”

The three heat winners and those with the next five fastest times in track events advance to Friday’s final races. The top three finishers and anyone who meets the at-large qualifying marks in all events will compete at the CIF State Championships June 6-7 at Buchanan High School in Clovis.

Division IV/V champions Carl Chandler (triple jump) and Bryan Vincent (high jump) are other noteworthy competitors. Vincent helped lead Ripon to its first-ever section title in track, a three-way share in Division V. Chandler of Manteca is seeded fifth in the triple jump with two-event qualifier Jonnythan Munkholm (high jump) seeded No. 6. Munkholm helped the Sierra boys win their eighth section championship.

Sierra pole vaulter Onix Paredes may be the area’s best bet to make the state meet. His best vault of 15 feet, set March 8 in the Tom Moore Relays, is just 2 inches off the at-large qualifying mark.

Manteca’s Jade Griffin will be the busiest of local competitors with four events (100, 200, 400 and mile relays) on her plate. Sierra’s Noveleen Thiara is running in three: The 200, 400 and 4x100.

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