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Manteca’s rookie mile runner earns berth to state meet

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Competitors in the boys 1,600-meter race scramble for three berths to the state meet during the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters finals Friday at Sacramento City College. Manteca High's Vincent Herrera,...


POSTED May 29, 2010 2:52 a.m.
SACRAMENTO — One came up inches short. Another was fast enough by an eye blink.

It was a day of near makes and misses in Day 2 of the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet Friday at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.

Manteca High senior Vincent Herrera is the area’s only qualifier for next week’s California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Championships, using a late come-from-behind surge in the 1,600-meter run to narrowly earn a top-three finish.

Sierra’s Ulysses Knapps, on the other hand, was 8 ½ inches away from matching his career-best mark, which, if reached on Friday, would have been the second furthest measurement in the long jump.

The best three finishers in each event advance to state.

Herrera’s berth was unexpected considering his inexperience and seeded time, which ranked him 15th out of the 24 competitors.

But Manteca distance coach Rick Cuevas saw something special in him three months ago when Herrera decided to give the sport a shot after playing baseball for three years.

“The kid is all heart and raw talent,” Cuevas said.

And he needed both by the final turn.

Herrera has trusted his 150-meter kick all season, and it’s what helped him capture first-place finishes in the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III meets.

He caught up with the lead pack by the start of the last straightaway but was physically bumped to the middle lanes by runner-up placer Bob Riestenberg of Davis. Herrera, who said his legs were “burning” at that point, didn’t let that deter him from reaching his goal.

“It’s track,” he said. “It’s going to happen.”

It became a wild six-man dash for the three state bids over the final 50 meters.

In the end, Herrera edged out Fairfield’s Jared Lester and Del Campo’s Josh Mercado with a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 21.41 seconds. Lester came in at 4:21.64 and Mercado at 4:21.66.

“This is (a result of) 2 ½ months of hard work,” Herrera said. “I feel like I’ve been missing out all throughout high school. I was playing the wrong sports.”

Robert Pflasterer of Del Campo won it in 4:20.50. Sierra’s John Bowers took ninth (4:26.91), and East Union’s Daniel Martz was 20th (4:38.71). Bowers also competed in the 3,200 and finished 23rd (10:06.21).

Cuevas said that Herrera is just the second state qualifier out of Manteca High in the mile. The first is Josh Roddy in 1999, when he placed third in the SJS and fifth at state.

Knapps, the SJS Division-III champion with a meet-best mark of 22 feet, 6 ½ inches, followed a similar path in the long-jump pit, starting off poorly but catching up with the event’s top performers in the end.

After scratching his opening jump, Knapps turned in jumps of 21-3 and 21-4 to make it to the final round as the No. 8 seed.

The gradual improvement continued, as he twice leaped 21-6 before topping out 21-10 on his last try. He placed sixth, while Benicia’s Chris Mamon (22-9), Galt’s Haran Piggee (22-6) and Monterey Trail’s Lamin Wilson (22-3 ½) were the top three.

Knapps said the early foul threw off his rhythm for the rest of the competition.

“That was the one,” he said of his first jump, which he estimated to be a mark in the mid to high 22s. “That was the one that would have taken me to state.

“I usually don’t scratch on the first jump, and when I did my steps started to get choppy.”

Things went less smoothly for another D-III champion.

East Union senior Hector Solorio, the area’s only track athlete to qualify out of Thursday’s preliminary races, clipped the second hurdle in the 300 but somehow avoided injury. He was able to plant both hands and roll forward, and his momentum was strong enough for him to come out of the acrobatic maneuver and settle back into a stride.

Solorio finished ninth in 42.75. His preliminary time of 39.59 was ranked sixth going into the final race and is a personal best. Jesuit’s R.J. Frazier set a new section meet record at 36.89.

“My mind went blank,” Solorio said of the stumble. “I didn’t know what happened. I just rolled and took off.

“I did my best. I made it this far, and I’m real proud of myself.”

Sierra senior Taylor Wilson was the only female from the area to compete Friday, placing 12th in the long jump at 16-9.

The state meet takes place June 4-5 at Buchanan High in Clovis.
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