SACRAMENTO — Walk across the stage for a high school diploma, or run and jump for a Sac-Joaquin Section Masters medal and a berth to the California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Championships?
These are once-in-a-lifetime occurrences that put Manteca High senior Paul Lyons in a dilemma on Day 1 of the Masters meet Thursday.
“If I had to choose, Masters definitely over graduation,” he said after winning his heat in the 110-meter hurdles at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.
“It’s great to walk, but I’ll still get my diploma. This is my last chance to do this and to go state. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
And no one passed up the race favorite in Thursday’s preliminaries. He dominated his heat with a time of 14.42 seconds, which was 0.39 faster than the No. 2 overall finisher, Nick Martinez of Elk Grove.
In the 300 hurdles, Lyons clocked the fifth fastest time at 39.57.
As it turned out, Lyons made it to school in time to receive his diploma.
The three heat winners and competitors with the six next fastest times advance to the final race in each track event. Several area athletes also competed in field events Thursday, but no one earned a top-three finish or reached the at-large marks to qualify for state.
Sierra senior Stephen Thayer will be faced with Lyons’ predicament today. After his effort on Thursday, the chiseled sprinter may have to keep the cap and gown stored.
In the 100-meter dash, Thayer won his heat and blazed to the second-seeded time of 10.88 — three one hundredths of a second away from Buddy Hitchcock’s school record set in 2008.
Then in the 200, he finished fourth overall. His wind-aided (3.4 meters per second) time of 21.90 shattered a 12-year-old program record (22.19) held previously by Ben Oehningner.
Thayer will actually have three chances to make it to the state meet.
In the first track event of Thursday’s preliminaries, he joined classmates Kolton Cody, Ulysses Knapps and Harold Wright for the 4x100. The SJS Division-IV/V Meet record holders set a season-best 42.42-second time, good for third overall.
Cody got a measure of redemption as the all-senior quartet’s anchor-leg runner.
In last week’s divisional final, his right hamstring cramped up near the midway point of the final straightaway, but the lead his teammates built was so large that they won the race anyway.
Cody’s hamstring held up just fine on Thursday. When he got the baton from Knapps he trailed Rodriguez High’s Rico Jones by about 15 meters but quickly made up the difference.
In the end, Cody out-leaned Jones at the finish line, with Sierra getting the split-second edge, 42.412 to Rodriguez’s 42.4220.
“I couldn’t do it without them, my teammates,” Cody said. “My teammates helped me through (the injury) by just encouraging me. They’re the only reason why I got better.
“Today, they ran a perfect race.”
Ripon High’s Victor Serrano and Sierra’s Ruben Lopez also made it through to the finals, both in the 800.
Lopez, the Division-IV/V 800 champ, placed second in his heat but barely advanced with the ninth-place overall time of 1 minute, 58.98 seconds. Serrano is the No. 7 seed in the finals at 1:57.36.
In the field events, East Union’s Jerrica Hauck and Sierra’s Knapps had the best shot among area athletes Thursday to grab state berths.
Hauck finished in a three-way tie for sixth at 10 feet, 9 inches. She cleared the mark on her final attempt, a recurring theme for her on Thursday, and nearly did it again at 11-03 — which would have been a new personal and East Union program record.
It even took her three tries to hit the opening mark set at 9-03.
“I should be able to make a breeze,” she said. “Warm-ups went great, but for some reason when that bar goes up so does that wall.
“I wanted to either PR or go to state, but compared to last year (at Masters) I did a lot better and I’m pretty happy with that. Next year I plan on coming back to dominate.”
Knapps made his third appearance at the Masters meet in the long jump. He topped out at 22-03 on his second attempt in the final round and ended up in fifth place — a one-spot improvement from last year.
Knapps will have another shot at state in today’s triple jump.
Also competing today are East Union’s Joseph Daigle (shot put) and Daniel Martz (1,600); Sierra’s Ricky Morris (3,200), Justin Parham (shot put) and Wright (triple jump); and Ripon’s Symone Ramirez (discus).