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Sierra boys relay, Manteca hurdler qualify for state
Sierra 4x100 members, from left, Kolton Cody, Ulysses Knapps, Stephen Thayer and Harold Wright show off their second-place medals after running their race in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters finals Friday at Hughes Stadium. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO


Sports editor of the

Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin

SACRAMENTO — It’s been a wild week for Stephen Thayer, now a graduate of Sierra High.

On Wednesday he was in a car accident that caused his lower back to tighten up during three sprint events in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet Thursday and Friday at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.

He was a part Sierra High’s first-ever relay team to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships Friday, and he skipped graduation to give it his best shot in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Thayer failed to advance in either individual event, but he has no regrets.

Thayer is one of five area athletes heading to Buchanan High in Clovis, the site of the state meet on June 3 and 4. Top three placers and others who at least matched the at-large mark in each event advance.

Joining Thayer are 4x100 teammates Kolton Cody, Ulysses Knapps and Harold Wright and Manteca High’s Paul Lyons, a multi-event state qualifier in the 110 and 300 hurdles.

Thayer ran the second leg of the Timberwolves’ 400 relay, the runner-up in 41.97 seconds. Immediately after the race Cody, Knapps and Wright took off to make it to their graduation ceremony.

Thayer, meanwhile, had unfinished business on the track. He ended up sixth in the 100 (10.92) and fourth in the 200 (22.17), and he was visibly slowed by his sore back near the finish of both races.

In Thursday’s preliminaries, he broke a 12-year-old school record in the 200 with a 21.90.

“I had the experience to know that I’m the fourth (fastest in the section) in the 200 and sixth in the 100 — no disappointment at all,” Thayer said. “If anything, I’m going to state with my family, three guys I consider my brothers.

“We poured out our hearts on this track and got it done.”

Sierra’s fleet-footed foursome endured heartache to go with the body aches in the last week.

On Thursday, Knapps competed in the Masters long jump for the third straight year, but for the third straight time he came up short of a state berth.

Knapps took it hard, but in Friday’s 4x100 final he took it out on the track. His jaunt on the second turn was pivotal, as he put the team, and anchor Cody, in contention for a top-three spot.

Cody exploded after the handoff and made up considerable distance on eventual event winner Rodriguez (41.60), the favorite that was narrowly beaten by Sierra in the trials.

Knapps’ goal throughout high school was to make it to the state meet in the long jump, but he is just as happy to share the feat with teammates.

“I knew we could do it,” Knapps said. “The 4-by-1 has been my main focus all year. I wish I would have spent a little more time on the long jump, but I did it for my team. I’m glad I did it with these guys.”

It was a bittersweet day for Lyons, the easy favorite in the 110 hurdles and a state finals contender. Manteca High never had a hurdling champ in the section finale, and his best shot was in the 110.

Earning the No. 1 seed before graduating Thursday, Lyons finished second (14.50) on Friday to Elk Grove’s Nick Martinez (14.39). Lyons struggled in getting his trail leg over the hurdles, clipping most of them on the way down.

Him placing second considering is a testament to his talent, but he was still displeased with his performance.

He was a bit more cheerful after the 300.

Checking in with the fifth best time in the trials, he made an impressive charge down the final 100-meter straightaway to steal the third-place position in 38.98

“I was kind of counting myself out of this race,” Lyons said. “I know I shouldn’t say that, but in the back of my head I had a little doubt. I was glad I was able to pull through and get third.”

Lyons, ever the perfectionist, was still critical of himself.

“My strides weren’t even close to being that smooth, but it was much better than what I did in the 110. I’m still irritated that there’s so much more room for improvement,” he said.

Also qualifying for Day 2 of the Masters meet were 800 runners Ruben Lopez and Victor Serrano of Sierra and Ripon, respectively. Lopez scratched the race for graduation, while Serrano took sixth in 2 minutes, 00.56 seconds.