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Two-time state qualifier has unfinished business
Sierra Highs Ricky Morris is the Manteca Bulletins 2011 All-Area Boys Runner of the Year. - photo by HIME ROMERO

• Tim Baker, Manteca senior: Two-time all-VOL harrier helped lead Buffs to their first title in 24 years before placing 30th (17:27) in the SJS Division III meet.
• Jordan Gibson, Ripon senior: Key member of TVL’s two-time defending titlist and state qualifier took third in league and eighth (17:13) in SJS Division IV.
• Philip Herrera, Manteca junior: Younger brother of former Manteca standout Vincent Herrera took third in the VOL and 23rd (17:18) in SJS Division III.
• Josh Spooner, Sierra sophomore: Torchbearer of a tradition-rich program had a solid rookie season at the varsity level, taking sixth in league and 31st (17:31) in SJS Division III.
• Alec Steinberg, Ripon junior: Indians went 1-2-3 in the TVL finals, with Steinberg as the runner-up. Later placed 11th (17:20) at sections.
• Ryan Torres, Ripon junior: The TVL’s individual champ spearheaded the Indians’ with a fifth-place finish (17:08) in SJS and 35th (16:32) at state.

— Jonamar Jacinto

Ricky Morris, you just qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation State Cross Country Championships for a second straight year.

What are you going to do next?

“I’m not going to Disneyland.”

There is unfinished business left for Sierra High’s talented distance runner.

Morris wrapped up his decorated career for Sierra’s cross country team this past fall and is the Manteca Bulletin’s pick for All-Area Boys Runner of the Year for the second time.

Despite his success, Morris feels he came up short at some levels. For the upcoming track season this spring he hopes to achieve what he hasn’t so far by making the state meet in the 1,600 or 3,200.

Morris is so hell bent on doing so that he has no plans of joining his senior classmates for their senior trip at Disneyland, which typically conflicts with the big meets at the end of the year.

“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that I do make it to state,” he said. “I’m expecting to at least go to (the Sac-Joaquin Section) Masters again. All I can do is work my hardest in practice and to make sure that I jump through the right hoops to go to state.”

He hardly jumped through the wrong ones in cross country this year.

Among his achievements were a first-place finish in the Lagoon Valley Classic and a seventh-place finish in the Castro Valley Invitational.

In Valley Oak League action, Morris won the first two cluster meets and prevailed as champion in the finals.

So far, so good.

But there was some uncertainty going into the SJS Sub-Section meet at the familiar Frogtown course. There was unfamiliar competition with Division-II schools dropping down to III, and a few others going from III to IV — including league rival Sonora. Additionally, Manteca emerged out of the blue as a threat, winning the VOL title for the first time in 24 years with runners aiming to peak in the postseason.

 “At the beginning of the season I thought it was pretty much decided that I was going to state, but I saw that there was some good competition at sub-sections so it was up in the air,” Morris said.

Morris coasted at the sub-section race, as is the norm for runners seeking to save their legs for the bigger meet to come. He was 19th overall, while Sierra as a team captured the 10th and final berth to the section finals.

One of Morris’ goals to start the year was to lead the Timberwolves to the state meet. They were again 10th with only the top three getting through.

Morris himself had no trouble punching his ticket, as he placed fourth for the second year in succession while improving his time (16:27) by 21 seconds at Folsom’s Willow Hill.

“I was elated, but I was also sad because we were looking to making it as a team,” Morris said. “Saying goodbye to them and not being able to practice with them was hard, but a lot of them came down to support me at state so that was nice.”

At Woodward Park in Fresno, a false start in the state’s Division-III competition threw things out of whack for Morris.

His position improved drastically, placing 55th out of 208 after checking in at 81st out of 205 in 2010. But Morris’ time of 16:24 was only 2 seconds faster.

“It was kind of disappointing after expecting to break 16 (minutes),” Morris said. “Somebody fell in the first 100 (meters), so we had to go start again. That was tough and it shot my legs, but it happened to everyone though. The race was substantially slower than it was predicted to be.”

That may not be his last race in cross country.

Morris’ ultimate goal is to get into Harvey Mudd College, a distinguished academic university that competes in the NCAA Division III athletically. Harvey Mudd, based in Claremont, boasts one of the top engineering programs in the country, and the intelligent Morris has his work cut out to get in.

He has already established contact with the coach and even worked out with the team.

“I’m looking at academics above athletics,” he said. “I’m just hoping athletics can help get me there.”

And if he gets his way, Disneyland is only a 30-mile drive from campus.