Their historic rise over the past two years will forever be intertwined, even though Isaias Hunter and Bikram Thiara hardly know each other.
They’re the first athletes from their respective schools — and now alma maters — to earn medals at the CIF State Track & Field Championships. Fittingly, they’ve been named the Manteca Bulletin All-Area Male Track and Field Co-Athletes of the Year.
Last year, Hunter made Lathrop High history by becoming its first-ever state qualifier, advancing with a second-place finish in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters long jump. He made it to the second day of state but failed to make the medal podium, while Thiara raced to sixth place in the 300-meter hurdles to become Sierra’s first-ever state medalist.
Roles were reversed this past spring.
Thiara’s season ended in disappointment, as he narrowly missed a spot in the 300 hurdles final. Hunter, no longer intimidated by the big stage, seized the moment. His mark of 6 feet, 5 inches may have been well short of a personal record, but it was good enough for fourth place.
Hunter’s best work was done earlier in his senior campaign. He set a PR and school record at 6-8 in three meets — San Joaquin County Meet, Delta Mustang Invitational and Arcadia Invitational — in a span of one month before winning the Valley Oak League Championships high jump title and taking third in the SJS Division III meet.
“Hitting those heights early on was crazy,” Hunter said.
He didn’t get close until Masters, where he cleared 6-7. Hunter experienced a mid-season and didn’t come close to his PR. The struggles began with the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in Southern California, where he settled for 10th place at 6-3.
“From then on it was just a mental thing,” he said. “I did horrible at the Arcadia meet because I just wasn’t mentally there. It all started with one bad day so it took a while for me to get that confidence back.”
His mojo returned in time for Masters and state. On Day 2 of the state finals, Hunter needed just a single attempt to get through the first two rounds at 6-3 and 6-5.
“You can do some crazy things when you have confidence,” Hunter said.
He’ll carry that confidence to Delta College, where he plans on continuing his track and field career with hopes of moving onto a four-year university from there.
“I’m trying at least get 6-10 if not 7 feet,” Hunter said. “In high school I did three sports (football, basketball), but in college this is it for me. Hopefully it allows me to get my legs stronger to push me to higher heights.”
Thiara was never short on confidence following his impressive finish as a junior. He even added the 400-meter run to his repertoire and fared well in all of his events. Thiara captured gold in the 400 and silver in both hurdles for both the VOL Championships and SJS Division III meet. His chief rival in the hurdles was Kimball standout Deion Shelton-Lightfoot, one of the state’s best in the events.
“I knew I had to be on top of my game every meet we were in together,” Thiara said. “We were always racing side-by-side and it kept me focused. I consider him a good friend and we always talk, but it was always good knowing that he’s there to push me.”
The highlight of Thiara’s season came at Masters. After again failing to qualify for state in the 110 hurdles, he put forth his best effort in the 300 and beat Shelton-Lightfoot — for just the second time ever — to place first.
Thiara broke his own school record in the Masters race, finishing in 37.27 seconds. His school record in the 110 stands at 14.34, which was set in the Sacramento Meet of Champions.
“I really wanted to make state in both events, so I was pretty heated when I took fourth in the 110,” Thiara said. “I just took that frustration into the 300.
“I knew that (Shelton-Lightfoot) is the type of guy who uses his strength and power in the end. I knew the kind of force that was coming behind me so I just kept pushing and grinding through the finish line.”
His season ended a day earlier than expected. In his return appearance at state, Thiara clocked the 10th fastest time in the preliminaries after placing second in his heat, but only the top nine move on. Thiara’s goal was to place no worse than second in his heat, figuring that would be good enough to advance.
“It was heartbreaking just knowing how much expectations were on me,” Thiara said. “I felt like I let everybody down, but then again I’ve had some time to process it and learned from it. Even the pros have bad races, it’s just a matter of bouncing back. It was just unfortunate it happened in the biggest meet of my season.”
Thiara now joins older brother Noveleen in the college ranks and will compete for Cal Poly. Noveleen is the Bulletin’s 2014 Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year after leading Sierra to VOL and SJS team titles. He is going into his senior season at Stanislaus State where he runs the 400 hurdles.