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McNeal sprinted with sections elite
East Union junior Jordan McNeal advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Finals for the first time while winning the 100 and 4x100 in the SJS Division IV-V meet. - photo by Graphic illustration by CURT MURRAY/The Bulletin


Raygan Both (sprints), Manteca sophomore: Surprise fourth-place finisher in the SJS Division IV-V 100 final was also a key member of the VOL champion 4x100 relay that advanced as far as the SJS Masters final.

Jade Griffin (sprints), Manteca sophomore: Won the VOL 200 title and took second in the Division IV-V 100 and was part of the seventh-place 4x100 team at Masters.

Loretta Kakala (throws), East Union freshman: The VOL’s shot put champion advanced to Masters with a fourth-place finish in the Division IV-V meet. 

Jessy Talarico (pole vault), Manteca senior: Runner-up at divisionals broke her own school record with a 10-foot, 1-inch vault for a 10th place at the Masters meet.

— Jonamar Jacinto

Jordan McNeal’s natural talent is undeniable. 

That alone helped East Union’s sprinting phenom advance as far as the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Trials in her freshmen and sophomore years.

This past season she discovered the missing ingredient that would catapult her to the next level: Motivation. 

“I always wanted to do it, always liked to,” McNeal said. “Now, I love to do it. It was a whole different dynamic for me this year. In my freshman and sophomore years I was just kind of feeling my way around the sport but now I feel like I got the hang of it. I have a better understanding of the mechanics for running sprints. Plus, I just really wanted to go for it this year.”

Only now does McNeal realize her true potential. Now, she yearns for more. The Manteca Bulletin’s All-Area Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year qualified for the Masters Finals for the first time while earning her first two titles in the SJS Division IV-V meet.

“She knows what it takes now,” said Todd Dunaway, who has stepped down as East Union’s track coach after his fifth season at the helm. “She made the comment to me after finals that she wasn’t completely satisfied, but at the same time she was glad to at least make it as far as she did. She’s going to take that to heart and use it as a driving force for next season. Her goal always had been to make it to state since she got to high school, and this year she got a taste of it.”

McNeal set a career record in winning the Valley Oak League Championships 100-meter-dash in 12.29 seconds. She did clock an impressive 12.17 in a league meet at Kimball, but, while it’s a fully-automatic time, it came without a legal wind reading. Still, she was consistently finished faster than 12.5 after doing so only once in 2013.

“For my senior year I want to be in the 11s,” McNeal said.

The highlight of her season was the divisional meet at CSU Stanislaus. There, she beat reigning champion Natsumi McGee of Cosumnes Oaks in 12.34 seconds while anchoring the Lancers’ 4x100 team (Katie Allen, Alyssa Drew, Haley Cook) to a first-place finish.

“That was one of the best days I’ve had in track,” McNeal said. “Very emotional.”

McNeal said she and her teammates ran for reasons bigger “than just for times or a place.” Dunaway had announced that he was stepping down, and they wanted to give him a reason to stick around for another week.

McNeal and her running mates were further motivated by a growing rivalry with a talented 400 relay team from across town. Manteca’s young quartet led by promising sophomores Jade Griffin and Raygan Both topped East Union for the league championship. East Union’s foursome got the better of them at divisionals, as they finished 1 and 2 with favorite Cosumnes Oaks taking a close third.

“We just wanted to prove ourselves,” McNeal said. “It’s a fun, friendly rivalry, and we were really happy for them winning league. We were also glad to have VOL schools finish first and second at divisionals. (The rivalry) will probably make both teams better next year, so that helps.”

The 4x100 finish was one of Dunaway’s proudest moments as coach. East Union came out of the preliminaries seeded fourth with Cosumnes Oaks first and Manteca second. The Lancers were in third place by what seemed to be a wide distance by the time McNeal took hold of the baton on the final straightaway.

She unknowingly passed up the Manteca and Cosumnes Oaks anchor legs at the end. McNeal crossed at 49.21, barely ahead of Manteca (49.24) and Cosumnes Oaks (49.29).

“I thought we were in third place so I was upset at first,” McNeal said. “When I heard the announcer say that East Union took first I just started crying. Those were the two teams we were eyeing. Cosumnes Oaks, we just knew they were coming in first; we just wanted to beat Manteca. To take out the two teams that we weren’t sure we could was unbelievable.”

Manteca ended up qualifying for the Day 2 of Masters while East Union’s 4x100 were four one hundredths of a second why of doing the same. But that would not be it for McNeal, who took second in her heat in the 100 and was seeded seventh overall for the final race. Her time (12.52) and place (seventh) in the finals fell short of self-imposed expectations, but it at least keeps her motivated going into her senior year.

“My first two years were kind of up and down,” McNeal said. “I’ve gone from not taking it too serious to now looking at it as something that could take me to (college). I’m using it as a different, more positive outlet, and that has really helped.”