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Sierra defends crown
Boys team captures fifth section title in seven years
Sierra Highs boys track and field team added a seventh Sac-Joaquin Section championship banner to its collection Thursday in the Division-IV/V meet at Modesto Junior College. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

MODESTO  — Ulysses Knapps made good on a promise made to his father, Zolton, before he passed away on Thanksgiving Day last fall.

“I told my dad that I will win both the long and the triple (jumps) at this meet,” the Sierra High senior said.

He did that and more.

Led by Knapps and sprinter Stephen Thayer Thursday, Sierra’s boys team won a second straight Sac-Joaquin Section championship in the Division-IV/V meet at Modesto Junior College.

The title is the fifth in seven years for the Timberwolves and seventh overall, but this year’s team put forth an effort — starting with the track preliminaries and half of the field finals Tuesday — far more dominating than its predecessors.

Sierra racked up 92 team points to second-place River City’s 35. Manteca, starring hurdler Paul Lyons, placed fifth with 26. East Union was the top girls team in the area, finishing ninth.

Also claiming team championships were Cosumnes Oaks’ girls in Division IV, and Modesto Christian’s boys and Hughson’s girls in Division V.

“We’ve had some good teams at Sierra, but I think this is one of the best if not the best team we’ve ever had,” said head coach Anthony Chapman.

Knapps and Thayer are two of three area athletes to win two individual events, and they made up half of the first-place 4x100 team that set a new meet record (42.92 seconds) in the trials Tuesday. Knapps also helped Sierra’s mile relay place fourth and advance to next week’s SJS Masters Trials at Sacramento City College.

The top six finishers in each event move on.

“I just wanted to help the team win another section title,” Knapps said.

Knapps started things off Tuesday by winning his second straight divisional title in the long jump, topping out at 21 feet, 5 ½ inches. On Thursday, he popped a 44-05 in the triple for a personal record.

The meet’s first track event, the 4x100 relay, was bittersweet for Sierra, which lost its anchor-leg runner, Kolton Cody, for the rest of the day to a cramp in his right hamstring.

The Timberwolf quartet appeared to be on its way to improving its meet record until, with about 40 meters to go, Cody began to run with an obvious limp. Their time of 43.08 was still impressive considering.

“I knew that he was hurting to the fullest, and he fought through it,” Thayer said. “Anybody else probably wouldn’t have finished that race and gave up. He had heart.

“He still wanted to run the 100 and 200, but we had to save him for next week.”

Had Cody been healthy, Sierra would have won the meet by an even larger margin. He entered the finals as the top-seeded runner in both sprint events, with Thayer checking in as the No. 2 in each race.

Thayer ended up winning both, clocking in at 10.99 in the 100 and 22.25 in the 200. His 200 time was shade off the Sierra program record of 22.19.

While obviously happy to be coming home with three first-place medals, he wouldn’t have minded a silver medal or two.

“When I ran my races on Tuesday and (Cody) wasn’t in any of my heats there was that empty feeling,” Thayer said. “There’s just that comfort zone that I have with him there, and we push each other.”

Ruben Lopez was another big contributor for Sierra. He took first in the 800, and his time of 1 minute, 57.36 seconds broke a meet record owned previously by Sonora’s Spenser Castro (1:57.62, 2006).

For Manteca High, Lyons continued to impress in the hurdles. What’s scary is that despite improving his times by more than a second from last year’s divisional meet, the senior knows he can do much better.

He crossed the finish in 14.41 in the 110, and 39.73 in the 300. His best time in the 110 hurdles, 14.35, was the best in the section and sixth fastest in the state going into the week.

Lyons also anchored the Buffaloes’ 4x400 team, which entered the day as the top seed and finished third in the final race.

“Since last year I’ve gotten a whole lot faster, but I’m still trying to get my steps right,” said Lyons, who stutter-stepped his way through most of the 300. “It’s probably costing me 2 seconds in the 300, and my starts are really hurting me right now.”

East Union’s Jerrica Hauck repeated as the pole vault champion Tuesday with a school-record mark of 11-01, rounding out the area’s top finishers.

The Masters meet takes place next Thursday and Friday at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.