It's a banner year for Palo Alto runners
Vikings head to CIF State Meet after winning section title
Jason Fung was sitting in the Palo Alto High gym last Friday with Athletic Director Earl Hansen, staring up into the rafters and noticing the obvious — the lack of a Central Coast Section track and field championship banner.
"You have to get one up there," Hansen said to Fung, the Vikings' track and field coach.
"I told Earl, 'once I get it, you need to make room for me.' "
Later that day, as spectators headed for their cars at Gilroy High, Fung was busy on his phone.
"As soon as we finished, I texted him (Hansen) it's banner time," Fung recalled.
Palo Alto will have its long-awaited CCS championship banner hanging in the gym some day soon, thanks to a talented group of eight athletes who combined for 53 points and ran off with the 2012 CCS title. St. Francis was second with 41.5 and early favorite Bellarmine was third with 39.
"What a night," said Paly coach Jason Fung. "Start to finish it was a good track meet. It was our night. All the things that needed to happen, happened."
While the dominoes were falling in Paly's favor during the meet, the Vikings didn't wrap up their first-ever section crown until the final event — the 1,600-meter relay.
Paly's 4x400 relay squad that wrapped up the title featured Morris Gates-Mouton, Nikolai Solgaard (both seniors), junior Jonathan Alee and sophomore Nick Sullivan. They set a CCS-leading and school record of 3:21.16, breaking the old mark of 3:22.6 (3:22.74 converted) from 1980.
Palo Alto won both relays, the 100 and 200, got a third in the 800 and two sixths in the field events for its championship points. That performance capped arguably the team's best season since 1914, when Paly won the league meet title, a North Coast Section crown and state championship.
The 2012 Vikings have two of those titles, but a third will be extremely difficult as two relay teams and junior E.J. Floreal head into the CIF State Meet this weekend at Veterans Memorial Stadium on the campus of Buchanan High in Clovis.
Field events for Friday's prelims begin at 3 p.m., with running starting at 5 p.m. On Saturday, the field event finals start at 4:30 p.m., with running going off at 6 p.m.
Palo Alto's best chances to score well will be in the 400 relay and 200 meters. In the relay, Paly has the No. 5 qualifying time — a school record of 41.56 that ranks No. 1 among NorCal schools. The top qualifier is Rio Mesa in 40.95.
Floreal anchors the Vikings' foursome that includes senior Tremaine Kirkman, junior Jayshawn Gates-Mouton and senior Morris Gates-Mouton.
In the 200, Floreal has the No. 12 qualifying time of 21.84 but has a season best of 21.16. The top qualifier is Khalfani Muhammad of Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) in 21.10. Floreal also ranks No. 10 in the 100 at 10.81 with Dylan McCloskey of El Camino (San Diego) No. 1 in 10.49. Floreal's best is 10.52.
Fung said getting to the state meet was not the team's goal this season.
"The goal," Fung said, "is getting to the state finals."
Should Floreal advance from Friday's prelims in both his events and help the 400 relay reach Saturday's finals, the Vikings could have a chance to challenge for team honors.
Palo Alto also will have Solgaard in the 800, where he ranks No. 14 with his personal best of 1:54.51, plus the 1,600 relay team — the No. 19 seed at 3:21.16. Chaminade (West Hills) is No. 1 in the relay at 3:15.28 while Brett Moulton of Santiago is the top 800 qualifier in 1:52.58.
No matter what happens at the state meet, Fung is very satisfied with how his 12th season as head coach as turned out.
"They've exceeded expectations," he said of his athletes. "I had high hopes for them. We did what we had to do when we had to do it. The kids know how good it feels to win and set records."
Palo Alto did just that to open and close the CCS meet.
The Vikings got the meet off to a great start by winning the 400 relay in a school record of 41.56. The time, which erased the previous school mark of 42.07 set last season, is the fourth-fastest in CCS history — trailing only the No. 1 time of 41.15 by Mt. Pleasant in 1992, the 41.50 by Woodside in 1975 and the 41.54 run by Independence (1988) and Oak Grove (1997).
The Vikings just missed the meet record of 41.54 by Independence while running the No. 4 time in the state this season. The Vikings earned 10 points for the win while No. 2 qualifier Bellarmine received zero after being disqualified.
Floreal came back a short time later to win the 100 meters in 10.81. Kirkman finished eighth in 11.15, but still earned a point as the Vikings picked up 11 points — giving them 21 points.
Solgaard ran a personal best of 1:54.51 in the 800 meters while finishing third, earning another six points as the Vikings moved to 27 points.
Palo Alto picked up six more points when Victor Du took sixth in the long jump at 20-1 1/2 and then finished sixth in the high jump at 6-3. That gave the Vikings 33 points heading into the 200 meters.
Floreal successfully defended his No. 1 seed in the 200 by winning in 21.84, giving Paly 43 points heading into the 1,600 relay. St. Francis was still in the title hunt with 41.5 points.
Fung didn't know how close St. Francis was until after the 300 hurdles, but quickly got the totals and realized the meet would come down to the 4x400 relay. Thus, he wrestled with the idea of running Floreal on the final relay, but finally decided to use his freshest legs. Floreal already had run three events.
"I just went with my gut instinct," Fung aid, before informing his runners, "This is for the championship."
Fung's instinct proved correct as St. Francis was disqualified when its final runner threw down his baton in frustration before finishing the race while Bellarmine didn't finish when one of its runners pulled up lame.
Paly took the lead in the relay on the third leg when Alee passed a San Lorenzo Valley runner on the backstretch and gave Sullivan the lead, which he easily held. Sullivan was called up from the frosh-soph team only two weeks earlier, for the SCVAL Qualifier meet. Now, he's the team's top quartermiler.
The winning finish set off a wild celebration by the Vikings near the finish line.
"You capitalize on the moment when you have a chance to do something great," Fung said of the long-awaited title.
For Fung, it has been a whirlwind few weeks as he became a father the the third time with the birth of Jordan, his third son. Not too surprisingly, Fung didn't sleep much on Friday night.
"I don't think I slept at all," said Fung, admittedly excited over the CCS title. "I woke up this (Saturday) morning and I thought, 'did I dream that last night? Did it really happen?' "
It did. A banner hanging in the gym will prove it.
Palo Alto, meanwhile, will have some local company at the state meet this weekend.
Menlo-Atherton earned one entrant for the state meet as George Baier was a surprise winner in the 1600 in a personal best of 4:20.77. He had finished 13th in the semifinals and missed the finals, only to be added to the field when a qualifying runner dropped the race in order to concentrate on one event instead of two. Baier took full advantage of the fortuitous break.
Teammate Di'jonn Williams just missed by finishing fourth in the long jump at 20-3 and Michael Hester missed out by finishing fifth in the 800 in 1:56.60, while Jack Beckwith was 12th in the 3,200 in 9:45.51. The Bears' 1,600 relay team also failed to reach the state meet after finishing fifth in 3:26.26.
Cameron Van of Sacred Heart Prep was eighth in the high jump at 5-11.
In the girls' competition, Menlo School sophomore Maddy Price took third place in the 400 final to earn her first trip to the state meet. Finishing in 56.68 seconds, Price topped last week's personal-best time of 57.38 at the semifinals.
"Maddy ran a smart race . . . She stayed relaxed and just took the third place down," said Menlo assistant coach Jorge Chen. "She's looking really good, and we won't be surprised if she hits low 56 at state. Maddy is one of those rare athletes who is driven, and won't give up until she gets it."
Price was the only local girl to advance to the state meet. Palo Alto senior Lindsay Black was seventh in the shot put at 36-9, freshman teammate Anna Dukovic was seventh in the high jump at 4-11 and the Menlo-Atherton 1,600 relay team was sixth in 4:02.61.