State track opens hoop doors for Palo Alto's Floreal


By Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

Palo Alto High junior E.J. Floreal won two medals and helped the Vikings' 400 relay team reach the finals at the CIF State Track and Field Championships last weekend at Veterans Memorial Stadium on the campus of Buchanan High in Clovis.

Floreal knows he can do better with a few improvements, the kind he could work on at the Golden West Invitational or the Arizona Sprint Showcase, two summer meets he has been invited to attend.

While both would add to his experience in the sport, Floreal says no thanks. Track and field will have to wait until next spring.

The 6-foot-4 Floreal will be heading to Knoxville, Tenn., in a few weeks for an elite basketball camp run by the University of Tennessee. After that, he'll compete in an elite camp at Santa Clara University and then part part in another camp at St. Mary's College with his AAU team. Then, Floreal and his teammates will head to Las Vegas for the summer's big event, the Fab 48 tournament.

"All the best teams (in the nation) will be there," Floreal said.

While Floreal had a breakthrough season in track and field, his first full one without any injuries, basketball is No. 1 in his life.

"Track is sort of a hobby . . . I never saw myself as a track athlete," Floreal said.

The idea of running track was to help Floreal with his speed and confidence for basketball.

"My confidence is better and my leg strength is better," he said. "That's why we did it."

Floreal recalled his mom's favorite story from a basketball tournament, where E.J. chased down another player who had a quarter-court head start, caught him from behind and blocked his shot.

Floreal, however, was just another basketball player until this track season.

"It kind of changed everything when I blew up," he explained. "A lot of basketball coaches are paying attention to me now . . . here's a tall kid with speed."

The University of Washington sees Floreal playing hoops and perhaps running track while UCLA is interested in him as a football/track guy, even though Floreal hasn't played football since the eighth grade and isn't planning on doing so again.

"There is absolutely no way I am going to play football for Palo Alto next year," Floreal promised.

He'll be too busy with basketball, track and recruiters.

While hoops has his attention now, Floreal is looking forward to next spring when he'll have an opportunity to improve upon this past record-breaking season when he set school records in the 100 meters (10.52), 200 (21.16) and 400 relay (41.56).

Had he equaled those 100 and 200 times in last Saturday's finals at the CIF State Meet, Floreal would have tied for first in the former and gotten second in the latter. Instead, he ran 10.70 in the 100 and got fourth and clocked 21.38 in the 200 for third. In the 400 relay, he anchored the Vikings to a 41.72 time, good for seventh and missing a medal by one place.

Palo Alto finished in a four-way tie for sixth place with 13 points in the team standings, ranking No. 1 among Northern California schools.

Floreal, meanwhile, became the first Paly athlete to medal in the 100 and 200 since the inaugural CIF State Meet in 1915. The 400 relay finish also was the best in school history. The only sprinter from the City of Palo Alto to finish higher in either of those events at the State Meet was the late Bill Green of Cubberley High in 1979, when he won the 100-yard dash.

Floreal also would like to be a state champion but knows there are obstacles ahead. One will be Khalfani Muhammad of Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), who won the 100 in 10.52 and took the 200 in 21.15 last weekend. He also anchored his school's 400 team to victory while almost single-handidly winning the state championship by himself as his team scored 36 points. And, he's only a junior.

"I can beat him," Floreal said.

At least Floreal will be better prepared to do so next season. Last weekend was a real eye-opener, for sure.

"It's completely different running against some of the fastest runners in the nation and state," Floreal said. "I've never done that before. It was interesting to see how much higher the stakes got each time."

This was Floreal's first state meet. He suffered an injury after last year's league meet and missed the rest of the season. Thus, he experienced his first SCVAL Qualifier, CCS semifinals and CCS finals only this season.

When he got to the state meet, it was a whole different ball game.

"Some of the other guys had been here before, but I hadn't," Floreal said. "They (his competitors) just have more experience in that situation. This is my first full year. I was stressing just to get to the finals. Next year, I won't be stressing as much."

He'll also be more comfortable running on back-to-back days.

"That was very painful," Floreal said of Friday's prelims and Saturday's finals, a total of six races in two days. "On Friday, it was about 100 degrees (He ran 10.64 and 21.24). On Saturday, in the 200, I had nothing left. But, I'll get used to it."

Palo Alto coach Jason Fung already has gone on the record regarding contending for a state title next season.

"One can hope," said Fung. "Plan big to win big."

But, Floreal said, "I can't do it by myself."

Fung will have to replace seniors Morris Gates-Mouton and Tremaine Kirkman on the 400 relay, but has Matt Tolbert and Jonathan Alee waiting in the wings to help the Vikings return to the finals.

Floreal then will have to find a way to beat Muhammad in the 100 and 200 -- should both return to the finals, as well.

Paly also lost senior Nikolai Solgaard, who finished 17th in the 800 prelims despite running a personal best of 1:54.36. Solgaard also ran on the Vikings' 1600 relay that failed to reach the finals, despite setting a school record of 3:20.69 on Friday.

Returning with Floreal -- he finished the season ranked No. 5 (tie) in the 100 and No. 4 in the 200 -- will be junior Jayshawn Gates-Mouton, Alee (1600 relay) and sophomore Nick Sullivan (1600 relay).

It's certainly a good start for next season but, as they say, it's all about the finish.

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