Strong Statements, Few Surprises at SJS Finals

The Sac Joaquin Section star runners and teams performed in alignment with expectations coming in, leaving few surprises, but a few strong statements with the CIF State Championships coming up in two weeks at Woodward Park in Fresno. 

In the heavyweight D1 Boys race, Jesuit's defending D1 State Champion Matt Strangio took off after a false start and was hitting splits just a few seconds slower than the course record set by German Fernandez of Riverbank, when a near disaster was averted with less than a quarter mile to the finish. A group of people wandered on to the course and though Strangio tried to avoid them, he ended up running in to one, knocking him to the ground and knocking Strangio off stride. The senior gathered his composure and finished the race in 15:25, the 4th fastest time in the illustrious history of the challenging Willow Hills course. Jesuit junior Michale Chambers was the runner up and the Marauders had all 7 runners finish in the top 13, giving Head Coach Walt Lange his 26th section championship. Davis Senior High finished 2nd taking the only other state meet spot. 

The D1 Girls race was similar to the boys in that the top runner took the lead and dared anyone to go with her. Madison Kackley of Gregori ran a consistent race and finished strong despite a hard training week in anticipation of peaking for the state meet. Oak Ridge was the top team, finishing ahead of McClatchy and a pack-running Davis who continue their streak of qualifying for state. Kackley was very strong in taking the win and looks poised to put up a strong fight for a podium position at state. 

In D2, the ladies put on a show with a three way fight for the team title. Before the team scores could be tabulated Vista Del Lago's first year runner Alex Klos destroyed the field, crossing the finish line with a winning time of 17:31 which was 54 seconds faster than any other runner all day and made her the 2nd fastest girl at Willow Hills behind Davis legend and recent Pac-12 XC Champion Fionna O'Keeffe. St. Francis was able to defend their their title finishing ahead of a rapidly improving Rio Americano and Vista Del Lago who will be making a return trip to Woodward Park. Austin Vasquez of Whitney pulled away from Vacaville's duo of Daniel Hernandez and sophomore Kellen Steplight en route to leading Whitney to the D2 Boys section title ahead of fellow state qualifiers Vacaville and Vista Del Lago. Vasquez's time of 15:51 made him the only runner besides Strangio to crack the 16 minute barrier on the day. 

East Union High School, led by sophomore Johnny Sandoval (4th ) and freshman Alex Cuevas (10th) won the D3 championship ahead of Atwater and perennial power Place. Merced senior Cole McKain ran a strong individual race to take the individual title. The D3 girls race was highlighted by by Riley Chamberlain of Del Oro, who defended her section championship and will hope to repeat at the state meet. Following Chamberlain were two other Del Oro runners, Hanna Wirth and Emilie Merz pacing the team to a section title ahead of Nevada Union and Atwater. 

Godebo Chapman of West Campus won the individual D4 Boys title over a strong closing Jacob Christopher of team champion Calaveras. Calaveras, will be joined in Fresno by El Dorado and Hughson who finished second and third. The D4 Girls provided the tightest team and individual race of the day with Ripon taking the title over El Dorado by only 5 points and Christian Brothers missing a state meet berth by only 6 points in this division that qualifies two teams for state. Freshman Brianna Personius of Sonora held off Woodland sophomore Mahalia Quintana of Woodland (19:32.6 to 19:34.3). Tioga senior Jordan Spires was the class of the D5 boys, winning the section title handily in 17:02 in a race that saw Colfax and Waterford take the two team spots at the state meet. For the girls freshman McKenna Lechner won the individual title leading Foresthill to a runner-up finish behind team champion Colfax. 

Of the outstanding performances, Klos, Strangio, Kackley and Vasquez made the strongest cases of being ready to make a run for a high podium spot in Fresno.