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It isn't easy to win a gold medal in the state track and field championships and it's especially challenging in the 800-meter run if you quickly grab the lead and try to hold off the rest of their field.
That's exactly what Hughson senior Joseph Lighthall did in Clovis to grab the gold medal in 1:52.06.
Lighthall took it out in 55.22 and only three others were under 56 heading into the final 400. Although L.A. Cathedral's Ambodai Ligons was able to close the gap a little, Lighthall, who had run 1:51.95 at the Sacramento Meet of Champions, powered his way to the title by three-tenths of a second.
A flood of third place finishes followed.
Pleasant Grove senior Stephen Dahdouh led three SJS runners across the line in the 100-meter hurdles, clocking a 14.21. Earlier he'd won the section title with a 2.7 meter-per-second wind-aided 13.94.
Lincoln-Stockton senior Ethan Fong, another 12th-grader who had triple jumped 48-feet, grabbed the bronze medal at 47-6.75.
A pair of juniors, St. Mary's Legend Moore in the high jump and Max McFarlane in the pole vault, also impressed in Clovis. Moore cleared 6-6 on his second attempt and won a jumpoff against Venture Academy's Aiydan Bague.
McFarlane, who had scaled 16-5 in the section meet, cleared 16-2 and was the highest placing non-senior.
Harris (PR of a wind-aided 13.53) had not lost the event to a state runner all season and placed fifth in 14.08 after running a sizzling 13.73 in the prelims a day earlier.
Fields, who will attend Long Island University, was still a bit stunned after the race and said it might also be her last one as she will focus on rugby in college.
The SJS actually went 1-2 in the short hurdles as Rocklin junior Giselle Kirchner clocked a 13.85 for second and will be the top returnee in 2024.
Fields' victory was one of two gold medals for the section girls Whitney high jumper Ashanti Elie proved the most consistent, clearing 5-4, 5-6, 5-7 and the winner at 5-10 on her first attempt while taking two jumps to scale 5-8 and a clutch third try at 5-9.
Elsewhere, Christian Brothers' Keilee Hall broke the 42-second barrier when she clocked a 41.90 for third place in the 300-meter hurdles.
Sac-Joaquin Section Athletes of the Year
Hughson, Sr., 800m
Daring the rest of the field to stay with him, the senior blazed a 55.22 first 400 and came back with a 56.84 to capture the state crown at 1:52.06. He had seasonal PRs of 1:51.95 (800) and 47.85 (400).
Turlock, Jr., Pole vault
A true big-meet competitor, McFarlane followed up his 16-5 PR in the section championships to scale 16-2 in Clovis to place third in the State Meet.
Lincoln-Stockton, Sr., Hurdles
Heading into the State Meet unbeaten in the 100-hurdles versus California runners, the Central Florida commit clocked a PR 13.73 in the prelims but suffered her only loss in the finals.
Whitney, Sr., High jump
Saving her best for last, the uber consistent Elie, headed to Cal, bounded over 5-foot-10 on her first attempt to capture the top spot on the victory stand in the state championships.
Steve Brand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplitCA