Center senior Xavier Howell decided he'd qualify for his first CIF State Track and Field Meet with a bang.
Howell cleared 7 feet in the boys high jump final at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet Thursday at Elk Grove High School, becoming California's first 7-footer of the season.
Howell's mark also bettered the 33-year-old Masters record of 6-11 1/2 set by Hiram Johnson's Ivan Morris.
That will make the once-unsung Howell one of the favorites for the May 31-June 1 state championships in Clovis.
"It was just determination," Howell said of winning one of Thursday's six field-event finals on a day of mostly prelims. "I had already won at 6-7. So instead of just going for 6-8 or 6-9, I said, 'Let's go for it. It's a good day.' "
Howell made a run at the bar on his first attempt but didn't feel comfortable and pulled up. But he had nearly an inch to spare in clearing the bar on his second attempt.
Howell credited a nap and that the high jump was the first of his three Masters events.
He also ran on Center's 4x400 relay team that failed to qualify for today's finals. But he will compete in the boys long jump today.
Howell cleared a state-leading 6-10 April 19 at the Del Oro Invitational but had since fallen to third. Taylor Smith of Buchanan of Clovis cleared 6-10 1/4 April 26, then Carter of Rialto's Eric Moore went 6-11 on Saturday.
But Cougars coach John Gallagher said Howell had been busy piling up dual meet points for his team through most of the season.
"He does a lot of stuff for us," Gallagher said. "He was our (Pioneer Valley League) champion in the high jump, long jump, triple jump and 4x400 relay. He's an excellent kid. All that hard work is paying off now that he can focus on fewer events."
Football or track?
Grant's Darrin Paulo is headed for the state finals after finishing second in the boys discus with a toss of 168 feet, 3 inches.
That's not bad for a sophomore or someone who throws the discus without spinning.
"That kid is phenomenal," said longtime track guru and Sacramento Meet of Champions organizer Jerry Colman. "Talk about sheer strength and raw talent."
Throwing a discus without spin is like a pitcher throwing a ball without winding up.
It's not that the friendly 6-foot-5, 305-pounder doesn't know the technique. He's just worried about his knees.
A promising football player at Grant, Paulo had surgery on his right knee before his freshman season and surgery on his left knee before his sophomore season. So he has yet to play a down for the Pacers.
While the tackle hopes to follow older brother Darryl Paulo he's a linebacker at Washington State in the college ranks, he's thinking track might be an option, too.
"It's definitely less dangerous," he said with a smile.
Speed to burn
Jesuit's Austin Mitsch and Cordova's Nia Dorner, two of the best sprinters in California, didn't rest on their laurels in their respective heats.
Mitsch, ranked in the state top 10 in the boys 100 and 200, ran the top qualifying times of 10.69 and 21.52.
Dorner did the same. She ran the sixth-fastest time in the state in her 200 (23.98) heat and cruised to another lopsided win in her 400 heat (54.60). She is the state leader in that event.
Wolverines double up
Rosemont's Gathungu Ndirangu (46-09 1/4) and Kameron Williams (46-09) went one-two in winning the boys triple jump.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.