Joe Davidson

Why the 100th CIF State Track and Field meet was the best regional showing ever

Oak Ridge's Maddy Denner, left, hugs twin sister Elena Denner after the girls' 3,200 race at the CIF State Track and Field Championships on Saturday in Clovis.
Oak Ridge's Maddy Denner, left, hugs twin sister Elena Denner after the girls' 3,200 race at the CIF State Track and Field Championships on Saturday in Clovis.

The fireworks officially went off shortly after the last race, but really, they were in full kaboom mode throughout Saturday's centennial CIF State Track and Field Championships.

Saturday was the most remarkable showing for Sacramento-area athletes, girls and boys combined. How fitting, since this was the 100th state meet.

Never has the heat and sizzling competition brought out the best of area stars than what transpired at Veteran's Memorial Stadium. It is testament to their ability to rise above, to compete in a pressure-cooker meet in front of a full crowd that knows this sport, and how the region aims to close the gap on the rest of the state.

The area has had boys team champions emerge from what is generally deemed the best state finals meet in the country, with Sacramento in 1911 and 1972, and Jesuit in 2010, but rare has it been to see such story lines and upsets.

Davis placed third in the team standings with 25 points, thanks in large part to a 17-foot, 10-inch meet record pole vault by Sondre Guttormsen, who also placed second in the 110 hurdles during a rushed break in vaulting.

No area girls team has won a team title since girls entered competition in 1974, shortly after the passage of Title IX, but the Denners, Elena and Maddy, sure gave it a go.

The diminutive twins scored 33 points by themselves, earning every one of them through a combined 12 laps of rigorous work. Oak Ridge was second in the final standings to Serra of Gardena (36 points).

Maddy repeated as the 1,600-meter champion, using her familiar late kick to cruise home in a lifetime best 4 minutes, 42.77 seconds. Olivia O'Keeffe of Davis was second and Elena was fourth to punctuate the most anticipated girls race of the season.

About three hours later, Elena was on top of the victory stand after pulling away in the 3,200 meters in 10:10.32, with Maddy second and O'Keeffe third. The rivals and pals went 1-2-3 in the most difficult event of the day.

Longtime track enthusiasts buzzed that the Sacramento area came to crash a party long dominated by Southern California, where there are more schools and competition.

Maddy became the region's first repeat running champion since Lindsay Hyatt of Placer four-peated in the 800 from 1996-99.

"Can't believe what happened, and so much fun," Elena said, still flushed from lap fatigue and pride. "This is a day we'll never forget."

Also, Cathilyn McIntosh of Del Oro overwhelmed the field in the 800, winning in a NorCal record time of 2:05.21, the second-best time in meet history and second fastest in the country this season. She came in motivated, having placed second in the CIF 800 in each of her previous two seasons.

"How's that for the Sierra Foothill League?" Del Oro coach Dustin Fee said in reference to his school and Oak Ridge. "Just a great showing."

And more: the last individual race Saturday was the boys 3,200, and one of the meet's big upsets was linked to a lanky runner who seemed a year away just a month ago.

Matt Strangio of Jesuit used the element of surprise, sticking to the lead early and then taking over late to win that eight-lap grinder in a lifetime best 8:56.18. The sophomore had not cracked 9 minutes this season, in part because of a sore ankle.

Jesuit has produced scores of distance greats who won CIF State track distance races, including twins Eric and Mark Mastalir in 1986, Michael Stember in 1995 and '96, Paul Thomas in 1987 and Matt Farley in 1993. There's nothing like legendary names for a pre-meet primer to inspire.

Strangio knows all of those names because distance coach Walt Lange wants him to know what he's running against: history.

"Every day I see it or hear about it, and it's great," said Strangio. "Walt Lange will bring it up before meetings. He's a great mentor, the best coach in America. He'll tell me, 'You can be the next Stember or Mastalir.' "

Strangio is the best Matt he can be, and what an opening act.

Said Jesuit head coach Rod Jett, "It was a great day for Sacramento-area track, especially the distance runners."

And a great showing for Whitney sprinter Andrew Franco, who was third in the 200 in a personal-best 21.28 seconds. How about a weights man? Eric Werner of Granite Bay was second in the discus with a 182-foot, 2-inch toss, a lifetime best.

Each of the seniors mentioned here are off to college to study and compete, including Franco and Werner to Stanford. Maddy Denner is going to Michigan and Elena to Stanford. O'Keeffe is going to Washington and Guttormsen to UCLA. Saturday was a warm-up for all of them.

"I'd say this was the best meet for our area athletes — it sure feels like it," Davis coach Bill Gregg said. "We just don't see that happen that often."

It was a banner day for Northern California schools in general, a rousing effort to pull out of the shadows of the heavies in the South.

NorCal girls won the 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200, triple jump and discus (Erica Grotegeer of Wheatland with a personal best 174-2 effort). NorCal boys won the 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200, long jump and pole vault.

Maybe someone from Northern California ran off with the victory podium. It was that kind of day, punctuated by a historic showing for the Sacramento region.