CLOVIS — It helps to wheel some experience into the CIF State Track and Field Championships, the nation's premier high school meet.
It wasn't exactly a coincidence that two of the four Stanislaus District athletes to qualify for tonight's finals — Buhach Colony junior Rebecca Hammar and Livingston senior Albert Millan — got here in 2009. Pitman's Markus Sanders, the third field-events finalist, beat steep odds by extending his season to the final day.
A crowd of 7,786, a healthy turnout for many world-class meets nationally, intensified the heat in what was already a pressurized environment. For many of the state's best, the feeling was new and not so easy.
"It was intimidating," summarized Oakdale senior Jaci Powell, who ended her season in both the triple jump (37 feet, 6 inches) and the long jump (17-5¾). "If you're sitting in the stands, that's all you hear from the announcer, 'Best time in the U.S., best time in the U.S.' "
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Atwater senior Kyle Maxwell rose to the moment with a pole vault of 15-3, becoming one of nine vaulters to clear that height. An additional five advanced, however, in the aftermath of a coaches' protest.
Beyer junior Sean Gomes, one week after his gutsy second at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships, tried to stay with the pack in his heat of the 800 meters. He couldn't keep up, finishing 10th (last) at 1:56.88, a humbling close to a breakthrough year.
"The nerves got to me. I just wasn't feeling it," Gomes admitted. "I wished I could have given a better effort."
Which makes Hammar's performance in the discus, where she was third a year ago, even more remarkable. In her third and final try — and already assured of a finals berth — she tossed a personal best of 150 feet, 5 inches, for third place. An officials' mistake invalidated all marks at a meet in Arcadia earlier this spring, wiping out a similar throw by Hammar.
"It's nice to get this one in the books," she said.
The top nine in each event advanced to tonight's finals at Buchanan High's Veterans Memorial Stadium, the State Meet venue through 2011.
Strong gusts crossed the discus sector, an ideal setting for long throws. Hammar remains a major underdog tonight, however, against Stockdale's Alex Collatz (163-2).
"If I throw like I did today, I should be in the top six," she said. "I really want to PR (personal-best) again."
Millan hustled back to Livingston for graduation, but not before he capped a good series with a 58-3½ in the shot put (his best is 59-10½) for fourth place. His throw put a smile on the face of Livingston's veteran coach Bob Pryor.
"He had a nice smooth throw and it was about 80 percent. He said he had more if he needed it," Pryor said. "He's such a nice kid. He promised he wouldn't stay out past 11 p.m."
Sanders barely made it back to Pitman for graduation last week after the Section Masters. Armed with more time a week later, he allowed a grin as he walked away from a 180-6 in the discus for sixth place.
"I've never seen this many people, even for a football game," Sanders said. "I was nervous."
There was no shame for a few jangled nerves this night. Hughson sophomore Becky Hobby, fifth in the state in cross country last fall, will give herself one week off before she resumes training. She placed seventh in her heat of the 1,600 (5:09.03), well off her season-best 5:02.14 last week.
"This is a whole different level," Hobby said. "Mentally, I wanted it so bad, but my legs weren't going with me."
The rest of the district lineup:
A few hours after her discus event, Hammar was 18th in the shot put (39-11¾).
Oakdale senior Tim House, 11th in the discus (170-7), barely fouled on a throw of about 185.
Manteca senior Vincent Herrera, a first-year track athlete, placed last in his heat of the 1,600 (4:35.55).
Atwater senior John Guerrero, racing in a different from Gomes in the 800, was eighth (1:55.75).
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.