With a shot at a Central California Conference championship, Daniel Ambriz was ready to score points for the Merced High boys track team any way he could.
On Tuesday, that meant adding the 800-meter race on the list of his events at the final CCC Center Meet at Veterans Stadium.
Not only did Ambriz win the 800, he also won the 1600 and 3200 to lead the Bears boys team to a win that secured their first conference championship since 1995. Merced scored 111.5 points to pull away from Golden Valley (94) late.
“I told our guys this was an opportunity of their lifetime, literally,” said Merced coach David Garza. “No Merced boys team has won a title since they were born. It’s been 19 years. We had guys step up, especially our jumpers and distance runners. Our distance team won a league title in cross country this fall. We rode them today. Daniel winning the 800, 1600 and 3200 was huge. Usually teams don’t throw guys into three events, but we had to with some of our guys hurt.”
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Atwater had a stranglehold on the CCC, winning the conference the last four years. Merced was able to work its way to the top with a strong, unselfish team effort.
“The 800 is really not my event,” Ambriz said. “I just wanted to win points for my team. It’s really important to win league because Merced hasn’t done it in a long time. It was important for me and my team.”
Jamar Turner helped the Bears win with a victory in the 300 hurdles with a time of 40.81 seconds. Abel Aleman also carried a heavy load, finishing third in the 800 and second to Ambriz in the 1600 and 3200.
On the girls side, Pitman won its third center meet to wrap up the CCC title. The Pride scored 117 points. Buhach Colony finished second with 85. Lindsey Phillips won the pole vault by clearing 9 feet, 6 inches. Claire Littlefield added a win in the triple jump (35-6.25).
Individually one of the stars of the meet was Golden Valley’s Ryan Pust. The senior was a triple winner with victories in the pole vault (15-2), long jump (20-5.5) and the 100 (11.17). He was two hundredths of a second away from a fourth win when he finished second in the 200 (22.65).
Pust advanced to state last year in the pole vault and hopes to return to Clovis against this year.
“Right now I’m really consistently clearing the high 15s and I’ve recently reached 16 feet twice in a row,” Pust said. “I’m excited for the league meet. I want to be up to 16.9 or 17 at Masters. I want to be No. 1 in the state at that point.”
Atwater’s Edward Kemp edged Pust in the 200 (22.63). He also made a rare appearance in the 400 and picked up a win (51.41).
Kemp has been in and out of the Atwater lineup for various reasons this year. He’s recently been nursing a strained hamstring.
“I wasn’t expecting to run the 400,” Kemp said. “That was kind of out of nowhere. So overall I feel pretty good with that time. I’m not happy with my 200 time, but it feels good to win the two races, especially coming off the injury.”
It was also a strong day for the Coward sisters. Barbara Coward won the shot put (34-8.5) and discus (143-1). Her twin Brandy won the 100 (12.24) and 200 (24.59). Her 200 time was a personal best.
“My goal was to set a (personal record) today,” Brandy said. “I ran the turns harder than I usually do and from there I tried to keep my speed and pick it up in the last 100. Our last practice we worked on running runs, and I think that was a big factor today.”
Buhach Colony’s other double-winner was Vanessa Andrade in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles.
Other local winners included: Atwater’s Alexis Bautista (800), Jackie Magana (3200), Buhach Colony’s Rai Ajua Slaton (high jump), Pierce Hanning (discus) and Golden Valley’s Mariyah Banks (1600), Isaac Daniel (110 hurdles), Josh Sykes (high jump) and Afolabi Olabode (shot put).