CHOWCHILLA -- Fred Gaines' elation quickly turned to trepidation.
With his fifth jump, the Chowchilla senior had leapt his way into third place at the Central Section Masters Meet.
After a tremendous high school career and spectacular senior campaign (Valley football championship and a first-team North Sequoia League showing in basketball), the three-sport star was in position for his first-ever trip to the CIF State Track and Field Championships.
Bakersfield Frontier freshman Nolan Mearse quickly dashed those hopes with a jump of 22 feet, 3/4 inch.
"I was sitting in fourth and down to my last jump," Gaines said. "The top three went to state, so it was literally go hard or go home.
"I'd made the Valley championships as a junior and didn't do very well, so my goal this year was state.
"I was either going to scratch or going to get it, but I was definitely going for it."
Gaines got it.
And as he climbed out of the pit at Buchanan High in Clovis, he knew his spot at the state meet was secured.
Gaines jumped a personal best 22-06. The leap earned him a second-place finish and made him the first Chowchilla student to qualify for state since his sister, Tauheedah, achieved the feat back in 2000.
The state trials begin today at Buchanan.
"I'm pretty excited," Gaines said. "It's something that hasn't really been done a lot by people here in Chowchilla."
According to Chowchilla coach Darrin Garcia, it wasn't too long ago that 22-06 would have been out of Gaines' reach.
"There was never a question of whether Fred was a great athlete or not," Garcia said. "The question was could Fred get all the concepts being asked of him.
"Throughout high school he's been successful wherever he went, and so he was left to do it on his own a lot.
"I asked him to jump on board with the instruction I was giving him, and to his credit, Fred did everything that was asked."
The first-year Chowchilla coach said the breakthrough came midway through the season.
"He came to me and we talked about strengths versus weaknesses," Garcia said. "I implored him to stop relying on his strengths and to start working on his weaknesses.
"He's in an event where on a lot of levels he can look outstanding. ... All that power and athleticism, but he needed to get faster.
"He spent the last part of the year really working on it."
The work has paid dividends.
Gaines is seeded 19th heading into today's competition, but plans on moving up the ladder.
"My goal is to jump 23," Gaines said. "I'm not content to just be there.
"I want to show what I can do against the best jumpers in the state and I think 23 will be enough to get me to Saturday.
"I've been improving every week, so as long as I keep improving, I'll be happy."
Garcia thinks that 23 is a good goal.
"In my experience, 22-10 will probably be the mark for the last guy in," Garcia said. "He's got graduation later (tonight), so I told him 'You're either going to go out and have a really great day or you could out and scratch three times and still have a great day.'
"The potential is limitless with Fred. He could go out and jump a full foot further than he ever has before and I don't know that I'd say he peaked.
"He has that kind of athleticism and desire."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
CIF State Meet
WHEN: Today (trials) and Saturday (finals), Buchanan High School in Clovis.
WHO: Boys: Merced's Afrikaa Holloway (triple jump); Chowchilla's Fred Gaines (long jump); Livingston's Albert Millan (shot put). Girls: Buhach Colony's Rebecca Hammar (discus, shot put) and Rio Schwalbach (triple jump); Golden Valley's Porsha Grayson (triple jump).