Great day for 2,500 track athletes

The high school track and field season shifted into overdrive Saturday on a sun-splashed day custom-made for fast times and promising throws.

More than 2,500 athletes from 33 schools gathered for the fourth Modesto Junior College Invitational at the venue where 32 world records were set during the Modesto Relays.

Virtually all those records came before the birth of any of the high school athletes on hand at MJC. The coaches understood the historical context, however, and so did a few of the teenagers.

"I helped at the pole vault pits at the Relays," said Modesto High junior Kyle Sharpe. "It's terrible that the Relays ended. We got a chance to see great athletes."

Sharpe, a junior, is rounding into form, like everyone else. He's arguably the city's best in the dashes, but he missed valuable practice time the last two weeks due to his preparation for the State Mock Trials competition.

No matter. Sharpe still locked into one of the day's most spirited races, the final heat of the 100. Slow out of the blocks, he stayed a fraction of a stride behind the runners to his left, Ty Minkins of Stagg and Amari Franklin of Bear Creek.

Frazier won with a time of 11.18 seconds, followed by Minkins and Sharpe both at 11.23. Though Franklin High's undersized burner Thomas Randle logged the day's best time in the next-to-last heat (11.14), Sharpe put down a marker for the next two months.

"My goal is to break the school record (Tim Simmons, 10.8, more than two decades ago)," he said, "and get to State."

That's the ultimate goal, in fact, for all athletes -- a trip to the State Championships, June 4-5 at Clovis' Buchanan High. One of the first important steps toward that end were the events at MJC.

Consider Modesto Christian senior Taryn Garza, who's better known for her standout skills in basketball. She's also been fast in the 400 since her freshman year. Garza reached for something extra in the final 50 meters, and got it, steaming by 2009 State qualifier Cierra Jordan of St. Mary's to win in a meet-record 57.97.

Another runner to watch this spring is Grace Davis senior Roberto Rosas, the two-time Stanislaus District Cross Country Runner of the Year. He pulled double duty with a 4:26 mile in one of the heats at the Stanford Invitational in the morning, followed late in the day by an easy win in the 2-mile at MJC (9:37).

City athletes also scored in the 800, where Enochs freshman Faith Makau and Beyer junior Sean Gomes both earned impressive victories. Gomes, who runs with a take-charge gait, made a point of racing to the front and safely away from traffic. He'll build on his 1:59.31.

"Go in front. Stay in front," said Gomes, who earlier sped to a third in the 400. "I'm hoping to get to about 1:56."

There were other moments to savor, such as the wins by Oakdale twins Juli Powell (pole vault) and Jaci Powell (long jump). But for the vast majority, athletes merely sought to improve their times and marks and seek confidence.

"I'm hoping to go a lot further," said Ceres senior Nick Sandoval, who won a heat in the 400 with a gutsy opening burst. He's never qualified for the Section Masters, but he knows he's in his final kick.

"I have a lot of goals in mind," he said.

So did many at MJC, the springboard for an event-filled rest of the season.

"This meet gave the kids a good look at what the NorCals will be like," MJC coach Demetrius Snaer said. "Many of them have been training on dirt tracks. This was an opportunity for them to run on a fast track and see what they can do."

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee. or 578-2302.