Elation, heartbreak: Emotional night has highs and lows for local athletes

For Oakdale High senior Jaci Powell, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Track and Field Finals depended on a handy skill — doing three things at once.

Fortunately for the niece of Modesto's three-time Olympian Suzy Powell, Jaci has learned how to budget her time.

All she did was win the long jump, while finding a few spare minutes to win the 100-meter hurdles and take third in the 300 hurdles. She scratched on a jump here, darted to the starting blocks there, and found a way to excel Thursday night at Modesto Junior College Stadium.

Was it easy? Hardly. For the fourth straight year, Powell was one foul away from failing to qualify for the Section Masters long jump. A first-round scratch (to win the hurdles), followed by a second-round foul, put her on very familiar thin ice.

"I thought, 'I'm not going to let that happen again,' " she said. "I moved my mark back a few feet and slowed down a little. 'I had to do it right now.' "

Powell pulled through with a careful leap of 16 feet, 18½ inches, then edged her Sierra High rival Taylor Wilson with a 17-2. Her time management was mirrored by many of the elite athletes, all who pointed toward top-six finishes in each event, the standard to reach the Section Masters next week.

Twelve conferences from Divisions 3, 4 and 5 congregated for that reason, and the meet produced its share of elation and heartbreak for a crowd of about 1,000.

The Sierra High boys of Manteca, one of the Stanislaus District's most consistent powerhouses, annexed their sixth section team title and fourth in the last six years.

Placer of Auburn pulled away to win the 4x400 relay finale, forcing the Timberwolves to place no worse than fourth for the title. Ruben Lopez, the Sierra anchor, held on for the fourth and a 2-point decision over the Hillmen. Minutes later, Sierra ran a jubilant victory lap with its latest blue banner.

"It was very important and very emotional," said Sierra junior Ulysses Knapps, who stretched out to a 22-6½ to win the long jump. "My brother won a section title, and now I can say we won one."

Another high-level duel was waged by Hughson sophomore Becky Hobby and Placer's Shannon Harcus in the 1,600 meters. Hobby, fifth at the State Cross Country Championships last fall, parked herself near Harcus' outside shoulder for much of the race, then overtook her with about 200 meters left to win in a personal-best-tying 5:11.28

To say Hobby is locked in on a goal is a major understatement. She still remembers her Section Masters last year and her fourth-place finish, one berth short of state.

"I missed from here to that podium over there," she said, pointing out a distance no longer than about 15 yards. It no doubt has burned into her brain for the past 12 months.

"It puts a big memory in your head and in your heart, how much you love this sport," Hobby said. "To be that close, it hurts. You work that much harder."

An upset was scored by 6-foot-1 Escalon senior Pearl Rivers, who outkicked Modesto Christian star Taryn Garza in the 800 meters (2:18.27). Garza, slowed by a pulled hamstring incurred earlier this month at a dual meet, didn't race in the 400, where she's ranked third in the section.

"I've got to get my endurance back and strengthen my hamstring. It's healing pretty good," Garza said. "I just had to get through this meet and get ready for the bigger meets."

One of the most versatile performances was turned in by Patterson senior Amber Bond, a future Cal State Stanislaus athlete, who qualified for the Masters in four events. She featured a win in the 200 and second in the 100.

Fellow Patterson classmate Wesley Washington advanced with a second in the 200, but his win in the 400 was erased due to a lane violation.

Another shocker befell Weston Ranch senior Angell Mayfield, who placed sixth in the state last year in the 300 hurdles. He was disqualified in both hurdles, the 110s due to an apparel violation before he stepped into the blocks. Worse, his win in the 300s was wiped when he was whistled for dragging his trail leg.

And that's how it stands one week away from the Masters.

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