Atwater runners sprinting to finish

SACRAMENTO — Beneath Hughes Stadium, huddled below a stairwell, a fraction of the Atwater track team filled the air with laughter, playfully poking fun at each other.

Outside, the Sac-Joaquin Section held its collective breath as hundreds vied for medals and others tried desperately to extend their seasons.

This particular bunch had already secured theirs, so...

Let the games begin.

Laugh Factory, anyone?

"We cap on each other all the time. It's what we do. I know, we're weird, but that's us," senior Steven Odom said, chewing away on a granola bar.

"We" would be Atwater's boys relay teams, the 400- and 1,600-meter groupings. The comedy troupe.

Atwater will send both back to Hughes Stadium, along with a bevy of individuals, on Thursday and Friday for the Masters. There, they'll compete for a place at the CIF State Track and Field Championships.

Each holds aspirations of reaching Buchanan High in Clovis — the site of the state meet.

Last week's performances at the Division I championships only solidified those hopes.

The team of Jacob Bautista, Amir Tumbling, Odom and Juan Madrigal turned heads around the section with a blistering 400-meter sprint.

Outmatched only by mighty Jesuit, a resident power and track record holder, Atwater set a new personal best with a 42.78, missing out on second place by a half a step.

In the bowels of Hughes Stadium, where everyone is subject to a practical joke or gag, this is no laughing matter.

Atwater's sprinters are quickly catching up to the north's big names.

"We're shaving seconds off," Odom said. "The hard practices, running in the rain, it's all paying off right now."

The foursome has been sparked by the addition of Tumbling, a natural sprinter with experience in the 100-meter dash.

Their time has dropped steadily since Tumbling joined the ranks.

At the conference championship, they set a personal best of 43.01. That mark fell twice at the division meet, once in qualifying and again in a final whipped by the wind.

"We're happy with that third," Atwater sprints coach Jordan Bell said. "Whenever you run your best time, you're happy."

The 1,600 team, comprised of Odom, Bautista, John Guerrero and Andrew Morgan, attempted to go wire-to-wire in the nightcap at the divisional, but lost hold of the lead position on the final turn.

Atwater settled for third and the 3:21.80 was just a few tenths of a second off their PR.

These relay teams didn't come together naturally. It took some careful tinkering and on-campus recruitment by Bell, who coached five of the six in football in the fall.

"You got to get the kids out. I feel like there are a lot of sprinters out there, but they don't all run track," Bell said. "You got to find them and develop them."

And with a finishing kick and a few clean exchanges, these sprinters with fast feet and a quick wit hope they can turn the field into their latest punchline.