PLEASANT HILL – Out of the 41 Napa Valley track and field athletes who made the trip to Diablo Valley College for the North Coast Section Meet of Champions over the weekend, only two were still standing when the finals concluded on Saturday.
In rainy and windy conditions, Justin-Siena senior Gianna Troppy and St. Helena sophomore Harper McClain willed their already stellar seasons to continue. Each finished third in her event to qualify for the CIF State Track and Field Championships next weekend at Buchanan High School in Clovis.
Troppy, who dominated the Vine Valley Athletic League in the girls high jump this spring, qualified for state in the event with a final mark of 5 feet, 1 inch.
McClain punched her ticket in the girls 3200, finishing with a personal record of 10 minutes, 33.87 seconds.
Both athletes entered the MOC as fourth seeds. With only the top three in each event moving on to state, the margin was razor thin, and they knew it. But they managed to navigate through the competition like gymnasts on a tightrope.
Troppy earned her podium finish first. For a brief moment, though, she thought she wouldn’t be moving on to state. For a majority of the competition, she and Lesley DeLeon of James Logan matched each other jump for jump, from 4-10 all the way to 5-2.
Their lines were nearly identical, except for the one miss that DeLeon had on the first jump of 4-8, a jump Troppy elected to pass on.
In the end, Troppy and DeLeon both ended their days on 5-2 and Troppy believed her season and career had just come to an end. But as the judges gathered to go over marks and scores, Troppy’s optimism returned.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Troppy said. “When I missed my last 5-2 jump, I really thought I wasn’t moving on. But (the judges) were tallying things and conferring with another official and I thought ‘Wait a minute, something’s happening.’”
The judges eventually concluded that Troppy had missed fewer jumps than DeLeon, sealing the third-place finish for the Justin-Siena senior and guaranteeing her trip to state.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier in my life,” she said. “It went from total sadness to, like, a hundred of pure happiness.
“I looked at my mom from across the fence. All my family thought I was totally out. … But I just had the biggest smile on my face and I’m pretty sure I danced around a little bit. I was very, very happy.”
Troppy waited around for the medal ceremony in the pouring rain, and then immediately took off to get ready for Justin-Siena’s prom. She credited her coaches, teammates and trainers for helping her reach state and for helping her grow into the athlete and person she is today.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here without them,” she said.
Meanwhile, McClain ran a masterful 3200 race against a stacked field. She led from the gun and set a blistering pace that only a handful of other runners could handle. Among them were Healdsburg’s Gabrielle Peterson – a track and field signee with Oregon State – and Monte Vista’s Kelli Wilson, both of whom entered as higher seeds than McClain.
The two let McClain dictate the pace and followed closely in tow until they each made their moves with about a lap to go in the two-mile, eight-lap race. Both passed McClain in the final lap, but the St. Helena sophomore stuck close to the new leaders.
In the end, she dug deep and held off San Ramon Valley’s Kate Tavella, who finished 1.28 seconds behind McClain, to cross the finish line in third.
“Afterwards, I just wanted to start crying because I finished the race and I knew in those last 50 meters that I was there, I was like ‘I’m going to state.’ It just hit me,” she said.
This is McClain’s first year running track and the wunderkind already owns the 800, 1600 and 3200 school records for St. Helena.
“I’m totally surprised,” said St. Helena distance coach Chris Cole. “I didn’t know who she was in January, but I knew she had talent and we just did our normal progression and she’s responded really well, and she’s still peaking. She’s been improving every week, so there’s more in her.”
McClain is the first St. Helena athlete to qualify for the state meet since Cole’s son, Brian Cole, did it in 2007.
A much anticipated Napa Valley matchup in the 100-meter dash between St. Helena junior Ryan Searl and American Canyon freshman Croix Stewart didn’t end up taking place. Stewart didn’t participate in Saturday’s final – according to his mother, Wolves head coach Qwen Stewart – because he had sustained a hamstring injury while running the fourth-fastest time in Friday’s qualifying.
Qwen Stewart said her son felt “a pain” in his hamstring immediately after the 100. He still tried to run in the 200 preliminary some time later on Friday, but pulled up midway through and did not finish the race.
Searl, meanwhile, recorded the sixth-fastest time in the preliminary and finished fifth in the finals on Saturday with a time of 11.16.
“I felt I ran a good race, but the time didn’t reflect that,” Searl said. “But I felt fine with it.”
Searl has improved every year of his high school running career. He made it to the NCS Class A meet as a freshman, made the prelims of the MOC as a sophomore and made it to the finals this year.
“Next year, state, maybe?” he said.
In the 110 hurdles, Justin-Siena senior Landon Mispagel gave a valiant effort in the finals after qualifying with a seventh-place finish of 15.38 in Friday’s prelims. But his season also came to an end Saturday when he finished seventh in 15.66.
In one of the last events of the day, Vintage senior distance star Manny Guzman, who is committed to run cross country at Cal Poly SLO next year, finished 16th in the 3200 with a time of 9:46.95.
Aside from McClain and Troppy, Napa High senior Jane McLoughlin competed well as she turned in a strong race in the final of the 800.
She kept up with the lead pack for the first lap but faded halfway through the second, finally settling for eighth in 2:21.78. Her emotions ran high following the race, but her Grizzlies teammates welcomed her back to the Napa cheering section with hugs and praise.
“It’s not what I wanted, but that’s OK,” McLoughlin said. “I took a risk and it didn’t pay off.”
This was Napa High’s first season competing at the MOC, because the Grizzlies moved into the NCS and the newly-formed VVAL this school year. McLoughlin and head coach Kam Jones said that facing new competition this year made for an interesting track season, but that in the end they enjoyed it and look forward to learning from this year’s trip to MOC.
“I would say with the transfer over to this particular section as well as this conference in general, there was more opportunity for kids to be able to advance and do some things,” Jones said. “So very, very excited about the change that we’ve experience with this particular league and with this section and we’re really looking forward to have kids be more a part of this particular meet and the one that we had before this.”
Jones also issued some comforting words to his athletes whose seasons ended over the weekend – words applicable to any athlete who experienced the same.
“Part of being in sports is the disappointment of defeat and not being able to reach your goal, and a lot of our athletes experienced that this go-around,” he said. “But for the ones who still have a year or two to compete, it’s something for them to remember so that when they do get back here they know what they need to be prepared for.
“And for the ones that this is their last opportunity, it’s like I tell them all the time, it’s just track and field and life moves on and if you know that you came out and you put your whole heart out and you did a bit of risking, there’s nothing more you can do. Just be proud of yourself that you put your full effort in and you laid it out there and you did what you could. If that’s the way these kids ended today or yesterday, I’m extremely proud of them and it makes you feel good walking away knowing that they laid it all out there and that’s how it ended for them.”
For a majority of the 41 competitors from Napa Valley schools, the track and field season came to an end in the preliminary round on Friday.
Here’s how those athletes fared:
100 – Conrad Say, Justin-Siena, senior, 11.35, 18th.
200 – Croix Stewart, American Canyon, freshman, DNF.
400 – Andres Solorio, Vintage, junior, 51.10, 16th.
800 – Daniel Rios, Napa, junior, 2:01.25, 19th.
110 hurdles – Kyle Jezycki, Napa, junior, 15.57, 12th; Jacob Lehman, St. Helena, junior, 16.88, 23rd.
4x100 relay – Justin-Siena (Solomone Anitoni, junior; Blake Hoban, junior; Landon Mispagel, senior; Conrad Say, senior), 43.82, 11th; St. Helena (Ryan Searl, junior; Jacob Lehman, junior; Ivan Robledo, freshman; Cody DiTomaso, junior), 43.87, 12th; American Canyon (Edward Byrdsong, senior; Kaave Gaviola, junior; Croix Stewart, freshman; Jude Cummings, junior), 44.58, 19th.
4x400 relay – American Canyon (Amine BenMansour, sophomore; Jude Cummings, junior; Amarie Coe-Johnson, sophomore; Kristian Valencia, senior), DNF High jump – Liam McDevitt, Justin-Siena, junior, 6-0, 16th Triple jump – Kyle Jezycki, Napa, junior, 44-07, 4th.
200 – Sydney Thweatt, Justin-Siena, freshman, 26.82, 17th.
400 – Sydney Thweatt, Justin-Siena, freshman, 61.20, 18th.
100 hurdles – Aliyah Aguiar, Napa, sophomore, 16.97, 17th.
4x100 relay – Justin-Siena (Natalie Kelly, sophomore; Claire Sullivan, junior; Sydney Thweatt, freshman; Josephine Weis, senior), 50.88, 15th.
4x400 relay – Napa (Stephanie Gudino, senior; Molly McGrath, junior; Aliyah Aguiar, sophomore; Jane McLoughlin, senior), 4:14.38, 21st; Vintage (Michaela Kreps, senior; Kaleena Jezycki, senior; Julia Scheumann, sophomore; Tamara Hernandez, sophomore), 4:15.47, 22nd.
Discus – Gianna Troppy, Justin-Siena, senior, 105-11, 12th.
High jump – Mia Oggenfuss, Napa, junior, 4-10, 14th.
Pole Vault – Josephine Weis, Justin-Siena, senior, 9-06, 16th; Andrea Villasenor, Calistoga, freshman, NH.
Triple Jump – Mia Oggenfuss, Napa, junior, 33-08.75, 20th.