After all the races were finished in the Coastal Mountain Conference Track and Field Championships on Saturday at St. Helena High School, Dave Pauls stood in front of his team.
With team scoring split into North Central League I and NCL II, the Saints’ eighth-year head coach informed the squad that the boys, the defending NCL I champions, had narrowly finished second to Middletown, 134-130, and the girls placed third with 47 points behind Middletown (192) and Fort Bragg (144).
The news was received by many of them as a disappointment.
One young athlete threw an item onto the ground in anger. Instantly, Pauls went into coaching mode and made the student run a lap and stay after the others had left for a one-on-one talk – some reasons, perhaps, why Pauls was named the North Coast Section Honor Coach for Track & Field for the 2018 season.
“Overall, it was a very good performance here today,” Pauls said. “I think our kids, most importantly, like I told them, you can’t control what your competition does. You can only control what you do. So we put ourselves in the best position to succeed. I am very proud of them this season. Just because you don’t win the championship doesn’t it mean it wasn’t a successful year.”
Pauls has been coaching for 22 years and has been a track and field coach since 1997. Under his leadership St. Helena has sent at least one athlete each season to the section’s biggest postseason event, the Meet of the Champions, since 2011.
He was presented the award during a break at the CMC meet, a ceremony that drew applause from all schools attending.
“I am pretty amazed and kinda shocked,” Pauls said. “You take pride in what you do, and you want to do the best work you can. I do this because I love working with kids. I love inspiring them to do the best they can. I love seeing them rise up to the occasion and have challenges to overcome and push though to have success.
“I have been doing this for a very long time, and it is nice to be acknowledged in that way. When the North Coast Section names you Honor Coach, it is a pretty big deal and I am proud of it. All the effort and years of effort were building to this moment and I am thankful for all the people that have supported me along the way. Without the athletes, I wouldn’t have that opportunity.”
One of the major highlights on the afternoon was in the boys 100 meters, where St. Helena sophomore Ryan Searl (11.23 seconds) edged out Kelseyville senior Jack Farris (11.46) for first place. After crossing the finish line, Searl stretched his arms out, imitating a plane. He then crouched down in a Usain Bolt-style pose.
“The celebration at the end was just pure reaction. I was excited,” Searl said. “I am a sophomore. I got the time, I won. I am just ecstatic.”
A technical difficulty delayed the race, forcing the staged runners to wait in the sun for 15 minutes. But Searl jumped ahead early and didn’t look back.
“I felt great about the race,” he said. “The start was beautiful and I felt strong all the way through. I think I executed a really strong race. This meet, I was coming in with a strained psoas (a muscle that attaches the spine to the leg) and the flu. So I was just glad I was able to win this under those circumstances and hopefully I can progress to state.”
Also for St. Helena in the boys 100, senior Christian Cia finished seventh (12.00), sophomore Danny Jimenez 12th (12.25), junior Lukas Pakter 17th (12.32) and sophomore Collin Darrall 19th (12.39).
In the girls 100 meters, Saints freshman Cydney Adamson nabbed 12th place (14.46) and freshman Sienna Beringer crossed the line 27th (15.18).
Gannon Wilson was the lone St. Helena entrant in the boys shot put, as the junior pulled out an 11th-place finish (32-2.5).
In the boys long jump, St. Helena freshman Daniel Martinez finished in 13th place (16-1). On the girls side, Saints sophomore Andrea Hernandez finished seventh (13-5), Beringer was 20th (11-11) and junior teammate Jenna DiVincenzi slotted in 21st (11-8).
St. Helena had one competitor in the boys triple jump, as Jimenez came in 11th (34-6.5).
The Saints picked up sixth place in the boys high jump, as sophomore Wolfgang Prichett came in at 5-6. Nicholas Przybylinski followed Prichett in at eighth place, needing more attempts to clear 5-6.
On the girls side of the high jump, St. Helena sophomore Kristina Isdahl came in sixth (4-4), Nicole Cia notched eighth place (4-2) and Adamson was ninth (4-0).
In the boys 110-meter high hurdles, Saints sophomore Jacob Lehman placed third (16.71) but was only .67 second behind the winner from Fort Bragg, Eric Portillo. Christian Cia just missed out on the top spot in the 300 intermediate hurdles, as the Saints’ starting quarterback for the past two seasons finished in second (44.51) behind Portillo. Lehman grabbed fourth (45.42) and Pakter came across in seventh (46.23).
Beringer came in 10th (31.36) in the girls 200 meters, but won her heat by .09 second over Willits’ Makala Bush. Isdahl finished 14th (32.26) for the Saints and Nicola Cia followed up in 17th (32.71).
On the boys side of the 200 meters, St. Helena sophomore Cody DiTomaso was caught on the final stretch by Farris and finished second (23.50). Darrall came in 11th (25.00) and Jimenez crossd in 14th (25.11).
“I feel like today has gone pretty well actually,” DiTomaso said. “Our whole team has scored high in most of our events. No regrets to be worried about today.”
St. Helena had two runners in the boys 3,200 meters, as sophomore Jordan Reilly took fourth (10:41.27) and senior Gerry Schweiger 13th (11:42.35). In the girls 1,600 meters, freshman Jade Schlatter pulled off a third-place finish (6:02.77). Luckily for Schlatter, and the conference as a whole, Sonoma Academy’s Rylee Bowen will be moving on to Duke University next season; the senior beat teammate Mackenzie Stewart by 23 seconds.
In the boys 1,600 meters, Przybylinski used a strong burst after a slow start to power to a fifth-place showing (4:43.21). Reilly locked up 10th place (4:49.53), senior Rusty Frank came in 14th (4:57.31), sophomore Josue Blanco popped in at 15th (4:58.37), Schweiger finished 21st (5:14.89) and Saints freshman Irwin Ramirez was 24th (5:22.88).
In the girls 800 meters, Hernandez came in fifth (2:48.05), Schlatter eighth (2:52.61) and freshman Sydney Becker came in 20th (3:17.10).
Flipping to the boys side of the 800 meters, junior John Baker of St. Helena finished fifth (2:11.40) and Pritchett followed up in seventh (2:23.29). Przybylinski added to the Saints top 10 finishes for the 800 with an eighth (2:14.10). Blanco (2:16.20) barely edged out Frank (2:16.94) for 12th and Ramirez finished in 23rd (2.24.97).
In the girls 400, St. Helena freshman Eva Grace was 15th (1:20.21). In the boys 400, Baker found himself in seventh place (56.01) and sophomore teammate Donovan Solano came in 10th (58.43). Martinez rounded out the local athletes in 13th (1:00.04).
“We are so young, the future is bright,” Pauls said. “I am l looking forward to the next couple of years with these guys as we continue to grow.”
St. Helena pulled off fifth place (57.30) in the 4x100 relay and took away first place (45.77) in the 4x100 relay over Kelseyville and Middletown.
The St. Helena boys had a strong start in the 4x400 relay, but lost pace in the middle and finished second (3:43.12). DiTomaso anchored for the Saints, but wasn’t able to catch Middletown down the final stretch.
On the girls side of the 4x400 relay, St. Helena finished third (5:07.29).
“This group is really special group, especially the seniors. It is my honor to be able to coach them,” Pauls added. “Obviously it is a little disappointing to not win a championship after winning last year, but we make too big a deal about winning in our society. Life is a process and there are always ups and downs and you have to be able to respond to the circumstances.
“I like to use that opportunity to teach kids, that, yeah I am disappointed that we didn’t win, but it’s OK. We did our best and you learn from it and grow. You come back next year and you set some goals and you try again.”