Raising the Bar

Hollister – The stakes are high. The competition is great. And the atmosphere will be electric.

It’s showtime.

When the ‘Balers hit San Jose City College today for the Central Coast Section Finals, they will have one precious shot at fulfilling their dreams of a trip to next weekend’s CIF State Championships.

And for a handful of athletes on the San Benito track and field team, that opportunity is tantalizingly close.

The Vault

San Benito has the unique opportunity to see two of its athletes – Todd Merrigan and Josh Schroder – qualify for State in the same event, the pole vault. Merrigan, the school record-holder at 15-6, advanced to the Championships last year as a junior. Schroder, a hard-charging junior, looks to secure the top-three finish needed to take the grand stage next Friday.

According to current and former ‘Baler coaches, no two San Benito athletes have advanced to the State Championships in the same event dating back to 1915.

After breaking his own San Benito record in each of the past two weeks – first at the Tri-County Athletic League Finals and again at the CCS Trials – Merrigan sits in an enviable position heading into the Finals. Trailing only St. Francis junior Casey Roche (16-0) in the Trials, the ‘Balers’ senior hopes to add a section title to his list of accomplishments.

“I’m just worried about Casey–that’s it,” Merrigan said Thursday. “Hopefully, I can get a 16-0 and beat Casey.”

Asked the blueprint for accomplishing that feat, the ‘Baler said, “It’s going to take a good day. Good weather. No strong winds in any direction.”

Schroder, meanwhile, sits in a group of three vaulters that topped out at 14-6 last week. Knowing that he can also advance if he clears the State-qualifying mark of 14-11, Schroder and San Benito pole vault coach Julio Trinidad are shooting for the stars.

Schroder has consistently hit 14-6 this season, but has also drilled 15-0 regularly in a recent practice. With factors such as the athletes’ fatigue and fewest misses playing central roles in who will move on to State, Trinidad and Schroder may elect to go for the jugular and use 15-0 as the ‘Balers’ opening height.

Furthermore, after injuring an ankle in practice on Tuesday, Schroder may not have the stamina to enter at a more traditional 13-6 or 14-0.

“It’s going to be the big, big gamble,” Trinidad said. “It’s either the big gamble or the big death certificate for Schroder.”

The risky strategy of coming in at 15-0 had San Benito head coach Iran White shaking his head in amazement.

“I personally wouldn’t choose that,” White said, “but I respect that.”

Outside of Roche and Merrigan, Schroder’s chief competitors are St. Francis’ Ben Sheehan and Soquel’s Nick Maleta, both of whom cleared 14-6 at the CCS Trials.

A head-shaking no-height by St. Francis star Kyle Mills-Bunje at 14-0 last week opened the door for Schroder and Co. to make the State meet.

The Distance Stud

Northern Arizona-bound distance runner Amanda Boyd looks to put the finishing touches on her decorated San Benito career with a return trip to the CIF State Championships. Boyd qualified for State as a junior in the 3200-meter race, and takes the track tonight with a shot in both the 1600 and 3200.

After setting her season-best time at 5:05.14 during the 1600 in last week’s Trials, Boyd is seeded fourth for the Finals. Topped only by Aptos’ Jessica VanAusdall in her heat last week, the senior and San Benito distance coach Jess Morales hope a fast-paced final will play to Boyd’s strength.

“If they take it out hard, that means Amanda will be right there,” Morales said.

In the 3200, which is set to start roughly two hours later, Boyd is seeded ninth at 11:30.63, a time she posted despite running with a dislodged shoe for most of last week’s race. With a 10:54 PR set last season, Boyd knows she owns the top recorded time in the field and hopes she has an 11-minute race in her tonight.

As for the difficult twin-bill of competing in the two distance events and hoping to advance in both, Boyd said, “I’m just going to take it one race at a time. I’ll stress too much if I plan it out. I know if I have a successful mile (1600), I’ll have that adrenaline rush already going.”

The Sprinter

‘Balers sprinter Jeff Weltz has the chance to make school history tonight. Seeded third in the 100-meter dash at 11.07, Weltz has the opportunity to become San Benito’s first-ever State qualifier or CCS champion in the event.

No. 1-seed Dominique Hunsucker ran a wind-aided 10.89 at the Trials, leaving White hopeful that equal running conditions could allow Weltz to top the Valley Christian stud.

“I’m really optimistic about that,” the ‘Balers’ coach said. “He has a really good shot at being CCS champion. Hopefully, (today) will be the best race.”

Should Weltz hold his third seed, he would automatically advance to State regardless.

The San Benito senior also is entered in the 200-meter dash. With a time of 22.70 at the Trials, Weltz takes the eighth seed into tonight’s section finale.

Monterey standouts Michael Phillips (22.21) and Alex Harvin (22.49), and Scotts Valley’s Joe Lutrell (22.35) stand as the top-three heading into the Finals.

The Sophomore

Anthony De La Cerda, the lone sophomore among San Benito’s seven CCS Finals’ qualifiers, has risen so quickly that he may sneak into State with little fanfare. Competing in the high jump, De La Cerda cleared 6-0 at the CCS Trials, and is the seventh seed tonight.

With the top-mark recorded last week a 6-2, De La Cerda finds himself extremely close to the pack in front of him. After seeing the ‘Baler top 6-2 in practice, White said the time might be just right for De La Cerda to break out on the CCS stage.

“If he can get 6-2 with no misses, I’d say he has a good chance,” White related. “For Anthony, a sophomore, that would be awesome. An awesome accomplishment.

“He can get it. He’s just got to be on his game.”

The One-Miler

After a season in which he has faced top-notch competition at a handful of prestigious meets, Rigo Vasquez will find more of the same at San Jose City College tonight.

Seeded 10th in the 1600-meter race with a qualifying time of 4:28.55, Vasquez faces a steep challenge in attempting to climb into the top-three. With Vasquez owning a PR of 4:25, Morales, the ‘Balers’ distance coach, guessed the junior might need to break that mark by five seconds to advance to State.

Asked how he might slide into that top echelon, Vasquez responded, “What needs to happen? I need to stay with the leaders and just hang on.”

Added Morales: “Bottom line is … he’s got to lay everything on the line.”

Competing alongside some of the region and nation’s best runners at the Stanford and Arcadia Invitationals as a junior, Vasquez has already laid the groundwork for an outstanding senior season.

“He’s a junior right now,” Morales said. “He’s just got to do the best he can … so he can prepare himself for next year. (Then) he’s going to be one of the guys to beat.”

The Thrower

For Jackie Perrien, the list of accomplishments in her senior season keeps going. San Benito record-holder in the shot put. Tri-County Athletic League Champion in two events – the shot put and the discus. And after last week, she has added CCS Finalist to her resume.

The only Haybaler thrower, boy or girl, to advance to the Finals, Perrien drew praise from Trinidad, who doubles as the Lady ‘Balers’ coach.

“There’s a big heart on that girl,” Trinidad said, “and a big drive to do great.”

Despite owning a San Benito-best throw of 36-11 in the shot put, and tossing an impressive 112-07 in the discus, Perrien will have her hands full in tonight’s Finals. With a qualifying mark of 35-06.50 in the shot put, she finds herself seeded sixth. And in the discus, Perrien notched the last spot and enters the competition in the No. 8 hole.

Nevertheless, Trinidad spoke of his senior thrower’s ability to put up impressive numbers when he least expected it.

“She has been able to pull off some big surprises in the past,” the San Benito girls’ coach said.

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