Hagan, Engler headed to state meet

Balers senior Ben Hagan cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 4 inches to place second in the high jump in the CCS Finals. Photo by Robert Eliason.

When they were freshmen, advancing to the CIF State Track and Field Championships was the farthest thing from Ben Hagan and Dillon Engler’s minds. Hagan was a novice at the high jump and cleared 5 feet, 2 inches. Engler didn’t even compete in track and field until his sophomore year.

Yet the two will be headed to Buchanan High in Clovis after delivering fine performances in the Central Coast Section Championships last Friday at Gilroy High. Hagan delivered the finest jump of his career, hitting a PR of 6-4 to finish second in the high jump. Engler wasn’t at his absolute best, but was still strong in finishing in 15.07 seconds to take third in the 110-meter hurdles.

“I’m excited and amazed,” said Engler, who also took fourth place in the 300 hurdles in 39.82 seconds. “I never thought at the beginning of the season I would be anywhere close to this. I thought I’d be between 10th place and 20th place, but I did not expect to come in third or anything close to that.”

Hagan was ecstatic knowing he had delivered the finest performance of his athletic career in the biggest championship meet of his career—until the state meet of course.

“The emotions are I feel like crying right now,” Hagan said. “It would’ve been nice to win it, but getting second place to Oliver (Aristil of Los Gatos) is still a big accomplishment. To make state is just an awesome feeling.”

A year ago, Hagan was two inches and one spot away from advancing to state. Engler wasn’t close, finishing in 17th place in the CCS Semifinals. They both went into the off-season determined and focused to improve their respective crafts and set out big goals, in Engler’s case perhaps he didn’t even think possible. However, sprints coach Ryan Bartylla instilled in Engler a belief he could be one of the section’s best, which came to fruition.

Engler, who two weeks earlier in the league finals set a PR of 14.99 seconds, was threatening to better that mark only to slow down amid some slight technical imperfections.

“I was floating a lot over the hurdles,” he said. “I wasn’t snapping my lead leg down and I was going too far over the hurdles and not landing on the track quick enough. It may not have been my best race, but it was good enough.”

Engler saw the fourth-place finisher several lanes over coming fast, and at the finish he didn’t know if he had gotten nudged out for the third and final berth to the state meet. However, once Engler saw and heard Bartylla’s reaction from the stands, he knew he had made it. Even though Engler didn’t nail a PR, in some ways the race was ultra satisfying because he persevered through adversity.

“I knew I was floating, but I kept on pushing and fighting all the way to the end,” he said.

For Hagan, he had a meet to remember as well. Hagan felt strong throughout the evening and he knew a PR was imminent.

“I knew it was going to be a big jump,” Hagan said on clearing 6-4. “I felt it from the beginning of the approach. I went and kind of blacked out for a bit around the curve, and the next thing I know I’m over the bar. My legs felt good, I was calm, I felt bouncy and flexible.”

Hagan and Aristil shared a nice moment afterward, with both congratulating the other on a fine performance. Aristil actually told Hagan he was his favorite high jumper, which blew Hagan away.

“It’s a big compliment from him because I kind of idolize him because he makes it look easy,” Hagan said. “He thinks I have perfect form. If anyone was going to beat me, I’m glad it was him.”

Hagan’s remarkable season gets more storybook when one considers the only time he was able to get in high jump specific training was at meets since the construction of the new stadium meant the Haybalers had no home facility this season. However, Hagan said coach Rob Macias and assistant coach Wes Finley kept him on track to achieve his potential.

“They help me get some bounding in, curve (approach) practice and they show me videos letting me know what I have to do,” Hagan said. “I haven’t been able to practice the high jump this year, but I’ve been able to do some running and long jump practice. This past week they took me out here to get some practice in, and I was able to get some jumps in, which definitely helped ease my nerves a little. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t help me with my form and getting it where it needed to be.”

Jonathan Ramos finished seventh in the long jump in in a PR of 21-8 ¾, Hailey Cross finished in fifth place in the 800-meter run in 2:20.13, and Julia Hicks took sixth in the discus with a PR of 114-4 and 12th in the shot put in 33-4.

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