For Jocelyn Alexander, her goal to make it to the CIF State Track and Field Championships was well within reach. As the Central Coast Section’s premier thrower all season, it would’ve been a disappointment had she not performed to her usual standard in the CCS Championships.
The San Benito High junior came up with another solid performance at Gilroy High on May 21, qualifying for the CIF State Championships May 27-28 at Buchanan High in Clovis in the shot put and discus events. For two other Haybalers—freshman Hannah Vincent and junior Juan Lujano—earning spots in the CIF State Championships was surprising to say the least.
Alexander and Vincent helped power the San Benito girls team to a fifth place finish, its best since 2001. Alexander won the shot put with a personal-record (PR) throw of 39 feet even, and took second in the discus with a mark of 116 feet, 1 inches.
“I’m really happy to be going to State,” Alexander said. “I’ve been working very hard in practice everyday for at least two hours each time. I practice like how the meet is and it paid off.”
Alexander nailed her PR on her first throw, putting immediate pressure on her competition. Although Los Gatos High freshman Nicole Steiner got close—she finished second in 38-10—Alexander’s mark stood. Balers sophomore Natalie Tonascia took eighth in the shot put in 34-3.
Alexander’s improved strength, technique and the extra year of experience resulted in huge improvement from a year ago, when she finished 10th in the shot put and 11th in the discus. In 2021, Alexander’s top mark was 33-7 1/2 in the shot put and 105-8 in the discus.
San Benito’s athletes in the field events shined brightest for the program. Vincent hit a PR of 35-8 3/4 to take third in the triple jump and qualify for State, something she never saw coming.
“It’s kind of crazy because I didn’t know if this would be my event before the season started,” she said. “I started jumping in the 30s, 31s and didn’t really think I would get this far. I’m really surprised and excited to be going to State.”
In her first nine competitions, Vincent was consistently hitting marks in the 30-31 feet range. But in the Alisal Invitational on April 16, Vincent experienced a breakthrough, nailing a mark of 33-4. She followed that up with a mark of 33-6 1/4 in the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Finals, 34-5 1/2 in the PCAL Masters Meet and 35-3 1/2 in the CCS Semifinals before her performance in the Finals.
Vincent has nailed a PR in five successive meets, an incredible accomplishment.
Vincent said improved technique and the ability to just go out and perform without thinking too much has freed her up to go long. Vincent never did track and field in middle school so this is her first year of competition.
“I’m just really happy,” she said. “I’m trying to focus on my last phase because my first two are good. But my last phase, I’m not doing it as well as I can be.”
Similar to Vincent, Lujano’s rise can only be described as meteoric. The junior finished fourth in the discus with a throw of 140-5, shattering his previous best by eight feet. Only the top three placers from each event advance to the State Championships, so Lujano was the first one out.
However, one of the top three finishers dropped the event for State, meaning Lujano was in. Lujano was as shocked as anyone to make State. As recently as April 29, the day of the Gabilan Division Trials, Lujano delivered what was then a PR of 117-10.
Then he threw 126-2 in the Gabilan Division Finals before regressing with a 117-4 in the Masters Meet. Then, in the CCS Semifinals, he had a massive breakthrough, unleashing a throw of 132-6. The performance gave him plenty of confidence entering the CCS Championships, but even then another huge PR 140-5 was far from guaranteed.
The fact that this is Lujano’s first year of playing competitive sports—ever—adds another sweet layer to his story. Lujano, who attended Live Oak High in his freshman and sophomore years, only tried out for the team this season upon the advice of P.E. teacher Maxine Cunningham.
“She told me I should try to do a sport and to do track and field,” Lujano said. “At first, I told her I didn’t want to run, and she told me there’s an event called the shot put and discus where you don’t have to run at all. You just have to throw heavy things. She said since I’m strong I’d be pretty good at it, and she was obviously right.”
Lujano credited throws coaches Bob Rawles and Austin Conery for improving his technique, which led to his massive PRs. To go from 117-10 on April 29 to 140-5 on May 21 is almost unfathomable.
“I just got a little smarter and started learning more about the sport,” he said. “That it’s not just about strength but about technique. Once I started focusing on technique and started throwing it without forcing it, it started paying off. I’m super excited just seeing my improvement at such a fast rate.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]