For Ben Sitler, the boys 3,200-meter run at the state track and field championships came down to class.
Dragging with about 300 yards to go and in jeopardy of falling to fourth place, the St. Francis High senior found his motivation.
"I saw Mikel Thomas coming up and I realized he was a junior," Sitler said. "So I kicked hard and beat him."
Sitler held on for third place, finishing Saturday's race in 9 minutes, 2.56 seconds. Thomas of Clovis High came in two seconds later.
The only junior Sitler couldn't beat was Royal's Michael Cybulski, the winner with an 8:53.77. El Camino senior AJ Acosta took second with an 8:59.15.
"If I kicked earlier, I might have beaten AJ," Sitler said.
Although nine seconds off his top time, Sitler said he was "pretty happy with it." The muggy conditions at Cerritos College in Orange County made it difficult for everyone, according to Sitler, noting that no one ran their best.
"It was hot and kind of windy," he said. "With the field we had - with a little better conditions - we could have had a really good day."
Princeton-bound Sitler said he was in "the chase pack" for much of the race, first following West Covina's Diego Mercado. But Mercado had to drop out on the fifth lap after twisting his ankle.
Cybulski took the lead, with
Sitler and Acosta following at an almost even pace. The heat got to Sitler with two laps left ("I was really feeling it," he said) and the Los Altos resident fell back until he was challenged by Thomas.
Sitler, who won the 3,200 and 1,600 at the Central Coast Section meet the previous week, has one more race to run. He has qualified for this weekend's Golden West Invitational in Folsom.
Sitler will have familiar company at the meet, just as he did at state. St. Francis sent eight other athletes to Southern California.
Junior Natasha Barthel placed second in the girls pole vault, clearing 12 feet, 9 inches. Fellow Lancer Taylor Franklin, a senior, came in seventh (11-9).
Junior Casey Roche was third in the boys pole vault with a 16-5, besting his CCS-winning mark by 3 inches. Teammate Ben Sheehan also made the finals of the event, but the senior no-heighted.
Senior Kyle Mills-Bunje was third in the long jump (23-8 3/4), helping the St. Francis boys finish eighth as a team (18 points).
St. Francis' other competitors did not get past Friday's preliminaries. Sela Paini was 15th in the girls discus (122-10); junior Andy Vargas (53-5 1/2) and senior David Wernick (51-2 3/4) were 15th and 20th, respectively, in the boys shot put; senior Sam Pompei was 16th in the boys 800 run (1:55.66); and sophomore Omar Bourgoub took 17th in the boys high jump (6-3).
The Lancers also had a team in the girls 4x400 relay, which finished 17th in the preliminaries (3:59.74). Los Altos High finished 19th (4:01.08) in that race.