The decision to compete in the state track and field championships or walk at graduation is a difficult one for many seniors attending schools that hold their ceremonies the same weekend as the meet.
St. Francis High distance runner Eric Eng faced such a dilemma the last weekend of May, but he found a way to run, walk and run again.
After placing fifth in the preliminaries of the 1,600-meter run Friday night at Buchanan High in Clovis, Eng said he returned home by midnight and participated in St. Francis’ graduation ceremony the next morning. Accompanied by his parents, the Los Altos resident then drove 3 1/2 hours back to Clovis to run in the 1,600 finals that evening, placing 12th.
“It was definitely a tough turnaround; I’m used to getting more sleep,” said Eng, who had to be at St. Francis by 7:45 a.m. for graduation. “It added a little stress and exhaustion, but I’m really happy I made it to both.”
And which of these events would Eng have chosen if he could have attended only one of them?
“State,” he said. “Graduation was really cool, but there were other graduation-related experiences that I was able to do. And running a PR (personal record) might stay with me longer.”
That PR came in the preliminaries, in which the Cornell University-bound Eng finished the race in 4 minutes, 11.53 seconds. His previous best came a week earlier at the Central Coast Section finals in Gilroy, where he ran a 4:14 for third.
“I felt strong throughout – it was a good day for me,” Eng said of his record run at state. “It was a really cool experience.”
Eng added that his strategy helped him succeed.
“I knew the race would go out fast,” he said. “But I didn’t want to go out too fast and figured I would sit at the back for the first lap and move up slowly. With 600 meters to go, I made a hard move to the front – to the fifth position – and stuck with them and finished strong. It was a good last lap.”
Eng didn’t have the same strength Saturday – nor did he expect to after graduating that morning and driving back to the meet.
“That was tough,” Eng said of the finals, in which he ran a 4:23.23. “But it’s tough to come back and run the next day anyway.”
SF teammate Toney takes third
Scott Toney was the other Lancer to advance to the state finals. The junior placed third in both the prelims (15 feet, 9 inches) and finals (16-1) of the pole vault.
Toney won the event at CCS the prior week.
Other SF athletes miss finals
St. Francis’ other state qualifiers did not get beyond the prelims.
On the boys side, senior Mason Elefant (1:55.21) and junior Euan Cairns (1:57.59) placed 16th and 21st, respectively, in the 800 run; junior Juan Pablo Garcia took 13th in the 1,600 (4:13.38); Desai Lopez finished 12th in the high jump (no height); and the Lancers’ 4x400 relay team came in 23rd (3:29.53).
Sophomore Isabelle Cairns, the lone St. Francis girl to qualify for state, placed 19th in the 800 run prelims with a 2:17.20.
“We are incredibly proud of all of our state qualifiers, the largest group in our school’s history,” Lancers co-head coach Phil Pompei said. “We look forward to big things from our graduates as many head off to compete in college and look forward to seeing what more our returners have in the tank for next year.”
LA girls set school records
Eight Los Altos High athletes qualified for the state meet, but only Thea Mollerstedt advanced to the finals. The senior ran the girls 300 hurdles in a school-record 44.09 to claim ninth place in the prelims. She also finished ninth in the finals with a 44.62.
“What a spectacular season,” Los Altos co-head coach Dave Barth said of Mollerstedt. “Thea is a fierce competitor, and as a coaching staff we are thrilled that she will continue her running career as a student-athlete at Cal Berkeley.”
Mollerstedt also ran on the 4x400 relay team that placed 10th in the prelims (one spot shy of making the finals) and broke the school record set in 1983. Jessie Bourgan, Jessie Carlson, Mollerstedt and Anna Zaeske combined forces to run 3:52.47, which was 4 seconds faster than their previous best. They missed the finals by .27 seconds.
Zaeske, a junior, also placed 24th in the 400 dash with a 58.07, her third-fastest time ever.
LA boys relay runs best time
The Los Altos boys 4x100 relay team set another personal record, running a 42.25 to finish 16th in the prelims. The team of Steve Feng, McKinley Polen, Alex Toeller and Weston Fairey broke the PR of 42.27 it set the week before at CCS and missed the 47-year-old school record by just .06 seconds.
In addition, Fairey placed 18th in the 200 dash prelims with a 22.27, which Barth called “a great run.” The senior tied the school’s 100 dash record earlier in the year.
“It has been an incredible season,” Barth said in praise of the Eagles. “It’s not every year we bring athletes to state. To bring such a large crew is a testament to our athletes and how hard they have worked. This was four years of dedication for all of them. For everyone to compete as well as they did on such a big stage was really exciting.”