By KEVIN SAULS
Neal Bland goes for the race of his life in the 84th annual CIF State Track and Field Championships.
Bland, a Sonora High School senior, runs in the trials of the 400-meter dash Friday night at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Lane and heat assignments hadn't been posted as of The Union Democrat's presstime today, but Sonora coach Robert Cendro figures Bland will be in Lane 9 of Heat 2 at 6:40 p.m. Other heats are at 6:36 and 6:44.
If he wins his heat or has one of the next six fastest times, he'll run in the state finals at 5:11 p.m. Saturday.
Whatever happens, it's going to be a whirlwind trip for Bland. He left this morning with his classmates for their Grad Night trip to Disneyland. He'll get out of the park at 6 a.m. Friday, then will be dropped off by the Sonora bus at the track hotel (only a block away) and will be able to get six or so hours of sleep before he has to report to Cerritos.
For Bland to make the finals would be a monumental accomplishment as he is seeded 23rd out of 26 hopefuls. He made state by finishing third in the Sac-Joaquin Section finals last Friday at Modesto Junior College with a time of 49.38 seconds.
His best is a school-record 49.02, on which he'll probably have to improve significantly to get through.
"We'll try to shoot for 48.3," Cendro said. "I really do think he's got more in him. He has not maxed out."
Large improvements in the state setting are not uncommon, and neither are sub-par performances. If Bland busts a big one and some other runners have off days ... who knows?
The lead runner in his heat if the meet is seeded as Cendro surmises will be a familiar one, Sac-Joaquin Section champion Latrell Kidd of Elk Grove. His 47.80 led the state until Justin Tryon from Taft of Woodland Hills won the Los Angeles Section title in 47.25.