Sonora Wildcat Steven Grolle went straight to the front of the pack when the gun sounded for the start of the 1,600m at the Masters Meet on Friday at Elk Grove High School.
The speedy sophomore had the lead by the first turn and then took off from the pack.
By Lap 1, Grolle led by 20 yards. By the end of Lap 2, Grolle led by 40 yards.
“I went out really fast and tried to keep it up,” said Grolle. “The first lap was like a 62 or 63 which is like a 4:12 pace.”
Which translates to very fast.
On Lap 3, the field started gaining and when the bell rang for the fourth and final lap, here they came.
“The second lap was a little slower than the first, and the third lap was really slow,” said Grolle. “On the last lap they all caught up to me.”
By the end of turn one, Jordan Rushing, of Del Campo, rushed by Grolle to take the lead he would never surrender. But the top three qualify for the State Meet — the dream of all high school athletes — and the race was still very much on.
Grolle, who was seeded 14th heading into the event, held onto second place until the turn on the backstretch. He ended up dropping back to fifth at one point.
“I was out of my seat jumping up and down during Steven’s last 200 meters,” said Wildcat track head coach Frank Garcia. “The entire time I was hoping he would qualify for State. It was an exciting race to watch.”
On the home stretch, Grolle battled his way back to third and almost to second as he crossed the finish line in a personal best 4:20.7, just .5 seconds behind second place and a good five feet in front of the fourth-place runner.
Grolle is one of just three sophomores in the state that qualified in the 1,600m for the California State Track & Field Championships which will be held at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis on Friday and Saturday.
“It felt awesome to cross that finish line ... Just amazing,” said Grolle. “No way did I think I would be going to State at the start the season. I hoped I would. But it never occurred to me that I would actually go.”
Grolle became the first Sonora athlete to qualify for the State Meet since Sarah Hendy in 2005 where she earned seventh in the discus.
“Steven and I discussed race strategy on Thursday at practice and he was planning to hang with the eventual winner and try to out kick him at the end,” said assistant coach Glenn Bass. “(Assistant coach) Dick Chimenti took Steven aside before the race and made a big point about NOT running in any lane other than No. 1 as it makes for a longer race.
“The gun went off and Steven hauled right to the front and after 10 or so yards he only used Lane 1 until his final finishing kick. He led the first three laps like a man possessed.”
“Steven competed in all the right meets this year aside from our regular league season and postseason,” said Garcia. “He competed in several key invitationals to find out who was out there in our section and Northern California. In each meet he made improvements and experienced a high level of competition. He’s now ready to be introduced to the Southern Section!
“Much of Steven’s success can be attributed to Coach Bass. He develops great runners at all levels all year long.”
The State Meet schedule has qualifying heats for the boys 1,600m on Friday at 5:48 p.m. (Heat 1) and 5:56 p.m. (Heat 2). The first four in each heat plus the next fastest four advance to the finals to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Medals will be awarded to the Top 6 finishers.
Sonora also had three juniors competing at the Masters.
Samantha Smith was seeded 23rd out of 24 runners for the 3,200m. Smith finished 19th with a personal best by three seconds.
Jeff Storey placed 14th in the long jump with a best jump of 21-3. His season best was 22-05.
Sean Adams ran the 110m hurdles in a time of 17.32 in the preliminaries. His season best was 16.14 set in April.