Bill Rozak

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


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


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


"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.