All hail the queen!
For the third straight season, Sonora track star Samantha Smith earned double All-League honors finishing first in both the 1600 and 3200-meter races Saturday at the Valley Oak League Track and Field Championships, hosted this year by Sierra High in Manteca.
"She has been the queen of the Valley Oak League for the past three years in both track and - might I add - cross country," said Sonora assistant track coach (and head cross country coach) Glenn Bass. "She is a superb athlete, a wonderful person and I am going to miss her when she graduates."
Smith ran the 1600 in 5:30.28 and the 3200 in 12:01.37 to finish first in both events. The top three finishers in each event qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV-V Championships, May 14 and 16, at Modesto Junior College, where the top seven will advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet, May 23-24, at Elk Grove High in Sacramento.
"It's really exciting because it's always my goal to defend my title at the end of the year," Smith said of being crowned three-time VOL champion in both the 1600 and 3200.
Next week at the Divisional championships will likely be the last time the Sonora High senior runs the 1600 event as a high school athlete. Smith said she will be focusing on the 3200 should she qualify for the Masters, where the top-three advance to the prestigious CIF State Meet, May 31-June 1, at Buchanan High in Clovis.
"I tend to focus on just one race and getting a PR (personal record) to finish my season strong," Smith said.
Smith said an opposing coach greeted her at the VOL meet and wished her luck on what were going to be her last races in a league she has dominated nearly her entire high school career.
"I didn't think about it like that when I was going to the race Saturday morning, but afterward it just kind of swept over me," she said. "Now, it's come down to only two more races left in high school ... "
Smith's Wildcat teammate Steven Grolle earned first place and All-League status in the 3200 finishing nearly seven seconds ahead of the nearest competitor in 9:59.88. He also placed second in both the 800 and 1600 and advanced to the divisional championships in all three of his events.
"Steven did a great job," Bass said. "He ran the 800 very strategically and the 1600 the same way. He's going to do the 1600 and 3200 next week, but we're basically concentrating on the 3200 at Masters to qualify for State."
The Sonora High junior is currently ranked second at the 3200 in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section.
"Steven has a lot of promise," Bass said. "He's a junior, so he can't be recruited yet, but he's been getting about one letter every 10 days stating that a different college is monitoring him. He's going to go places and do big things."
Wildcat senior Jeff Storey leaped his way into the divisional championships with a 21-11 length in the long jump that earned him first place and All-League honors for the second straight year.
"It's such an honor to earn that award because there's a lot of talent in the VOL and you have to put in so much hard work," Storey said.
Last year, Storey qualified for the Masters meet and this year hopes to qualify for the State meet. He's currently ranked second in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV-V long jump standings with a season-best 22-3.
"Right now, it's pretty much a process of elimination where you have one bad day and you're done," Storey said. "You have to take it one meet at a time at this point."
Storey has been looking to break the Sonora High long jump record of 22-8 set by Jesse Willis in 2000 and Wildcat head coach Frank Garcia said there's no better time than now.
"He's been a workhorse for us all year in other events but now we're really focused on his long jumps to shoot for that school record and qualify for state," he said.
Garcia said having both Grolle and Storey qualify for the State Meet would be a pivotal achievement for Sonora.
"There are so many sections and people shooting for those 16 events, so to have just one athlete in the State Meet is a great accomplishment for our team and school," he said. "But to possibly have two qualify? That would be really big."
Wildcat sprinter Joe Maloney qualified for the divisional championships after finishing third in the 100-meter event. He ran the heat in 11.1 seconds, which was just .02 behind the first-place finisher.
"He had a very fast time and finished third, which shows how tough the competition is in this league," Garcia said. "I think Maloney is trying to break 11 seconds this year and has the potential to do just that with a couple more weeks of training."
Garcia said he was also proud of his Wildcats who competed Saturday but didn't qualify for the divisional championships, especially those younger athletes called up from the frosh/sophomore team to compete on varsity.
"We had a couple sophomores who could have probably won first place in a lot of their events but were moved up to varsity to help in the relays," he said.
Wildcat sophomores Lucas Pallante and Paul Mika were among those who impressed Garcia. Pallante finished seventh in the varsity 110 hurdles after making the transition from the frosh/sophomore event in only the past two meets. Mika placed eighth in the varsity long jump and 10th in the 400.
Three sophomores had top-five finishes in their respective events, including Angela Gardella finishing fourth in the girls' shot put, Bailey Henington placing fifth in the varsity girls' 800 and Bryce Sanguinetti coming in fifth in the triple jump.
"We were in low in numbers but had some great performances," Garcia said.
Sonora senior Sean Adams closed out his high school track career strong with a fourth-place finish in the 110 hurdles. Garcia noted Adams was almost unbeaten this season in the event, scoring first-place points at nearly every league dual meet.