St. Francis' hopes of winning its first Central Coast Section boys track championship rested on the shoulders of Kyle Mills-Bunje. The junior was entered in three individual events, plus a relay, and capable of scoring big points for the Lancers.
He made a noble effort -- battling through a slight tear in his left groin to qualify for the state meet in the long jump, triple jump and pole vault -- but it was not enough as Archbishop Riordan took home the team trophy, with 76 points to runner-up St. Francis' 54. Still, Mills-Bunje won the respect of the track fans at Los Gatos High on Friday night.
After injuring himself on his first triple jump, Mills-Bunje took one more before scratching the rest of his attempts. He placed third and qualified for state with a mark 45 feet, 9 1/2 inches. Next was the 400-meter relay. Mills-Bunje ran the second leg and helped the Lancers to a team-best time and fourth-place finish.
The pain in his leg grew stronger, but Mills-Bunje kept grinding. Visibly limping, he took just one attempt in the long jump -- good for 22 feet, 7 1/4 inches and second place. He then took three attempts in the pole vault, clearing 14 feet, 11 inches for third place.
``That was phenomenal. Not many athletes could pull that off,'' St. Francis Coach Mike Saso said. ``To his credit or fault, he wasn't honest with me about the injury before the relay, but he did it to help the team. He could barely walk across the infield, but he managed to sprint down the runway to help his team.''
Riordan dominated the sprints with Mark Ilarina (10.84 seconds) and Tyrone McGraw (10.85) finishing 1-2 in the 100. In the 200 they switched positions, with McGraw winning in 21.99. Joe Fazio won the pole vault for the Crusaders, clearing 15-8.
Los Gatos' Don Gaspar made the most out of running on his home track, shaving more than a second off his personal record to win the 400 in 48.64 seconds. Wearing new spikes, Gaspar went out fast in Lane 6 and held the lead down the stretch.
Menlo-Atherton's Evan Anderson won his first CCS title in the 1,600 (4 minutes, 16.76 seconds) and finished third in the 3,200, a race won by St. Francis' Ben Sitler in 9:21.11 despite a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered playing basketball in a pool.
``After not training all week, it felt like heaven to get out and run tonight,'' Sitler said.
Midway through the Central Coast Section girls track and field championships, Mt. Pleasant High Coach Steve Nelson threw his hands in the air and muttered, ``What else can go wrong?'' Ninety minutes later, his team was carrying off the championship trophy.
In a meet that wasn't determined until the final event, Mt. Pleasant won the 1,600-meter relay in meet-record time to overcome a two-point deficit and edge Valley Christian 52-44 Friday night at Los Gatos High.
The time of 3 minutes, 49.90 seconds achieved by Marshay Brown, D.J. Pettigrue, Krysta McGowan and Jeneba Tarmoh was one of four meet records set. Two were done by Valley Christian sprinter Khrystal Carter, and the other was a CCS mark by Harbor shot putter Julie Dufresne, whose 50-foot, 7 1/4-inch toss was a personal record by 3 feet and dwarfed the old mark of 48-1 3/4.
The 800 meters was worthy of a state final, with Saratoga's Alicia Follmar winning to complete a difficult double; she captured her third consecutive title in the 1,600 earlier in the evening. On the 800's final turn, Follmar made a move and thrust past Menlo School's Libby Jenke to a personal record of 2 minutes, 7.79 seconds. Four of the top five times in the state were recorded in that race.
For all the starring performances, this meet will be recalled as much for its lows as its highs. Valley Christian Coach Greg Marshall realized that more than anybody.
He watched Carter run the 100 in 11.57 seconds, equaling the fastest time in the nation, and then follow with a time of 23.69 seconds to win a duel with Tarmoh in the 200.
But Marshall also saw Evelyn Wing collapse on the homestretch of the 1,600, just after she dropped to third. Wing, who spent last week battling a fever and strep throat, stood up woozily and finished last; she then scratched from the 800. The Warriors' expectations of a team title took a hit.
``It's bittersweet,'' Marshall said.
Suddenly, Mt. Pleasant had an edge, but it was quickly lost when Brown was disqualified from the 400 after finishing third, leading to Nelson's frustration, which was sparked by a poor exchange that may have cost the Cardinals the 400 relay.
``If you're mad, take it out on the track,'' assistant Angela Hill told her team. And it did, capturing its fourth title in the past six years.
Julie Dufresne didn't know much about the background of her new shot-put coach until he handed her an old videotape.
``Now, remember,'' he said, ``This was the '70s.''
As footage rolled, years melted. The coach became almost unrecognizable -- the muscles, beard, sideburns, long hair, headband -- appearance and performance combining to reflect a competitiveness as fierce as the explosive release on his throws.
For 20 years, Al Feuerbach had stayed away from that world, not because the two-time Olympian wished to rid himself of track and field, but because he had dedicated himself to his new career -- as a film and video sound man -- with the same intensity he used to set a world record.
But Feuerbach's interest was not dead, only dormant. And it took a young thrower with immense potential to rekindle that passion.
Now, under Feuerbach's guidance, Dufresne has blasted to the next level and beyond. Her throw of 50 feet, 7 1/4 inches at the Central Coast Section finals Friday crushed a 10-year-old CCS record by 2 1/2 feet and marked a one-year improvement of eight feet. The Harbor High senior, headed to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in the fall, also won the discus (132-6).
``He makes it simple, easier,'' she said. ``I feel more relaxed. Everything is so positive.''
As she heads into the California Interscholastic Federation state track and field meet Friday and Saturday in Sacramento, Dufresne has reached a plateau so high that her daily practice throws surpass the best mark of the state's next-best competitor.
``I knew he could teach,'' Harbor Coach Matt Ryan said of Feuerbach. ``But I didn't know he could be such a splendid coach.''
Ryan was able to give Dufresne -- a surfer who plays water polo and basketball -- enough basic instruction to get her by, but was unable to harness her athletic ability and strength. She had been ``begging'' for a qualified coach, he said.
But it wasn't until he discovered that Feuerbach still lived in the area that he realized he found the right man.
Feuerbach's fame in the sport goes beyond his world-record throw of 71-7 at San Jose State's Bud Winter Field on May 5, 1973. He helped create an environment so rich for throwers that the best in the country -- such as '76 discus gold medalist Mac Wilkins -- migrated to San Jose to train and compete with the best.
``The energy of that time pushed everybody to a higher level,'' said Feuerbach, who finished fifth in the 1972 Olympics and fourth in the 1976 Games.
San Jose, once known in the track world as ``Speed City'' for its great sprinters, became ``Weight City.''
Or as Feuerbach, the son of an Iowa veterinarian, called it: ``Mecca.''
The small house shared by Feuerbach and Wilkins, tucked into a forested hillside in the Santa Cruz Mountains, became the capital. Some of the best in the world were attracted to the ``Two Big Guys Mountain Games'' meet -- which was half-competition, half-party -- held there three times from 1978 through 1981. A shot-put sector was leveled alongside the porch, with the discus held down the hill on a high school field.
Those days seemed long gone.
``I never really lost my love for the sport,'' said Feuerbach, who struggled with the decision to coach Dufresne. He was entrenched in a career that could take him anywhere in the world on a moment's notice.
``What if she starts to rely on me and I get a call to go away?'' he asked his wife, Anne.
``It's not more important than working with Julie,'' she said.
The connection between past and present was made immediately.
``I saw her potential the first day I saw her,'' Feuerbach said, and she in turn responded to his style.
Feuerbach refuses to reprimand or dictate. Instead, he lets Dufresne make the choices, including a switch from the spin to the glide, a style that Feuerbach refined and mastered on the remote mountainside.
It has been years since a shot has been thrown there. A plywood halfpipe, built for Al's son Evan, cuts across the sector. The toeboard has been removed from the concrete ring, and weeds cover most of the small field.
Sitting on the porch this week, Feuerbach said, ``I can still hear some echoes.''
They just don't seem so distant anymore.