Mt Pleasant Girls Have a Shot At State Title

The conclusion is inescapable. No matter how the numbers are crunched, the Mt. Pleasant girls are the overwhelming favorite to win their first state track championship Friday and Saturday at Sacramento's Hughes Stadium.

"A lot of things can happen," Coach Steve Nelson said. "There's the baton, starts, stepping on the line. I hate to be pessimistic. But something's probably not going to go right. If it doesn't, we have to respond."

If the Cardinals need proof of the sport's unpredictability, they can look to eight-time champion Long Beach Poly, the heavy favorite until two weeks ago. That's when sophomore Turquoise Thompson - a state contender in two events - injured her hamstring in the 300-meter hurdles. Suddenly, Poly lost 20 potential points.

Based on marks from last week's section championships, Mt. Pleasant is projected to score 36 points, Long Beach Poly 28 and Oakland's St. Elizabeth 26.

Mt. Pleasant will bring eight girls, with hurdler-jumper Vashti Thomas and sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh shouldering most of the load.

No Central Coast Section team has won a girls title since Woodside's Wendy Brown won it by herself in 1984. Andrew Hill, keyed by Kelia Bolton's sprint sweep, became the only Santa Clara County girls winner, in 1978.

"We're in a good position," Nelson said. "Hopefully, we can come through."

Top girls contenders

Tori Anthony, Castilleja. The UCLA-bound senior won the pole vault title at 13 feet, 3 inches in 2006, but such a mark would now be seen as a disappointment. Anthony has since set a national high school indoor record of 14-2 1/2, with close attempts at a national outdoor mark of 14-1 each of the past two weeks.

After her CCS meet-record 13-8 effort last week, Anthony said she expects to clear anything in that range as long as her plant is sufficient. That would seem to leave 2006 runner-up Allison Stokke (13-7) of Newport Harbor as Anthony's only competition.

Eileen Nguyen, Milpitas. Four in the field have run faster 400s than Nguyen, but Nguyen is strong and that could be at an advantage over a two-day meet, with heats and finals on back-to-back days.

Long Beach Poly's Jasmine Joseph is the only one under 54 seconds, but if she runs in the 1,600 relay Friday night, that can only help Nguyen's chances. Nguyen, who ran 54.98 at the CCS finals, is not in a relay.

Renisha Robinson, Archbishop Mitty. Distance coach Dina Oakland would prefer Robinson, who runs the 800, to slow her first lap to 62 seconds from her usual 60. But Robinson feels most comfortable going out fast and staying there.

Last year, Robinson bolted to the front with 150 meters to go, only to be passed on the homestretch before fading to seventh. Lesson learned. She will need it against Esperanza of Anaheim's Emily Dunn (2:06.48). Robinson, who will shoot for 2:07, is No.2 in the field (2:09.08).

Jeneba Tarmoh, Mt. Pleasant. She is the defending champion in the 100 and 200, but has had to make up for missing a month of training because of a back injury.

Without a crucial period of weight training and plyometrics work, Tarmoh hasn't recovered the bounce in her step. However, the Tennessee-bound senior might be able to grind out victories anyway. She has the third-fastest times in both fields.

Vashti Thomas, Mt. Pleasant. A nine-time CCS champion and only a junior, Thomas will compete in four events. However, the state meet has been unforgiving, especially in her specialty, the 100 hurdles.

She false-started in the trials as a freshman, and scratched from the final as a sophomore after rolling her ankle during a botched relay handoff.

"The first two years, she was a kid with a lot of talent who hadn't run a lot of track," Nelson said. "I don't think she was savvy enough. I think she's savvy enough now."

Thomas has the state's leading time in the hurdles (a CCS-record 13.46) and is No. 2 in the field in the long jump and No. 3 in the triple jump. If those hold, Thomas would score 24 points.

Long shots: Natasha Barthel, St. Francis (pole vault); Kiersten Dolbec, Saratoga (high jump); Stella Dugall, Mt. Pleasant (triple jump); Dahlys Marshall, Valley Christian (100 hurdles); Kristin Rimbach, Prospect (high jump).

Top boys contenders

Brad Surh, Carlmont: The junior has the sixth-best 1,600 time in the field (4:11.84) and 12th-best qualifying time, but those can be misleading.

Surh is undefeated in the 1,600 this season, with wins in the Stanford and Mt. San Antonio College invitationals and the Arcadia Invitational seeded race.

Nico Weiler, Los Gatos: The German exchange student set state junior-class and CCS records Friday by clearing 17-6 1/2 in the pole vault. The next-best mark in the field is 16-2.

Though it seems contrary to convention, Coach Brandon Vance said Weiler must avoid starting too low. Because the poles Weiler uses are so long, there is concern that even if he clears a low bar, the pole could knock it off.

Instead, Weiler will probably open at 15-6 or 15-10, where there might not be more than a handful left in the field.

Long shots: Eric Hersey, Los Altos (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles); Colin Quirke, Los Gatos (shot put); Kevin Rutledge, Los Gatos (high jump).

Phillip MacQuitty (Palo Alto) - Athlete Of the Week

Sport: Track and field.

Event: 3,200 meters.Class: Freshman.

Accomplishment: MacQuitty became the first freshman to win the Central Coast Section 3,200-meter final, showcasing his finishing kick in the last 200 meters to beat Valley Christian-Dublin's Robbie Knorr and Alisal's Diego Estrada with a time of 9 minutes, 11.99 seconds. It topped the converted two-mile mark of 9:14.24 set by Mt. Pleasant's Carlos Carrasco in 1976. MacQuitty's plan was to stay with the pack for the first seven laps before making his move with 400 meters to go. "I didn't have enough to go at 400, so I decided to try at 200 and I guess it worked," MacQuitty said. "I've been working on my 400s to gain speed and it has helped my finishing kick." With his long hair flowing down the home stretch, many noticed a resemblance to the late running legend Steve Prefontaine. "I've got the 'do, now I just need the 'stache," MacQuitty said.

Bell's Total Effort Pays Off

Thomas Phillips tossed aside his medal for winning the Central Coast Section 400 meter dash and dropped to his knees.

The Bellarmine College Prep senior was sick after pushing his body to the limit.

Phillips won the 400 in a personal best of 49.16 seconds, finished second in the 300 hurdles (38.64) and fourth in the 110 hurdles (15.17). He also anchored the Bells' winning 1,600 relay team (3:20.07), which shaved three seconds off its best time to edge Archbishop Mitty (3:20.42)

The Bells won the sixth title in school history under Terry Ward with first-place efforts from senior discus thrower Stephen Powell (165 feet, 1 inch) and the 400 relay team.

Ward, who has coached at Bellarmine 27 years, has won 20 CCS championships, including 14 in cross country.

Ward said the Bells got instrumental performances from Phillips and senior Kevin Gonzales, who finished fourth in the 100 and third in the 200 (22.26) - while running legs on both winning relay teams.

"The two of them really did a job," Ward said. "I thought it would be down to the wire with Los Gatos, they had a lot of strength in the field events."

Speaking of Phillips' effort, Ward said, "I haven't seen anyone double in the 400 and 300 hurdles in a long time. There are only two events (and 55 minutes) between them. We knew he was tired. He chopped a step before the first hurdle in the 300 and was dead last coming out of the first turn. It was a tremendous run for him to finish second."

Carlmont junior Brad Surh (4:15.69) looked strong in winning the 1,600, holding off Willow Glen's Marcos Corona by making a move with 400 meters left.

"I knew it was a slow race and was going to come down to a finishing kick and Corona has a good one," said Surh, whose time of 4:11.84 at the Mt. SAC Invitational is the third-best time in California this year. "I thought that if I could run a 60-second 400 meters I could take it in."

Corona finished second (4:18.49) and Aptos sophomore Rylan Hunt (4:18.71) was third. Willow Glen junior Mohamed Abdalla was fourth.

St. Francis pole vaulter Natasha Barthel was selected as the 2007 CIF female scholar-athletes of the year.

Barthel, who is bound for Stanford, finished second at the CCS meet by clearing 12-8, and she was third at the state meet as a junior.

She will be recognized on the Senate and Assembly Floors in Sacramento on June 21 and will receive a $2,000 award. Nominations for the scholarship were received from the 1,431 high schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.

Barthel carries a 4.28 weighted GPA and has cleared 13 feet in the pole vault. An accomplished singer, Barthel has a variety of interests. She is a black belt in karate and a member of the Science and Engineering Club. She is also active in the community working with the elderly and teaching Spanish to middle school students. She plans to major in mathematics or physics at Stanford.

With her second-place finish in the CCS 1,600 final, Arely Marquez became the first Yerba Buena girl to qualify for the state track and field championships since Mary Ellis won the 100- and 220-yard sprints at the CCS meet in 1975.

Success among Warriors boys has been more common, with long-jumper Sovann Prom reaching the state meet last year.

Valley Christian football coach Mike Machado has organized a football camp for athletes with Down Syndrome.

"Football Camp for the Stars" will be held at Valley Christian on June 22-23 and will feature guest appearances by NFL players and coaches, with high school coaches providing instruction in an environment that stresses safety.

The camp is for ages 15-30 and scholarships are available. Call (408) 513-2503 to register.

San Jose Mercury News - Editorial: Adversity only makes Bellarmine star stronger

Along with being a celebration of students' success, high school graduation is a tribute to parents and their years of guidance, love, encouragement and shelter. Not to mention the occasional arm-twisting to see that homework got done.

Risks rise sharply for teenagers who face life without them. But disadvantages are not always destiny. Take Stephen Powell, who has ventured solo through the dangerous rapids of adolescence, only to emerge strong and exuberant.

On Saturday, Stephen graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory. In the fall, with full financial aid, he will attend Claremont McKenna College, which he chose over the University of California-Berkeley.

Like several older half-brothers before him, Stephen has been forced to live by himself. For the past two years home has been an apartment supplied for the homeless by EHC LifeBuilders. He has cooked for himself, paid his own bills, worked to support himself, gotten himself back and forth to school. A handsome kid, part-Latino, part-African American, he has never known his father. His mother has been in and out of his life for years.

Stephen came to our attention when the director of the Avant! Foundation told us about a tutor he had hired who rode his bike every Wednesday from Bellarmine, near San Jose airport, to Alum Rock Library to work with a struggling student. We didn't know how exceptional he was. His advisers at Bellarmine, where Stephen has been a scholarship student the past two years, certainly did.

"While many students have impressed me with their talent and intelligence, Stephen is the first student that I would actually call heroic," Kevin McMahon, an English teacher who is Stephen's track coach, wrote in his college recommendation. "In short, I am in awe of this young man."

One reason among many is that in February 2006, while weight-training for football, Stephen ruptured a disc in his back. For much of the summer he limped around in pain, uncertain of his future in sports. After a slow, patient rehabilitation, he rebounded this spring to become a top shot-putter and discus thrower, winning the regional discus competition last week, despite being, at 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, a relative Lilliputian in events dominated by leviathans.

Why is it that adversity crushes some and tempers others, makes some people bitter and others strong? At age 17, Stephen has responded to what life has thrown his way with maturity beyond his years, discipline and an optimism that creates admirers.

He's never been one to ask for help, but he's always had people looking out for him: the EHC housing manager who introduced him to Bellarmine, his teachers and brothers who call him every day and keep him grounded.

Stephen has learned to focus on what he can be, and "not waste my time thinking how things could have been different" or what he hasn't had. For students at Bellarmine, caught up in the cliquish world of high school, he offered a rare perspective, learned from struggle: Don't sweat the little things of life.

Stephen Powell's resilience can offer hope to other students who face poverty and instability. And even to those who don't.