SACRAMENTO - Milpitas High senior Eileen Nguyen won her heat of the 400 meters at the state track and field championships Friday and set a personal record in the 200.
All in all, it's been a great meet for Nguyen. The only thing that would make it perfect would be seeing her parents in the stands for today's 400 final.
Nguyen's parents, Vietnamese immigrants, have never attended one of her meets. They have urged her to quit because of their cultural view that track and field is too "masculine" an activity for a girl.
"They've never wanted me to run," Nguyen said. "Their values are not in athletics."
For several years, Nguyen was torn between what she wanted to do and what her parents wanted.
She asked herself, "Is it worth it?"
Nguyen ultimately decided it was. Last summer, she decided to drop all her extracurricular activities to concentrate on track. Now, it has come to this, a berth in the state final after running in 55.52 seconds to win her heat handily.
The only downer? She must run in Lane 8, meaning Nguyen will have no one to key on by starting in front of all but one runner on the staggered start.
"I'll have to run my own race," she said.
Her personal coach, Chioke Robinson, is confident that won't be a problem.
"So what?" he told her. "Turn it into Lane 4, with an eight on it. Just execute and make it come down to a battle. And if it comes down to that, you're going to win."
Mt. Pleasant has done all it can so far to make sure the girls team title won't have to be a battle. The Cardinals entered the meet as a heavy favorite and remain so after Vashti Thomas qualified among the leaders in three events, and Jeneba Tarmoh returned to form to win her heats in the 100 (11.47) and 200 (a state season-best 23.34) in the day's top times.
"She's back," was the response elicited by assistant coach Hector Flores after the two-time 2006 state champ breezed through the 100.
"I had a little problem with my confidence level," said Tarmoh, who missed a month of training because of an early season back injury. "But looking at all these great athletes, it's just built up more ambition and excitement for tomorrow."
Thomas won her heat of the 100 hurdles in a wind-aided 13.62, and took single jumps in the long jump (19-3 1/4) and triple jump (a wind-aided 40-10 1/4) to qualify. Along with a safe, but fast 400 relay, Thomas did all she could to save her energy for today.
The Cardinals' short relay team of Thomas, Tarmoh, Marshay Brown and Deidre Pettigrue ran a Central Coast Section record 46.05 in its heat, breaking the year-old mark of 46.42 set by the same foursome.
Valley Christian's Dahlys Marshall won her 100 hurdles heat in a barely wind-aided 13.71, a full second faster than her time in last year's meet. However, Marshall also has some extra motivation.
"She's running for two," her father and coach, Greg Marshall, said.
Her brother Cameron was third in the 100 meters at the CCS finals, earning a spot in the state meet. But his time was mistakenly switched with the seventh-place finisher by meet officials. Because the error was not pointed out to officials until the next day - and after the results were binding - Serra's DeLeon Eskridge advanced in Marshall's spot.
SACRAMENTO - Nico Weiler relaxed in a folding chair under an umbrella on the infield grass of Hughes Stadium, trying to stay cool as he watched qualifying in the pole vault Friday at the 89th annual CIF state track and field meet.
Vaulters opened at 14 feet, 3 inches, but Los Gatos' Weiler, who cleared 17-6 1/4 to win the Central Coast Section title with the third-best jump in state history last week, was just biding his time.
He removed his sweats an hour and 54 minutes after the first vault. Entering the competition at 15-3, Weiler stormed down the runway with a pole measuring 15-8 and made a solid plant, sending him airborne. He cleared the height easily and sent his pole to the left, so there was no chance it could knock the cross bar off.
"He is so psyched up right now he almost blew through the pole," said Wildcats vault coach Brandon Vance. "I haven't seen him run that fast on his approach all year."
It was an excellent day for CCS vaulters as all three cleared 15-3 to advance to today's finals. St. Lawrence junior Josh Cusick, the first athlete in school history to reach the state meet, cleared 15-3 on his second attempt and San Benito's Josh Schroder made it on his first attempt.
"We've all become close and root each other on," Weiler said. "It would be great to go 1-2-3 tomorrow."
Weiler's teammate, shot putter Colin Quirke, who made news last week when he got lost on his way to the CCS meet and missed the discus throw, had no problems Friday.
Quirke drove to the meet with Coach Ron McKee and made one throw to qualify first with a mark of 60-8.
"They aren't letting me drive anymore," said Quirke, with a smile. "I was just trying to make a little toss to get to the finals. But tomorrow will be all-out, I'm going for it."
The event is in his blood - Quirke's father Paul was an Olympian for Ireland in 1992 and still holds the country's shot-put record at 65-9.
St. Francis' Andy Vargas qualified for the shot-put final with the fourth-best throw of the day (58-7 1/4). Bellarmine College Prep's Stephen Powell qualified sixth in the discus (179-7).
Oak Grove junior Sebastian Sam ran a tactical race in his 800-meter heat, even though the pace was slower than he liked.
Sam, in third place until the final 200 meters, won in 1:54.49 to qualify for today's final with the second-best time of the day.
"I picked it up on the second lap, I kept my form and technique and that helped me win," Sam said. "Tomorrow I will go a lot faster - you can't hold anything back in a state final."
Los Altos senior hurdler Eric Hersey has been waiting for this meet since an injury ended his season in the CCS trials last year. He was in top form, taking second in his 110 hurdle heat to qualify for today's final with a personal-best time of 13.95, despite hitting several hurdles. He also qualified in the 300 hurdles (37.95).
"It wasn't a perfect race but I did what I had to do to qualify," Hersey said of the 110-meter heat. "I'm very happy - it was really solid. I'm peaking at the right time. All the little aches and pains have gone away and the competition pushes you to run faster."