Benefield: Casa Grande relay team's big showing a highlight of NCS track and field meet
PLEASANT HILL - After hours of steady rain in temperatures that never got above 55 degrees, it took quite a performance in the last event of the North Coast Section Meet of Champions to absolutely electrify the track and field fans at Diablo Valley College Saturday.
Casa Grande's boys 4x400-meter relay team delivered. Matthew Mason, Logan Moon, Matthew Giroux and Jalydon Love were in the mix from the gun and were in fact in the lead for a portion of the race after a strong first leg from Mason. He handed the baton to Moon, who after being denied a berth at the state meet in the 800 meters earlier in the day, took off on the second leg like he was riding a motorcycle.
Giroux said his job was to maintain. And Love? Love had to seal the deal.
But mostly it looked less like science or a game plan and more like guts. The Gauchos ran a 3:23.82 to secure third place behind winners Clayton Valley and Amador Valley - but more importantly, to book their ticket to the CIF state track and field championships next weekend at Buchanan High School in Clovis.
They will be joined by nine other athletes from the Redwood Empire who earned spots in the state meet, including three who doubled. Healdsburg senior Gabby Peterson won the 1,600 meters and finished second in the 3,200 to earn a spot at state in both; Maria Carrillo junior Zavier Rodrigues earned a spot in both the high jump and the 110-meter hurdles, and Middletown senior Bryson Trask will compete in Clovis in both the shot put and discus.
When I asked the four Casa Grande runners how they had pulled off such a monster race, they just shook their heads.
“We devised a game plan over Snapchat and we followed exactly what it was, down to a T,” Moon said.
His teammates were laughing, most likely because Moon doesn't run like a guy who follows a game plan devised on Snapchat or otherwise.
He runs like he was shot out of a gun.
“Best second leg on this team,” Moon said. Again, laughter. The Gauchos were almost giddy. They had no idea what their time was.
“We're the first Casa team to make it to state in the 4x400,” Moon said.
After running a 3:23.26 in Friday's preliminaries to earn the three seed, the Gauchos said they came into the finals feeling confident.
“We knew we had a shot but we knew we had to go all-in to get it today,” said Mason, a senior.
“We were surprised we made it here, but after running here and seeing the competition, we realized, hang on, we've got a genuine shot,” Giroux said. “So we just went for it.”
One of Casa's main competitors wasn't on the track Saturday.
The Maria Carrillo squad came into the preliminaries ranked second in the North Coast Section and was a favorite to make the state meet. But in the final event of preliminary action Friday, Carrillo senior Tyler Van Arden injured his hamstring while running the second leg and the Pumas didn't finish. It was a stunning end to Day 1.
So the Gauchos were fully aware that anything can happen in competition, especially in a relay in rainy, cold conditions.
And this squad was running on legs that had already been used all weekend.
Moon competed in the 800-meter final Saturday, finishing eighth - well below his personal-best time and out of state competition.
Mason raced the 200-meter final, finishing on the podium in fifth, but he, too, was denied an individual bid to state.
And there is something about running on a relay team that allows a racer to hit a different gear, Mason said.
“Since you are on a team, once you see them cross the finish line, you run to your teammates and it's just the best feeling,” he said.
“I feel like a superstar,” Giroux said. “It's great.”
With individual events in the rearview mirror, for the next week they will focus on nothing but their relay workouts and timing.
It will be the first time all season that 100% of their focus will be on each other and what the group can do.
They don't know and didn't want to venture a guess as to what they can do in Clovis. But they promised to be ready.
“Next week? We'll all be fresh,” Mason said.
And no doubt well-versed in race plans created on Snapchat.
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.