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David Wellman thought it was a metaphor — for fatigue, maybe for nerves ahead of the upcoming state meet.

One of his athletes, state-bound decathlete Kasey Mancini, called him sounding a little flustered, a little out of sorts.

Mancini, a first-year competitor, told his coach he had been hit by a cement truck.

“He laughed it off, he thought I was kidding, that it was a turn of phrase,” Mancini said.

Nope. Mancini’s car had well and truly been smashed by a cement truck, rendering the athlete sore and banged up on the eve of the big competition.

He limped through the event, turned in a subpar finish and called it a season.

That was two years ago.

Mancini, an El Molino graduate, laughed when he told the story. He wasn’t laughing then. This year, barring a collision with a cement mixer, Mancini is the man to beat in the decathlon in San Diego May 20-21.

Ranked No. 1 in the state, Mancini has broken the modern day Bear Cubs decathlon points record. Wellman said eclipsing Tim McDonald’s 1978 record — scored with a slightly different point system — is well within Mancini’s reach.

“This year we’re just kind of putting it together,” Wellman said.

To that end, Mancini grabbed a win at the NorCals at Hartnell College in Salinas April 12-13. At the Big 8 Championship meet in Modesto on Thursday, Mancini finished second in high jump, seventh in discuss, pole vault and javelin and 11th in long jump.

Mancini, who worked out with the Bear Cubs last year but didn’t compete so he could better focus on his classes, heads to the state meet San Diego in good company.

Freshman teammate Adam Gockel finished third at the Northern California decathlon championship, and sophomore and Big 8 Conference javelin champ Julia Grimm finished third in the heptathlon. They will be joined by conference champ in the 400-meter hurdles Stephanie Fernandez and 1,500 champ Erica Ruiz.

But it’s Mancini, a guy who dabbled in different track and field events in high school but who owns a preternatural competitive calm, according to Wellman, who heads to the state meet as the man to beat.

“It’s one of those kinds of events where attitude and how tough are you and how can you keep yourself on the level throughout” is key, Wellman said. “Kacey does a really good job of that. He’s one of toughest athletes we have. He’s always up for anything.”

But calm on the surface doesn’t mean Mancini is not churning on the inside.

“It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to put myself through physically and mentally,” he said.

Mancini said he’s a Day 2 guy — the 110-meter high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 meters. He calls this the technical day, a chance for him to pull in extrv a points.

He may not beat every guy in every event, but he’ll post enough solid finishes that at the end of day two, that it’s his name at the top of the rankings.

Wellman credits Mancini’s background in a variety of track and field events at El Molino as key to his current success.

“Typically, kind of the barometer for picking a decathlete, if they can hurdle and they can pole vault you have a decathlete,” Wellman said.

Mancini tried both in high school, Wellman said, and has benefited from Bear Cubs’ veteran pole vault coach Jim McCray’s decades of experience.

How good are McCray’s teaching skills? Consider this: Gockel had never pole vaulted before January and he now heads to the state meet ranked third.

And it’s worth noting that the hurdle height Mancini tackled in high school is well shorter than what he faces in college competitions.

“It’s essentially from waist height to almost chest height,” Wellman said. “Your technique has to be that much better.”

Mancini said that benefits him. He’s a guy who can make small, technical fixes to his form and reap great gains.

“There are all kinds of athletes out there. I’m one of the decathletes who is good at everything but not great at anything. I really could improve at everything,” he said.

But there is one thing Mancini knows is dialed in — his head.

“The 1,500 is definitely the most daunting event out there. I personally start thinking about it three events in,” he said. “Even at the third lap, I’m finding myself thinking, like, ‘I can’t do this.’ And you just have to shut out that voice and keep pushing through it.”

“That is where I kind of get people. I can get into that mindset and a lot of people can’t. I know it will only hurt for four-and-a-half minutes and then it’s done,” he said.

Mancini’s time as a Bear Cub is almost done, too. He is looking at competing at Chico State next but not before he tries to make a championship run in San Diego.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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