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'Overtime' podcast

Cloverdale High senior Ray Sayago knew little about football when he signed up to play with the Eagles his freshman year. In fact, on his first day of practice he put his pads on backwards. But, as he tells it, the sport and the team experience made his high school journey more rewarding.

Sayago was a guest on the “Overtime with Kerry Benefield” podcast recently, talking about sports, team and high school.

Sayago will graduate on June 8 and head to Chico State to study journalism. You can hear the conversation on SoundCloud and iTunes, as well as pressdemocrat.com.

It’s hard to picture Kirsten Carter sputtering out. But if you’ve seen it — or perhaps, worse yet, lived it — it’s difficult to erase the memory.

But Carter, who just graduated from Santa Rosa High, just handed track watchers the world’s biggest Etch-a-Sketch — you know, those toys where an image can be erased with a little shake. With her double-podium performance at the CIF state track and field championship in Clovis over the weekend, Carter gave the haunting memory of her poor performance in the 400-meter dash her freshman year the most emphatic shake-off in the world.

That image is gone. The greatest female sprinter in Redwood Empire history has drawn a new one in its place. It looks something like this: “54.07.” The fastest 400-meter time ever run by a girl in the Redwood Empire. And she got a third-place finish and a CIF medal for her efforts.

Three years ago, Carter came into the state meet riding high. She was a sprint phenom. She had posted the second-fastest preliminary time in the 400 meters that year to earn the second seed on one of high school track’s grandest stages.

But in the final, Carter was not herself. She said she woke up that morning feeling like “nothing was working.”

She fiddled with her warmup, she splashed cold water on her face, she tried cracking jokes.

“Literally, overnight, it was, ‘Oh, there goes all that energy you put into your body,’” she said.

Watching that race three years ago, I described it as looking like she had “hit a wall.” She was barely out of the final turn when racers were crossing the finish line. Her final time was 1:00.89. The winner finished in 53.13.

And the sprinter who seems golden in every event she sets her mind to seemed to shy away from that distance ever since.

“It never became, ‘Maybe it’s not my race,’ but I did feel more like maybe I wasn’t ready to run it,” she said. “There was no real explanation.”

This is an athlete who owns all-time Redwood Empire records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes. She owns the 300-meter-hurdle record. She’s third best all-time in the long jump. And just for fun, she’s 44th all-time in the shot put. She medaled at the state meet last year in the 100-meter dash. She’s regularly invited to national track meets. She set a national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles earlier this season.

She’s not used to sputtering. So let’s just say her race Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis looked nothing like freshman year. But before the gun, the memory was still there, lurking.

“When I was sitting in the blocks, once we got to ‘Set,’ I was like, ‘You are already in, this is it, you can’t just give up now. There is no point,’” she said. “Then the gun went off and it was like, ‘Go, go, go.’”

“I know how that (2015) race felt. That didn’t happen. It must be like, ‘Gone,’” she remembered thinking of the ghost of freshman year.

She was in fifth place heading into the final 100 meters. With her speed, that’s well within striking distance.

“On the back stretch, they are right there,” she said. “This is nothing like freshman year.

“I don’t remember the actual running part,” she said. “I just remember the thought process, which was to stay as close as possible and you might be able to do something.”

In the last 40 meters she was still about 15 meters behind the top three runners.

And she also remembers thinking, “I know you thought you were doing full speed, but maybe you aren’t.”

Her burst of speed seemed visceral — she dashed past the third-place runner and windmilled her arms across the finish line. Third place, a new personal best — which of course meant a new Redwood Empire best.

“I have never gotten that far,” she said. “I saw ‘third place,’ and it was, ‘Yes, I actually did do it. Yes, my God, so much better.’”

So much better. Her sprint down the final stretch made sure of it.

She ran a 55.12 in the prelims Friday but obliterated that time Saturday when she crossed the line in 54.07.

It was her best finish at the California state meet. And it was in the event that had seemingly bedeviled her. It was the fastest time ever run by a girl from the Redwood Empire. And she added a sixth-place podium finish in the 200 meters to round out her day.

“I can’t say I’m mad” at how the weekend played out. She chuckled a little.

It was a capstone moment in an incredible prep career. Carter will run for the Aggies at UC Davis in the fall.

For all of the records and remarkable races Carter has treated us to over the past four years, this one might have been just for her. A way to stamp out a lingering memory, or any doubt. And, of course, to set yet another record.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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