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Track athletes hope to develop as season progresses
PHS track pic2
Pitman High’s Andrew Garcia, center, races toward the finish line of a hurdles event. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

It’s still early in the track and field season, but athletes from Pitman, Turlock, Turlock Christian, Denair and Hilmar high schools have already been challenged. It’s not just all the time and effort they have to put in that will help them become faster or stronger. It’s the weather.

The latest example was at last Saturday’s Al Brenda Invitational at Cal State Stanislaus, where the athletes had to endure damp and wet conditions during their events. But they prevailed, knowing the experience will help them down the road.

All of them have hopes of beating their personal bests.

All of them have dreams of reaching the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet, which is one giant step from the State Meet. Last season, only one athlete from the Turlock area made the latter event — and Pitman’s Markus Sanders made the best of his moment, finishing fourth in the discus throw. But even he didn’t know at the start of last season that he would make it that far.

The same could be said about this year’s athletes.

Pitman returns a solid group, with some of the female athletes having competed at last season’s Masters meet. That list includes Aman Hundal (sprints), Kelsee Derr (hurdles), Jasmine Roberson (sprints), Caitlin O’Connell (jumps), Erica Sickert (throws), Victoria Alvarado (sprints) and Hailey Stroud (sprints), as they all played a role in last season’s Central California Conference championship run to go along with titles in 2005, ’07 and ’09.

The Pitman boys will also look to be competitive, as they last won the league in ’09.

Coach Thad Moren is hoping to take his athletes to new heights, seeing that he has booked trips to the prestigious Oregon Relays in April and this weekend’s Stanford Invitational.

“We’re trying to put more pressure on them to be better athletes,” Moren said. “The ones who are answering that challenge are the ones sticking around.”

For the Turlock athletes, they’re just happy to have a place to practice. Last season, they had to improvise since their practice facility, Joe Debely Stadium, was in the middle of reconstruction. But now, the Bulldogs have a place to run, jump and throw.

This year, the Turlock girls team looks strong, with hurdler Mallory Patino and Nicole Cipponeri returning as Masters qualifiers. Other key athletes will be jumper Hannah Bertomen, sprinter Amanda Garcia and multi-event athlete Cierra Booz. The boys will be led by the likes of jumpers Denny Serpa and Nav Brar and runners Jason Swanson and Everado Olide.

Coaches Mike Brown and Ryan Hollister expect their respective girls and boys teams to continue developing as the season goes on.

Turlock Christian is working with a small group of about two dozen athletes — for both the junior varsity and varsity levels. That’s not surprising since the Eagles, as well as fellow Monte Vista Avenue resident Denair High, have to battle with the other spring sports for athletes, on top of dealing with small enrollments. Both schools, however, are up for the challenge.

“There’s a lot going on,” said first-year track coach Pam Franco. “Because we’re a small school, we have a small coaching staff. It’d be comfortable with five fulltime coaches. It’s myself and two other coaches who spilt all the duties. That’s a bit of challenge.”

At Hilmar, coach Clement Labrouche said his girls team might be the best the school has had in the past 15 years. He has a list of athletes who he believes will excel this season, with Isamar Millian being a returning Masters qualifier. He also said his boys team is in a rebuilding stage.

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.