NCS track & field: Casa Grande’s Rauch heading to state meet


Casa Grande's Nicholas Rauch races to a second-place finish in the boys 1,600 meters at Saturday's Meet of Champions at Cal. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s Nicholas Rauch races to a second-place finish in the boys 1,600 meters at Saturday’s Meet of Champions at Cal. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

BERKELEY — Running just off the lead, Casa Grande’s Nicholas Rauch was poised to strike, finishing second in the 1,600-meter run at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions on Saturday.

Punching his ticket to the CIF State Track and Field meet in his secondary event — Rauch is best at the 800-meter run — was among the highlights for Empire athletes at the section finals.

“My stretch goal was reaching state. If I maxed, I could do it, but it was a reach,” said Rauch, a Gauchos junior. “This was great.”

Also medaling in the 800, Rauch led a strong Empire contingent.

See photos from the meet here

Rancho Cotate junior Justin Zinnerman won an NCS championship in the boys high jump, finishing with a jump of 6 feet, 9 inches. Rauch’s teammate, Caleb Lundquist, a senior at Casa Grande, finished third in boys discus, with a throw of 156 feet, 4 inches.

The last day of the two-day meet, held at historic Edwards Stadium on the UC Berkeley campus, drew a large crowd of track and field fans who appreciated the efforts from the region’s top athletes.

“It’s really cool. The fans know what’s going on,” said Maria Carrillo’s Dante Hay, who qualified for the state meet with a third-place finish in the 800.

A solid first day for Empire entrants got better on Saturday. The top-three finishers in each event move on to the state meet. Nine Empire athletes will compete for state titles this Friday and Saturday in Clovis.

The Empire qualified a trio on Friday: Morgan Bertsch of Santa Rosa in the high jump, and Petaluma’s Allison Scranton and Ukiah’s Allyson Milone in the discus.

Day two featured some of the Empire’s best finishes on record. Yet not every result was a state-qualifying mark.

Connor Celeri finished fourth in the 110-meter hurdles. His time ranked as the Empire’s third best all-time mark. But the Piner athlete’s time was just one-hundredth of a second off the time needed to make the state championships with an at-large entry. Still, Celeri was not frustrated.

“I went out strong. I’m glad with the result,” Celeri said. “We all ran really well. It’s just how it played out.”

The margins between qualifying for state and ending the season are narrow.

Consider the boys’ 800. Hay ran the Empire’s No. 6 all-time mark with his finish, and did so with a straining face at the finish.

“It was a lot tighter than I’d like,” Hay said. “It took a big push, everything I had left.”

Leading for much of the race, Hay was in fourth near the finish. He found an opening on the inside lane, along the steel bar marking the track’s edge.

“I wasn’t sure if I had the room or not,” Hay said. “I had to turn it on.”

Alex Netherda’s third-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles keeps the Maria Carrillo junior’s track season going. His time was No. 4 all-time for Empire runners.

“It took my best race. There were a lot of fast guys,” he said. “Anything can happen here.”

Proving that point were a pair of Empire athletes who each reached two finals on Saturday.

Ukiah sprinter Hugh Pegan figured to make the 200 finals, as he did at the past two section championships.

But he also made the 100 finals, five races before the longer sprint.

“It’s always good to have a hard warm up. That was a plus,” Pegan said.

After finishing seventh in the 100, Pegan took third in the 200 to make the state meet.

“It was a good day,” he said.

The boys’ 1,600 meters also was a warm up of sorts for Rauch.

While a strong run at the Redwood Empire championships bolstered his confidence, Rauch still was surprised to make the 1,600 finals at sectionals. Then he ran four seconds faster than his personal best to finish second and qualify for state, crediting the Edwards Stadium atmosphere.

“The crowd makes you race faster,” he said.

An hour later, Rauch was back for the 800. Again he ran a personal best.

While just missing a place at state in the 800, Rauch was thrilled to qualify for the finals and compete in a pair of Meet of Champions events Saturday.

“It was a great two days,” Rauch said.

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