Eagles bask in bright lights

Del Oro relay squad without a star, but together, they’ve made history
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LOOMIS — There’s something about the glow of stadium lights on Friday nights that brings out the best in the boys at Del Oro High. Kenny Andri, Kai Von Alvenslaben and Blake Covey were in the middle of the action as the Golden Eagles’ storybook football season ended with a Sac-Joaquin Section title at Hornet Stadium in December. Perhaps it’s no coincidence they’re now thriving, along with Casey Wheeler, in track and field’s marquee event — the 4x400-meter relay. “It’s the last event of the day, it’s under the lights and everyone stays around to watch,” Covey said. “It’s definitely the most exciting event to watch. It’s always interesting.” The Golden Eagles turned the long relay into a romp for much of the season as they blew away teams in dual meets and sliced seconds off the school record. They lived up to their No. 1 seed at last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet at Hughes Stadium, taking first place in the final with a time of 3 minutes, 19.7 seconds. Davis was less than half a second behind. Today they line up against the best in California at the CIF State Championships in Clovis. “It wasn’t our best race last week, but we feel like we can run faster this week and hopefully make the finals,” Wheeler said. Del Oro’s relay success is remarkable, considering none of the Eagles made the finals in the individual 400 at Masters. Assistant coach Jake Hardey said Covey and Andri were capable, but had subpar performances in qualifying heats at Masters. They were also more focused on the relay. “With them, it’s about the heart of racing for each other,” Hardey said. “Every single one of them is slower in an open 400. With a team on their shoulders, every one of them is dependable. They care deeply about the success of the team.” Von Alvenslaben was a hard-hitting defensive back for the Del Oro football squad. He ran the 200 meters throughout the regular season but his true passion is the relay. “It’s my favorite race, definitely the highlight for me,” said the senior, who plans to run for Santa Barbara City College next year. “I knew when we started the season we could get (to state). Casey stepped up so much and we worked hard at it. We did a little in the offseason and then when the season started we were just determined.” Andri was Del Oro’s star running back last fall, battling through an ankle injury to spark the Eagles’ dominant playoff run. He explains the team’s success as a combination of chemistry and the thrill of the competition. “It’s always the last event, so there’s extra excitement and we all have an adrenaline rush,” Andri said. The Eagles’ only loss in the 4x400 this season came at the Sacramento Meet of Champions last month. They take the 10th-best time in the state into today’s race, where they could line up against the likes of Long Beach Poly. The Jackrabbits ran an astounding 3:13.52 earlier this season. A trip to the prestigious finals might require the Golden Eagles to top their school record of 3:18.57. Landing in the top nine would also force Andri and Von Alvenslaben to make a gut-wrenching decision between the CIF Finals and Del Oro’s graduation ceremony on Saturday. “I’ll be sending out texts on Friday night letting them know who’s going to be at graduation,” Del Oro coach Dustin Fee said. Andri, a third-year varsity runner, was a part of the team that broke a 40-year-old school record in the relay last season, along with Covey and Von Alvenslaben. Wheeler, who will also compete at state in the 300 hurdles, ran with the team at the division finals last season, but told the coaches he wanted to give his spot to then-senior Bryce Pratt. It’s the kind of team-first attitude that the Eagles have embraced, and run with. “It was cool to break it last year and then to break it again this season was a really good feeling,” Andri said. “Hopefully we can break it one more time.”