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Eagles swoop in on state berth

Track & Field
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — When Kai VonAlvenslaben heard Kenny Andri boasting of his success in the 400-meter dash, he took the pride as a friendly challenge. One lap around the track? Piece of cake. “Then I came out and saw how long a 400 really is,” said VonAlvenslaben, a Del Oro High junior. “It was rough at first. I didn’t really think I could run it, but training got me better.” With some pacing help from coach Jake Hardey, VonAlvenslaben no longer hit the figurative “wall” untrained sprinters are notorious for meeting at 300 meters. “My last 100 meters are faster than my first 100 now,” VonAlvenslaben said. He quickly emerged as a force on the Golden Eagles’ stellar 4x400 relay team, a squad that has already broken the oldest record in Del Oro history and tonight has a chance to become only the program’s second relay team to qualify for the state meet. Football teammates Andri, a junior defensive back, VonAlvenslaben, an outside linebacker, star senior tailback Bryce Pratt and sophomore Blake Covey, a standout defensive back at the JV level last fall, make up one of the most consistent teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section. “What makes them solid is just that they all run such similar times,” Hardey said. “We don’t have a weak leg. Nobody feels that they have to make up for anybody else. We’re just blessed with some great runners who are within a half a second of each other.” Andri, the group’s most track-passionate runner, ran a 52-second open 400 his freshman year and eventually won the Sierra Foothill League title that spring. He anchored Del Oro’s 4x400 team to the Masters last spring, where they snuck into the finals and finished ninth of nine schools. “I think the 400 is one of the hardest races because it’s all about stamina and endurance and then you can test your all-out speed on the last straightaway,” Andri said. His relay mates joined the track team for football-motivated reasons but soon discovered more benefits than offseason conditioning and improving gridiron speed. “It’s a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be,” VonAlvenslaben said. “The relay is like its own team. We’re one family.” While Covey didn’t defend passes at the varsity level with the other three, he fits in well as the opening leg on the relay. “He has come around a lot,” Hardey said. “Last year he was out here to have fun. This year he’s been really dedicated, supremely focused and has really impressed me with a level of maturity you don’t expect from a sophomore boy.” The team didn’t turn any heads opening the spring with a 3-minute, 29-second performance, but they quickly shaved five seconds off by the Stanford Invitational in late March. They broke a 41-year-old record at this month’s SFL finals when they ran 3:23.83, eclipsing the mark set by the 1969 4x400 team that included Golden Eagle great Ed Bonner, the only relay team in program history to advance to state. “That was a feeling I can’t really describe,” VonAlvenslaben said. “We didn’t really think we could do it. That was an experience we’ll all remember.” They broke their own mark at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II trials on May 19 and again two days later in the finals when they ran a blazing 3:23.04, a time that earned them the fourth seed entering Thursday’s Masters trials. “There’s pressure but there’s not as much pressure as the No. 1 or No. 2 teams because they’re predicted to go on to state,” Andri said. “I don’t think they’re going to be thinking of us as a threat but I think if we run our best races of the year, we’ll be able to advance.” The Eagles finished in 3:23.33 Thursday, the fourth-fastest time in the trials. They caught a break when Monterey Trail false started in its heat. The Mustangs were seeded ahead of Del Oro with a season-best 3:21.78. The top three teams in tonight’s finals advance to next weekend’s state meet. “Most teams would kill to have one guy that could go under 50 seconds and I think that three of our guys will be under 50, and that’ll be what it takes to move on,” Hardey said. “I think they’ll be able to do it. They’re all right there.”