State speed

Junior Frank Valadez clears six feet in the high jump Friday in

Butler qualifies for CIF State Finals after placing second in
400m at CCS Championships
SAN JOSE – It was a long road back to the Central Coast Section Finals for senior sprinter Raquel Butler, who was determined as ever to make her return to the CIF State meet.

As a sophomore, Butler was a state qualifier in the 100-meter, but as a junior, she was hampered by shin-splint and hamstring injuries. In last year’s CCS Semi-Finals, Butler stumbled and fell in the 400-meter, preventing her from making a second straight state appearance.

“This year, I was just working to do my best coming off the injury,” said Butler, who qualified for the CCS Finals in the 100m, 200m and 400m. “I gave it all to God and did what I knew how to do and it took me to state.”

The fall from last year was still fresh on her mind going into Friday night’s section track and field championships at San Jose City College. But nothing was going to stop her from achieving her goal.

Butler was fast out of the blocks in the 400m, leading the pack of eight runners through the first three turns. At about the 150 marker, Butler was passed by eventual champion Seante Baker, a senior out of Archbishop Mitty. With only the top three runners advancing to state, Butler needed to hold on.

“I just wanted to maintain it because the year before in semis I fell and I didn’t want to do it again. I kind of relaxed and maintained,” Butler said. “This year, right in the last 100 I started feeling my legs giving out. I was just thinking I don’t want to fall again. I don’t want to fall again.”

She didn’t.

Butler finished in second place with a personal-best time of 56.32 behind only Baker (55.62), but the Lady Mustang did not know she had qualified for state when the race was over.

“I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if I had gotten second or not. I was in the outside lane so it was hard to see my competitors,” said Butler, who soon found out she was moving on. “It was cool. My legs were aching after, but I was pretty happy and excited.”

It marked the third straight season that Gilroy High had a qualifier for the CIF State meet, which will hold its preliminaries on Friday and championships on Saturday at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.

“We don’t’ have a big team, but we have that quality element at Gilroy High School. Three years in a row, that’s not bad,” head coach Guido Zvigzne said. “We seem to keep putting great athletes in the state meet. Gilroy should be very proud of that.”

Butler started the three-year string in her sophomore season, then thrower Brian Lopez (now on the San Jose City College track team) qualified for state in the shot put last season, and it was Butler again this year.

“She looked like a winner,” said head coach Guido Zvigzne of Butler. “She went down in the 56 and took almost a second off her time. She’s phenomenal, just a real phenomenal athlete. No doubt about that.”

The coach was reminded of 400-meter sprinter Ernesto Salinas, a former Gilroy High state qualifier from six years ago.

“She’s a female version of that. He was an amazing runner,” Zvigzne said. “I’ve known her for four years – I have her in my U.S. history class – and it’s just a beautiful thing to see someone succeed. She could have given up. She stuck with it. She managed to overcome (her injuries) and come back.”

The 400m was only the first of three events Butler was competing in. Only 10 minutes after qualifying to state, she was back in the blocks for the 100-meter, where she finished in eighth place with a time of 13.37.

“I was just doing the 100 because I qualified. I really didn’t care,” Butler said. “My legs were still out from the 400.”

Zvigzne added: “It seemed like three or four minutes after the (400m) race, she was in the blocks to do the 100, which shows an enormous amount of character. You can’t teach people that.”

Butler had a little longer rest-time before she competed in her final event, the 200m. Although she did not finish in the top three to qualify for state, Butler ran a personal-best time of 25.41.

“I wanted it to be faster,” Butler said. “But that’s my PR.”

The senior speedster, who likes to run at Solorsano Middle School, plans to use a light workout schedule this week for the state meet.

“I just want to PR, go and have fun,” Butler said. “(My legs) are fine right now.”

Zvigzne said he plans on working with her on Tuesday with incremental runs from 400m to 300m to 200m to 100m because “it takes her through all the gears. It’s kind of like a race car. You have to get all the muscles firing, but nothing more after that.”

As for her chances in Sacramento, Zvigzne added: “She might make it to Saturday next week. With her, you don’t know what to expect. She’s unbelievable. She’s kind of a miracle girl. She’s an amazing athlete.”

Butler started running the 400m last season, but lingering injuries made it hard for her to consistently compete in the longer event. This year, however, Butler focused most of her training on the 400 instead of the 100 and 200. Even so, she was a league champion in all three.

“It’s more of a mental race than the 100,” Butler said. “The 100 is just a sprint. The 400 takes a lot of thought and technique.”

Along with Butler at the CCS Finals was junior jumper Frank Valadez, who cleared the six-foot marker to tie for seventh place. Valadez was not too far off the state-qualifying leaps by section champion Julian Eison, of Westmoor, who jumped six feet-six inches; Kings junior Isaac Houston (6-04); and Los Altos senior Andrew van Straaten (6-02).

“Frank had a great learning experience. He was disappointed, but I told him afterwards that he’s got to be glad he got here. He jumped against the best and now he knows what to shoot for next year,” Zvigzne said. “The same thing for (section semifinalist) Bobby Best. He’s so motivated. … With one of those two guys, we can do four years in a row (with a state qualifier). That would be a nice achievement.”

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