Christopher, Gilroy athletes shine in MBL Finals

Christopher High junior Jeff Smith won the MBL Pacific Division high jump title.

Marcela Mantilla couldn’t stop hopping up and down. The Gilroy High sophomore had just won the 100-meter hurdles race in a personal-record (PR) 15.87 seconds in last Friday’s Monterey Bay League Pacific Division Championships, so one couldn’t blame Mantilla for being in such an excited state that it looked as if she was on a pogo stick.

“After I finished and caught my breath, I saw my friend’s face and her eyes lit up,” said Mantilla, whose had never gone sub 16 seconds before Friday’s race. “I knew by her reaction I had hit a PR.”

Mantilla, whose time now ranks 10th best in the Central Coast Section this season, said the key was being strong mentally.

“Tonight I had to block everything out,” she said. “I just thought about my race and didn’t think about times, because that usually throws me off. Blocking everything out gives me inner peace. This time I just had to focus on one thing, and I thought about my arms and having fun when I crossed the finish line.”

Mantilla has come a long way in a short time. Mantilla had never hurdled until last year, and like most athletes doing a technical track and field event for the first year, she had no idea what she was doing.

“Coming out this year coach had me focusing on specific technique,” she said. “I’m taking in the corrections because last year I kind of understood the corrections, but it went over my head. As I’ve taken in the corrections this season, I’ve applied them on the track and it’s been great.”

For Jessica Bright, the MBL Finals were downright dazzling. The Christopher High sophomore took second in the 100-meter dash and first in the 300 hurdles in a PR of 49.81, just ahead of Mantilla, who took second in 50.21. Bright got off to a great start in the 300 hurdles but ran into trouble when she landed awkwardly coming off the fourth hurdle.

“My right leg turned to the side, and I had a previous injury on that side,” she said. “It put me down a bit, but I kept pushing through it.”

Bright had lost her rhythm and was struggling to the finish, and it looked as if a hard-charging Mantilla was going to catch her at the line. However, Bright dug deep and was resilient to the finish.

“I was trying to get it done and have that special moment,” she said. “I heard Marcella’s steps, and I also heard her parents cheering, too, so it was kind of funny. I was just thinking I had to represent the city of Gilroy and I’m going to be first. I was over there praying saying, ‘God, help me do this, I believe in you and I can get it done.’”

Even though Bright didn’t PR in the hurdles, she did nail a PR in the 100 in 12.89. She credited her father, Dennis, for giving her some great advice before the race.

“He told me to come out of my drive phase, keep my chin up and focus on getting down to the finish line,” she said.

Speaking of finishing, Logan Flores knows how to do just that. The Gilroy High senior won the pole vault—as expected—but also took first in the 110 and 300 hurdles in 15.77 and 43.14 seconds, respectively. Flores’ versatility borders on the unbelievable, as he has also competed in the long jump, triple jump and 100-meter dash this season.

Flores hit a PR in the 110 and produced his second fastest time in the 300 despite slowing up in the final 15 meters because he was so far ahead of the rest of the field and also still had the pole vault to finish. In other words, Flores has flourished in a variety of disciplines that few athletes—if any in the CCS—can match.

Flores’ 13-6 in the pole vault was rather pedestrian by his standards; however, Flores didn’t need to hit a big number, knowing he still has the Masters Meet and CCS Trials upcoming.

“I just want to stay consistent,” he said. “I’m pretty satisfied with how the hurdles went. I’d like my times to be lower, but I’ll take what I can get.”

Flores, who has the section’s best mark at 16-1 1/2 in the pole vault—which was established at the CCS Top 8 Meet on April 21—has a goal to hit 16 feet, 4 inches—equal to 5 meters—in the CCS Finals.

“I can’t wait until the situation comes and they raise up the bar that high again,” he said.

Flores was eager to relay the story of when he cleared 16-1 ½ at the Top 8 Classic at Los Gatos High. The all-day meet happened to be on the same day of prom night, so there was obviously a sense of urgency during the meet.

“I knew I had to go in there and execute,” Flores said. “My mom planned a lot of stuff for prom, and I came in feeling pretty good.”

Flores cleared 15-3, 15-7 and then put the bar at 16 1-½ because he had checked the state rankings and a couple of athletes were just under that mark. Once Flores cleared that mark, his dad told him it was time to go.

“I said, ‘One more’ because coach said I could clear 5 meters,” Flores said. “I barely missed it due to standards, and then it was time for me to take off.”

Flores is having a tremendous season, as is Christopher super sophomore Keola Sylva, who won the long jump and the triple jump, his signature event. Sylva, who has a PR of 46 feet in the triple jump—good for second in the section—went 44-4. It wasn’t Sylva’s best result; however, Sylva has been far and away the most consistent triple jumper in the CCS this season.

Sylva nailed a huge PR in the long jump, going 21-2-½ to better his previous best by a foot. Sylva even managed to do a third event, the pole vault, and his mark of 11 feet established another PR.

“I’m really happy and felt good for what I did in the pole vault and long jump,” he said. “I did just OK in the triple, and I know I’ve just got to get ready for the MBL Masters.”

Sylva did a lot of jumping Friday, and by the time his signature event of the triple jump arrived, he was a bit gassed. That won’t be an issue going forward, as Sylva will focus on the triple jump. Despite having the No. 2 mark in the CCS, Sylva carried the top mark for most of the season.

Translation: He’s still the odds-on favorite to take the CCS title. Gilroy senior Searra Harding pulled off a double repeat championship in the 100 and 200 meters, proving once again she’s the fastest girl in the Monterey Bay League. In the 100, Harding didn’t have her best start, but once she got in rhythm, she separated herself from the field. In the 200, it was more of the same. Even though Harding didn’t hit a PR, she was happy with both races, especially the 100.

“I feel like I’m getting better,” she said. “Once I got my acceleration going, my confidence was there to push through. It feels awesome to repeat.”

Harding also was a member of Gilroy’s 4×100 relay team that finished second in 51.79 seconds. The Mustangs didn’t have the cleanest exchanges, so there’s room for their times to improve. Harding’s PR of 25.75 in the 200 earlier this season has given her plenty of reason to believe she’ll be able to advance out of the CCS Trials this season.

Christopher junior Jeff Smith had a breakthrough Friday, going 5-10 to win the high jump. Although Smith has hit 6 feet in practice before, he’s still looking to do it in a meet. That time might be coming soon.

“I rose to the occasion and got my personal best,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, my season hasn’t been what I’ve wanted it to be. I’ve had some struggles but able to get through those.”

When Smith cleared 5-10, he said he literally blacked out for a second.

“I woke up in the front pit and went to give coach (Jeff Myers) a hug,” he said. “I don’t quite remember that jump, but afterward knowing I hit that mark, I felt good.”

Smith has been doing a lot of back flips lately, a key component to his training.

“It’s a way to get over the fear of the jump, landing and not thinking about it,” he said. “The back flip makes me more air aware because I’m practicing going upside down. This year I’ve tried to emulate strategies I’ve used in my flips to better myself in the high jump and it happened. I do front flips and all sorts of different type of flips, and when applied to track and field stuff it has upped my track and field game a lot.”

Smith credits Myers for helping him morph into a raw high jumper when he entered high school to a more polished product today. Technique has also been key for Christopher senior Isabella Jimenez, who won the discus event with a throw of 103 feet, 8 inches while also taking third in the 100 hurdles and fourth in the 300 hurdles.

A hurdler and discus thrower? A rare combo indeed.

“I was super excited for the discus because I was trying to break my PR (of 108-8),” she said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but I tried my best and I’ll have at least one more meet to do it.”

Jimenez was a busy competitor Friday, as she had to compete in two events at once: the discus and 100 hurdles. She navigated the two events nicely, but the discus is her favorite event. At 5-foot-2, Jimenez is smaller than most of her competitors. However, she excels in the event because of her superior technique, allowing her to unleash big throws despite being small in stature.

“I’m the smallest one out there, but by working on technique, it allows me to throw it pretty well,” she said. “

Ciana Clinton, a Christopher senior, won the shot put with a throw of 34-3 ½.

Gilroy High’s Marcela Mantilla won the 100-meter hurdles in the MBL Pacific Division Finals.

 

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