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How Monterey Trail sped away and a Jesuit runner went the distance at state track meet

By Joe Davidson, Sac Bee, 05/26/19, 9:45AM PDT

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The Mustangs’ foursome of Andre Crump, Camden Wheeler, Prophet Brown and Zach Larrier defied odds and terrific competition by winning the relay in 41.47 seconds. The odds were that the SoCal heavies would overwhelmingly take this field. 

Not this time. Monterey Trail became just the third regional outfit to win this race, joining Johnson in 1986 (41.30) and Woodcreek in 2014 (41.20). Since 2005, only Woodcreek and Monterey Trail prevailed for Northern California programs.

Larrier wasn’t finished. Some 30 minutes after his 400 relay anchor effort, the state leader in the 400-meter dash won his one-lap specialty in 46.73, the third-fastest effort in the country this season.

Larrier became the area’s first such champion since Johnny Ware of Sacramento in 1975 (47.2). Rod Connors of Cordova is the area’s only other 400 champion, in 1974 (47.7). Those remain household track names. Larrier is there now. 

Soon, perhaps, will Wheeler, a sophomore who was fifth in 47.45. How unique was Larrier’s 400 effort? He is just the second NorCal runner to take that race since 1997. 

Asked if it was surreal to be 400 relay champions, each of the Mustangs smiled and said in unison, “Yes!”

“There’s no division breakup in the state meet. You’re the overall state champion or you’re not,” Larrier said. “Everything has to go just right while everything sometimes has to go wrong for other relay teams.” 

Said Brown, “All season, we talked about winning state. We did it. We’ve seen this coming, or hoping, since Day 1, but it’s not easy. We’re proud.” 

Monterey Trail placed sixth in the 4x400 relay in 3:20.37 to give the team 27 total points, good for second behind team winner Clovis North. Jesuit was third with 24 points, thanks to fast legs.

Sandwiched in between those Monterey Trail victories was Strangio, whose gold shorts, red top, smooth stride and determined game face has become familiar in state meets. The junior won his four-lap event in 4 minutes, 8.7 seconds. He was the early leader in a loaded and fast field, then pulled away in dominating fashion down the stretch much like he did a year ago in winning the 3,200 at this venue. 

Strangio is also a CIF State cross country champion, a remarkable career with a year to go. Strangio threw his hands up triumphantly when he crossed the finish line. He is the next great distance star at Jesuit, which has featured eight CIF State distance track champions under distance coach Walt Lange, dating to the mid-1980s. 

Strangio is inspired by those Marauders legends – Eric and Mark Mastalir, Paul Thomas, Davis Welsh and Matt Farley. He is one of them now, by every measure. Strangio held off defending state champion Liam Anderson of Redwood of Larkspur, who was third in 4:10.26, and Colin Peattie of Bellarmine of San Jose, who was second in 4:09.99.

“I felt good, was ready, and it’s definitely a great feeling to do this with my best friends, guys I know well,” Strangio said. “I know the great names at Jesuit. I want to be the best there ever was at Jesuit. I’m excited.”

The Sacramento-area history of success in the 1,600 dates to the 1920s, when Earl Lockhart won in 1923 (4:31.6) and Cliff Halstead of Sacramento in 1927 (4:33.6) in an era of yards and dirt tracks. Other area state 1,600 champions: Cliff West of Kennedy in 1968 (4:09.0), Jeff Scott of El Camino in 1981 (4:10.06), Mark Mastalir of Jesuit (4:07.81), Reggie Williams of River City (4:08.78), Michael Stember of Jesuit in 1995 (4:04.00) and 1996 (4:06.72) and Matt Johnsrud of Woodcreek in 2002 (4:11.89).

Strangio attempted to pull off the brutal distance double, placing a gutsy third in the 3,200 in 8:57.69. He earned admiration points for the time and place in a stacked field, won by Nico Young of Newbury Park in 8:47.27, and especially for cranking out 12 laps in one day and 16 over two, including the 1,600 preliminary race. 

It’s difficult to pull off the distance double, as only three have in state history, including Reggie Williams of West Sacramento in 1988. 

Lange, the Jesuit coach, said it takes a special athlete to attempt both. And to win any state distance race in a state that includes the fastest runners in the country. 

“First, you’ve got to love running and you have to have confidence, and Matt has both,” Lange said. “He can run a faster race and will. He’s very good.” 

Another Jesuit junior to behold is Chase Gordon. He was edged at the finish in the 800, placing second in 1:51.74, a lifetime best as he has fast become an all-time program great. Kai Wingo of Valencia won the 800 in 1:51.71. The only Sacramento-area runner to win the two-lap race was Earl Lockhart of Sacramento in 1923 (1:59.0).

The Monterey Trail relay team is further proof that multi-sporting is a good thing at this level. 

Crump, Brown and Larrier were three-sport stars, and, along with Wheeler, each are known for being goodwill ambassadors on campus. Larrier, Crump and Brown were key figures on Monterey Trail’s greatest football team, a 12-1 outfit built on speed. 

Wheeler didn’t play football, but his father sure did. Damen Wheeler was The Bee’s 1995 Player of the Year at Valley after rushing for more than 2,200 yards for a 12-1 team, later playing in the pros.

Crump is an example of giving new things a try. He didn’t try his hand in football or track until this academic year, his senior campaign. He emerged as a record-setting receiver, earning a scholarship to San Jose State, and as a star in hoops, setting a program record with a 50-point outburst. He’s also a 4.0 student. That’s good living. 

“So glad I did all those sports,” Crump said, beaming. “Everyone should play in as many things as they can, while they can.”

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