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By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nick DeSoto, a Rancho Cotate graduate, will compete in the NorCal finals this weekend for Santa Rosa Junior College. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Nick DeSoto, a Rancho Cotate graduate, will compete in the NorCal finals this weekend for Santa Rosa Junior College. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

A sprinter in high school, Tori Dwyer has been transformed into a top California junior college steeplechase specialist.

Back in track and field after a year’s layoff, Nick DeSoto is throwing the discus as well as ever.

One of the Empire’s all-time best prep high jumpers, Luisa McInnis found she still has plenty of bounce for the high jump.

The trio of Santa Rosa Junior College athletes leads a large contingent of Bear Cubs into the NorCal Championships. More than a handful could qualify for state given marks and rankings going into Saturday’s meet in Cupertino.

“We’re definitely trying to improve that number. We’re definitely pushing each other more,” said Dwyer, from Sonoma Valley High.

The growing Santa Rosa program continues developing athletes capable of competing with the region’s and state’s best in a range of events. Santa Rosa qualified 22 athletes for the regional championships compared with getting 14 into the NorCal trials a year ago.

“Our team strength is numbers. The team has a lot more depth than it had last year,” said coach David Wellman. “We are working on putting together a solid team.”

That work begins with attracting athletes committed to reaching their potential. Some were among the Empire’s prep bests. Others developed a passion for competing with the Santa Rosa team.

“It definitely feels good to be back,” said DeSoto, from Rancho Cotate High. “I’m glad I took a year off. I missed it.”

One of the Empire’s top high school discus throwers during the past decade, DeSoto took a redshirt year in track and field to heal from an injury and focus on classes at the junior college.

Upon his return in the fall DeSoto decided to compete in the decathlon. He was a jumper and a thrower in high school.

Yet months later, throwing the discus was still what DeSoto did best. So he began adding muscle and developing the speed, balance and consistency needed for big throws.

“It’s coming around now. I just need to be patient in the ring and not try to muscle it,” said DeSoto, ranked the No. 7 discus thrower in Northern California, according to CCCAA.

With a number of teammates in throwing events, DeSoto has training partners to help push for ever longer distances. His uncle Jan DeSoto, a former Olympic trials hammer thrower, is their coach.

“We’ve had a good team this year. It’s been awesome,” Nick DeSoto said.

Another athlete who missed the track is McInnis.

As a Montgomery High jumper she tied for fifth best all-time in the Empire.

At the junior college, she focused on volleyball. Fit from playing the past two seasons, McInnis went out for track.

“I just kind of wanted to see if I still had it in me. It felt good and I just kept getting better,” she said.

Shaking off the rust, McInnis has improved her run to the bar. Stronger legs from weight training provide endurance for consistent jumps throughout meets.

“I’m higher more often. I’m just trying to PR out there,” she said.

McInnis’ personal best has her ranked No. 2 in Northern California.

Helping track and field standouts elevate performances is one challenge for Santa Rosa coaches. The goal for many other Bear Cubs athletes is to improve enough to compete with the best. Some even change events at the urging of coaches.

The switch from soccer player and sprinter to distance runner has suited Dwyer. In just her second year in the steeplechase, covering 3000 meters and featuring jumps, she is ranked 6th in Northern California.

“Distance was a brand new thing for me,” she said. “I started with nothing. The coaches made me actually enjoy the sport.”

What the coaches recognized in Dwyer was an athlete possessing both speed — from track — and endurance — from soccer.

Running cross country the past two falls provided the foundation for track season. Then there was honing the technique for clearing barriers and negotiating the steeplechase’s infamous water jump — in the crowd of runners.

At the NorCal Championships, Dwyer must stick to her pace yet finish among the top six runners with state qualifying times. While she already has met the state standard, some competitors will be pushing for that mark on Saturday.

“I have to be tactical but fast. It will be pretty tough,” she said.

The goal in a track season is to train smart and run your best in the biggest meets. Many of Santa Rosa’s athletes competing at NorCals have marks within close range of state standards.

“It will take something special to make it happen, but the way they are training and the attitude they have, shows me that they can do it,” Wellman said.

CCCAA NorCal Championships

Saturday at De Anza College in Cupertino

SRJC Qualifiers (top Marks/NorCal Rank)

MEN

Jon Ahnberg: Steeplechase (10:05.63 – 6th)

Logan Stanley: 1500m (4:04.85 – 6th)

Herbie Polk: 400m (48.51 – 6th)

Cristain Nazarek: 5000m (15:23.31 – 7th)

Jesse Fenn: 5000m (15:48.83 – 23rd)

Max Metzger: Hammer Throw (145’2” – 9th)

Daniel Dwyer: Pole Vault (13’4” – 12th)

Adam Armstrong: Pole Vault (14’3.5’’ – Tied 7th)

Quentin Mendoza: High Jump (6’3.5’’ – Tied 6th)

Nick DeSoto: Discus (153’4’’ – 7th)

Nick Diaz: Javelin (171’5’’ – 11th)

Mikal Quitoriano: Javelin (166’1/8” – 11th)

Men’s 4×400, Herbie Polk, Brandon Beck, Dontae Garcia, and David Hernandez: (3:19.53 – 6th)

WOMEN

Tori Dwyer: Steeplechase (12:06.3 – 6TH)

Marina Lecoeuche: Steeplechase (12:22.87 – 9TH)

Kelly Birkland: 1500m (5:06.55 – 9TH)

Allyson Bricker: 400m Hurdles and Triple Jump (67.50 – 6TH; 34’8.5’’ – 11TH)

Luz Sanchez: 5000m (19:54.60 – 19th)

Lea Butler: Pole Vault, Long Jump and High Jump (11’7” – 1st; 17’4” – Tied 5th; 4’11” – 12th)

Luisa McInnis: High Jump (5’6” – 2nd)…2nd all time srjc

To qualify for CCCAA State Finals:

–Achieve state qualifying mark at any point in season

–Finish in top 4 of athletes with state standard for races starting in lanes (100m through 800m including relays)

–Finish in top 6 of athletes with state standard for all other track and field events

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