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June 03, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, June 03, 2005

Tracked down Tracked down (June 03, 2005)

Hobbled by injuries, Lancer boys finish second at CCS track

By Scott Campbell

Despite injuries to two of its star athletes, the St. Francis boys track and field team took second place at the CCS Championships on May 27.

That the Lancers earned a spot on the podium with juniors Kyle Mills-Bunje and Ben Sitler at less than peak strength spoke volumes about the team's talent and depth.

After an undefeated regular season in the West Catholic Athletic League, St. Francis (7-0) also won the WCAL Championships on May 14. At Los Gatos, however, league-rival Riordan took the section title with 76 points, while the Lancers were runners-up with 54 points.

As had been the case throughout the season, St. Francis cleaned up in the pole vault. With the Lancers making up half the field of eight, all four scored points as the team netted 17 points in the pole vault alone.

Casey Roche, a sophomore who finished second to Riordan's Joe Fazio at 15-4, spoke of his enjoyment of competing with teammates Kyle Chronis, Ben Sheehan and Mills-Bunje.

"It's awesome," said Roche. "Everyone's pushing each other, and we're all jumping really high."

Roche, Mills-Bunje and Chronis all earned trips to Sacramento for the state championships, with the latter two topping out at 14-11.

Joining them at Hughes Stadium on June 3 will be junior David Wernick, who qualified in the shot put. Wernick's throw of 52-4 was good for third place.

But on this day, the story was how the two hobbled stars, Mills-Bunje and Sitler, gutted through their injuries to give St. Francis a fighting chance for the team championship.

Speaking before the bulk of the track events concluded the meet, Mills-Bunje underscored the Lancers' aspiration.

"We're going for the gold," said Mills-Bunje, whose 24 points were more than all but five whole teams scored. "We want to win it big time."

Mills-Bunje suffered a left-groin pull while beginning the meet with a triple jump. Despite only attempting one more jump so as not to worsen the injury, he managed to take third place at 45-09.50, good enough to qualify for the State Championships.

The versatile junior's day was far from finished. His gritty performance included running a leg of the Lancers' fourth-place 4x100-meter relay team, attempting three pole vaults and taking one long jump.

"Every jump after that first triple was just hurting me worse," said Mills-Bunje. "I just tried to get as many points as I could."

Visibly limping as he crisscrossed the field between events, Mills-Bunje still finished second in the long jump at 22-07.25 and third in the pole vault, thereby earning him state honors in an incredible three individual events.

"I'm pretty happy, but I'm probably not going to compete in all of them (in Sacramento) because it's hurting bad," said Mills-Bunje, who collapsed until he could be attended to by a trainer after his final pole vault. "We'll just see how I feel when state comes around."

Meanwhile, Sitler, who excels in the long-distance events, was questionable to even compete after he suffered a right-knee injury at the start of the week. The junior withdrew from the 1600-meter competition, in which he was a likely state qualifier, but decided to test the waters before the 3200-meter race.

"I felt it during the warm-up," Sitler said of his meniscus tear. "Anytime when I bent or squatted or jumped, I would feel it, even when I sped up a little quicker."

Judging on how Sitler dominated the field during the race, an uninformed observer would have never suspected the St. Francis runner was at less than full strength. Sitler never trailed and finished in a state-qualifying 9:21.11, more than a second faster than his nearest challenger.

"In the race, once I got going, it just felt great," said Sitler. "I was just in my zone and got going, and all the pain went away."

Sitler's triumph and senior Brian Fisher's sixth-place finish in the 3200-meter helped the Lancers pull away from Oak Grove, which finished third in the team competition with 32 points.

That St. Francis ultimately fell short of the CCS title took nothing away from its performance on this day or from the tremendous promise of next year's squad.

"We were looking for a win, we really were, but we're a young team," said Sitler. "We're graduating very few runners and athletes and jumpers so we're going to come back strong next year."

E-mail Scott Campbell at [email protected]

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