Lancers Roche, Sitler and Mills-Bunje enjoy banner weekend

The level of competition amongst high school track and field athletes in California is fierce. So fierce, in fact, that at the CIF State Championships last weekend at Cerritos College in Norwalk, the final marks more closely resembled those of Division I collegiate athletes than of high school students.

Such was the case for the boys of St. Francis, whose performance at the 2006 state meet proved to be the most successful in school history. Only a week after winning the Central Coast Section Championship, the Lancers scored 18 points in Norwalk on Saturday to tie for eighth overall.

The Lancers' success was the result of three third-place finishes. Junior Casey Roche took third in the pole vault, while Seniors Kyle Mills-Bunje and Ben Sitler placed third in the long jump and the 3200 meter run, respectively. All three were crowned CCS champions in their individual events on May 26.

Ben Sitler of St. Francis High School competes in the 3200 meter run at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships. Sitler finished third with a time of 9:02:56. Photo by Kirby Lee.

Ben Sitler of St. Francis High School competes in the 3200 meter run at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships. Sitler finished third with a time of 9:02:56. Photo by Kirby Lee.

"All three of them had to deal with some adversity," said Mike Saso, head coach of the boys track team, "and all three got the job done."

Long jumper Mills-Bunje saved his best leap of the meet for last. Jumping 23-8 3/4 in his final attempt, he improved nearly 10 inches from his previous jumps that day, propelling him from fifth place into third.

"First four jumps I was getting pretty stressed," said Mills-Bunje, who will compete for the UC Berkeley track team next spring, "I just put everything together on the last jump."

Meanwhile, Ben Sitler timed in at 9:02:56 in the two-mile run, nearly a 12-second improvement from his CCS Championship-winning time a week before. Saso attributed Sitler's surge to the tougher competition in the state meet.

"When you get down there with some of the top guys in the country it's a lot easier to run fast," Saso said.

Casey Roche had some trouble early in the pole vault finals, taking 15-11 to his third and final attempt. The junior would clear that height before finishing at 16-5.

Of the nine pole vaulters in the finals, all but Roche were seniors. For that reason, Roche will start next season ranked No. 1 in all of California.

The St. Francis track team will lose many of its top athletes to graduation at the end of this school year, but coach Saso remains optimistic that the Lancers will be a perennial contender. For now, St. Francis will let its CCS Championship and its stellar performance at state soak in until next year.

"It was a very exciting day," Saso concluded. "They did a great job."

Published in The Mountain View Voice:
http://www.mv-voice.com/print/story/2006/06/09/podium-finish-in-state-track-finals