Race walking into romance

Robyn Stevens fell for Nick Christie even though he is nine years younger.

Nick Christie was ready to leave the friend zone with Robyn Stevens in 2019 when he invited the 2001 Vacaville High School graduate to the California Super Bloom. There was one slight problem, however. Stevens was more attracted to the endless fields of wildflowers than to a man nine years her junior.

Stevens was content with their connection being race walking. The two became acquainted by occasionally training together, and Christie’s Super Bloom invitation came after they crossed paths at the USA Track & Field 20-kilometer Race Walk Championships in Southern California.

Age is no longer an issue for Stevens because she and Christie are now an inseparable couple. They will leave for Tokyo on July 28 as the only American race walkers to qualify for the Olympics.  It took more than their respective victories June 26 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon to make it.

Their tickets to Japan were determined by the world rankings with each needing to be in the top 60 to qualify. Stevens was ranked 54th entering the U.S. Olympic Trials, so there was little chance that she would miss out regardless of how she finished. Christie was ranked 61st, so he was hanging on by a thread.

Stevens, a 2001 Vacaville High graduate, made it to the Olympics by being ranked 54th in the world. The top 60 qualified.

Christie did the math and figured he would need to finish with a time south of 1 hour and 25 minutes to climb into the top 60. He crossed the finish line in 1:30:48 with Stevens on his heels as she began her final 1-kilometer lap. A photo of Stevens hitting the banner at the finish line shows the shock on her face because she felt as if she had stolen Christie’s thrill of victory.

“I slapped his butt and someone told me, ‘How sweet of you to push Nick through the finish,’” Stevens said. “That was his finish line. I was thinking about him and trying not to cry. I knew he had to go under 1:25. He was smiling, but I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t confident. I knew my parents couldn’t go (to Tokyo) and if Nick didn’t make it, I would have had to go alone.”

Fortunately, a race walker in the men’s top 60 was withdrawn by his country. Christie received the good news after the rankings were updated July 5, which was the last day for countries to submit their team rosters for Tokyo. Although the withdrawal was expected, Christie came within a few short hours of being left out.

All their trials and triumphs as race walkers will make for great stories that Stevens and Christie will share one day with their children. Starting a family is on their agenda along with returning to the Olympics in 2024. Competing in Paris would be special because they are both sponsored by a French sporting goods company, Decathlon. Christie was a guest at the opening of Decathlon’s Emeryville store in 2019. They have even discussed what it will take to qualify for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Stevens thinks of all those possibilities and remembers how close she came to letting Christie get away.

“I enjoyed his company, but I wasn’t thinking romantically because of his age. I always went for older guys,” said Stevens, who was 36 at the time. “I told him I thought the Super Bloom would be cool to see and that it would be cool to have someone to see it with. I just thought he wanted to hang out.”

Christie saw much more than flowers when he was  invited by Stevens to Las Vegas because a friend of hers was performing in what she called a burlesque show. When her topless friend took the stage, Stevens could not imagine what Christie had to be thinking. The blush in his cheeks was her first clue.

“I was thinking a cabaret or something like that, maybe just a little risqué,” recalled Christie, who  had to hustle after the last-minute  invitation to make the five-hour drive from San Diego in time for the show. “That was a little surprising. I didn’t think it was going to be like that. I didn’t know what I agreed to.”

Stevens did not give much thought to how Christie would react to nudity because “this is Vegas. It wasn’t dirty at all. I really didn’t think about this being out of his comfort zone. He’s pretty chill, but when she came out he was all pink in the face. He was great. He went with the flow.”

The best was yet to come. Stevens also invited Christie to go to a goat yoga class the following day. The class was in an outdoor pen and the students went through the various yoga moves as baby goats climbed all over them. And the instructor just happened to be Stevens’ exposed friend, the dancer.

“By the end of the weekend, I knew I was interested in him.” Stevens admitted. “Who doesn’t bond over goats … cute baby goats? I was actually wondering if he was thinking, ‘I don’t know about this Robyn.’”

He certainly knows enough by now. 

Three seniors deserve final bow


The curtain will fall on the 2021 baseball season for Vacaville and Will C. Wood high schools on Thursday when the Wildcats travel across town to face the Bulldogs at 4 p.m. Before the lights are turned out, these three seniors deserve to take a bow before they exit stage left.

Kobe Rolling (from left), Juan Martinez and Daniel Navarro

Daniel Navarro and Kobe Rolling, Will C. Wood

Navarro and Rolling came to the rescue of Fairfield pitcher Juan Martinez on March 30 after Martinez was calling for balking on consecutive pitches. Martinez had no idea what was wrong because he speaks Spanish and could not understand the umpire. Fairfield coach Nick Spini did not fare any better when he went to the mound after the first balk with another Spanish-speaking player, whom Spini said could not translate a balk because he never heard of it.

The second balk call prompted Navarro and Rolling to go to the mound. Navarro’s father was raised in Mexico and only speaks Spanish. Rolling was enrolled in the Dual Immersion program as a youngster, so he learned Spanish before English. Martinez’s plight was all too familiar for Navarro, who did not speak English when he arrived at Wood in the fall of 2017.

“I felt his pain,” said Navarro, who credits teachers such as Katie Stonebraker at Wood for investing the time and diligence to help him become bilingual.

Martinez did not know what to think as two members of the opposing team made their way to the mound. “He was shocked,” Navarro said. Rolling added, “He had his guard up. I think he was a little scared. It has to be frightening when you don’t understand English.”

That the Wildcats had a 14-0 lead at the time had nothing to do with Rolling’s decision to go to the mound and take along Navarro. “I still would have gone out there if (the score) was opposite,” Rolling said. “It was the right thing to do at the right moment.”

Navarro and Rolling will be honored Thursday evening by the Governing Board of the Vacaville Unified School District during its meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

Austin Menesini, Vacaville

Four juniors made the 24-player varsity roster for the Bulldogs in 2020. Menesini was not one of them. The catcher was sent down to the junior varsity to play with his brother JJ, a sophomore. When COVID-19 wiped out the season, Menesini had plenty of time to stew after having assumed he would make the varsity.

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Austin Menesini

“I was in shock to be honest with you. I have high expectations for myself,” Menesini said. “I called my parents to tell them what happened and they told me I could stick it out or quit. I’m not a quitter. I knew what I had to do to get better. With all that was going on, I had to overcome it. I was motivated to prove people wrong.”

Among those people would be a few varsity players who teased Menesini for being demoted to the junior varsity, “They did make fun of me a lot,” he said. “They were chirping at me.”

Coach Stu Clary said it was not if Menesini did anything wrong during tryouts. Menesini was simply the odd man out with three senior catchers on the varsity. “It wouldn’t have been good to have him sit there and watch those three play,” Clary said. “And it wasn’t like we could just put him in left field. Our positions were stacked last year.”

Menesini’s perseverance has paid off this spring. He is the starting catcher for the Bulldogs and is batting .400 as the leadoff hitter. He had two hits, including a triple to drive in his brother, in Vacaville’s 16-2 victory over Wood on Tuesday. It might have taken Menesini three years to make his varsity, but he is certainly making the most of it.

“When there’s a bump in the road, you don’t give up. You go around it,” Menesini said. “I had to find my way around it.”

Fast four-ward for relay team

Aspin Oliver (from left), Lily Holman, Makayla Oliver and Maya Holman started off Saturday by training for the Monticello Empire League championships Tuesday and Thursday at Vanden. The three seniors and one sophomore (Lily) are ranked second in the state in the 4×100 relay and Aspin is first in the 300-meter hurdles.

Dodgers keep Gonsolin around

Tony Gonsolin is no longer a one night stand for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2012 Vacaville High School graduate has moved beyond flirting with the Dodgers by pitching in one game and then being sent away the next day. The relationship must be getting serious because his latest stay is at  five weeks … and counting.

The Dodgers swept aside the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League wild-card playoffs and are facing the San Diego Padres in the divisional round. The best-of-five series began Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas with the Dodgers winning 5-1.

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(Courtesy photo/Oklahoma City Dodgers)
Tony Gonsolin is 2-2 in 2020 with a 2.31 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

For the sake of neutrality, the NL divisional playoffs will be in American League parks. The two AL series are in NL cities The Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins are in Houston as the Astros battle the Oakland A’s at Dodger Stadium. The Tampa Rays and New York Yankees are in San Diego with the Padres in Texas. Nothing makes much sense in this bizarre season of cardboard fans and nasal swabs.

The yo-yo manner in which the Dodgers have treated Gonsolin also makes little sense, although he would rather go back and forth instead of not going at all. The right-hander made his major-league debut on June 26, 2019 in Arizona and returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City on June 27. His second start was July 30. He was sent packing a day later.

Gonsolin returned Aug. 2 and earned his first major-league victory Aug. 5 by allowing two hits in six shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. He then packed his bags and returned to Oklahoma City on Aug. 6. The Dodgers recalled Gonsolin on Aug. 18 and retained him for the final six weeks of regular season.

This season brought more of the same. Gonsolin joined the Dodgers on July 31 to start in Arizona and left the next day for the team’s alternate training site at USC. He returned Aug. 12 and made two starts before again being sent away Aug. 19. When the Dodgers recalled him for good on Aug. 30, he could only assume he was staying because no one told him otherwise. So much for any pomp and circumstance of making it to the big leagues.

“They really don’t tell you anything,” said Gonsolin, who won two of his five starts in September to even his record at 2-2. The 26-year-old finished the regular season with a 2.31 ERA and struck out 46 in 46 2/3 innings.

Not only did Gonsolin impress the Dodgers in 2019 with his pitching. He also batted .308 with one of his four hits coming against former Vallejo High star CC Sabathia in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Aug. 24. Gonsolin singled in the third inning and scored on a home run by Justin Turner. 

That proved to the difference because Gonsolin and three relievers combined to allow just five hits. Gonsolin yielded two hits and one run when Aaron Judge blasted a ball well beyond the center-field fence. 

With the NL adding the designated hitter this season, Gonsolin can leaves his bats in the clubhouse. He does not miss batting in games as much as taking batting practice with the other pitchers. Batting practice often turned into a home run derby with pitchers trying to prove they can go deep.

“It’s always fun watching the balls getting launched,” said Gonsolin, who hit seven homers of 11 homers at Saint Mary’s College as a senior. He has yet to go deep since being a ninth-round draft pick in 2016. 

“Getting in the (batter’s) box is fun,” Gonsolin said, “In this abbreviated season, it’s probably better to have a guy up there that can put together a good at-bat. We’re facing some pretty tough pitchers in the playoffs.”

Whether the Padres will face Gonsolin in the NLDS remains to be determined. Five games in five days leave little chance of Walker Buehler (Game 1 starter) and Clayton Kershaw (Game 2) making two starts in the series. Gonsolin’s availability to start might come down to whether he is needed out of the bullpen.

Gonsolin had a solid start against the Padres on Aug. 12, surrendering three hits in 4 2/3 shutout innings and striking out eight. He needed to finish the the fifth inning to be eligible for a win, which he would have earned after the Dodgers scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull ahead in a 6-0 victory.

The Dodgers loosened Gonsolin’s leash on Sept. 26  after the Los Angeles Angels rallied for four runs in the third inning to erase a 3-0 deficit. Gonsolin walked to the mound in the fourth because no one told him not to. He blanked the Angels in the next three innings as the Dodgers came back to pull out  a 7-6 victory.

Gonsolin knows nothing of the Dodgers’ pitching plans for the NLDS other than “Buehler’s going in Game 1.” All he can do at this point is hope to remain with the Dodgers until the last out of their season. The Dodgers can alter their 28-player roster before the NL Championship Series and the World Series.

They did just that for the NLDS by dropping catcher Keibert Ruiz and adding pitcher Dylan Floro. They also swapped position players with backup first baseman Edwin Rios injured by adding infielder Gavin Lux. After all of his one night stands, Gonsolin has learned not to count his chickens or any other birds.

“It’s out of my control. All that stuff is way over my head,” Gonsolin said. “It could be dictated by matchups. All I know is when I go out there, I am going to do the best I can do.”

Bulldogs on the run with Monk

Daniel Hernandez (left) and Kelln Steplight set the pace in a training run last Monday at Folsom High, where the Bulldogs placed second in the section meet.

David Monk remained true to his school in 2006 when the 1990 Fairfield High School graduate was offered an opportunity to coach distance runners at Sacramento State. He already had his dream job of coaching cross country and track at his alma mater. Monk could not bring himself to run out on his runners.

Much had changed for Monk when Sacramento State came calling again in 2016. He was coaching at Armijo, having left Fairfield after 10 years because he could no longer find enough students willing to meet his demands. There are never any short cuts for Monk in getting the best out of each and every one of his runners.

That explains why Monk took his Vacaville High cross country runners to Folsom High at 8 a.m. on Monday. This is his first season as the Bulldogs coach, and the Sac-Joaquin Section championships are on Saturday in Folsom. Familiarity with the course will bolster the Bulldogs as they strive to extend their season for two more weeks. To do so, one or more will have to qualify for the state meet Nov. 30. 

Monk has coached a state cross country champion, although he was not officially coaching at Armijo when Luis Grijalva won in 2016. Grijalva capped his senior year by winning the 1,600 meters at the state track championships in Clovis. He is still running as a junior at Northern Arizona University.

David Monk works with freshman Paulina Peterson on how to attack a hill on Monday.

Just as Grijavla was embarking on his final year at Armijo, Monk was contacted by Sacramento State with an offer he could not refuse. His concern in accepting it was leaving Grijalva high and dry, so he talked his former Fairfield High coach – Karl Wurzbach – into guiding his prize pupil. “He was the first guy and the only guy I thought of,” recalled Monk, who became friends with Wurzbach after high school and was the best man in his wedding.

Wurzbach and his wife, Rachel, are now coaching with Monk at Vacaville High. Their daughter, Hailey, is a sophomore and will run with the Bulldogs varsity girls team in the Division II race on Saturday. Joining Hailey will be seniors Ella and Avery Bernard. The twins’ father, Andy, is also lending Monk a hand.

None of this would have come to be had Sacramento State not fired all of its cross country and track coaches in 2018. Working with college runners was a blast for Monk, but those athletes did not need much direction because “they were already on a path.” Coaching high school runners, especially the underclassmen, gives Monk an opportunity to start from square one and set them on the right course.

“I don’t care how you good are. It’s about how much you can give of yourself,” Monk said. “I have neglected Daniel (Hernandez) and Kellen (Steplight) a little bit. They only get me one day a week. They’re so equipped. They have already laid a foundation. The other kids are blank canvasses. I need to pour more into them. It has revitalized my coaching.”

Hernandez and Steplight finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Division II race at the subsection meet last week. Whitney seniors Austin Vasquez and Ethan Hodge were the top two finishers, three seconds ahead of the Vacaville duo. That is exactly what Monk asked of his top two runners. The subsection meet is nothing more than a qualifier for the section championships. Much more will be at stake Saturday for Hernandez, a senior, and his sophomore sidekick.

“We wanted to keep it in perspective,” Monk said. “We wanted to qualify and minimize our energy expenditure. I want them to stay as fresh as they can with their physical and mental energy. I want them to run with the confidence that they know they are ready.”

Wurzbach only wishes Monk would have followed his instructions in 1988 as a sophomore at Fairfield High. Wurzbach laid out the 3,200-meter race at the section meet by predicting who would finish first and second. With the top three finishers qualifying for the state championships, Wurzbach told Monk when he would have to make his move to be in the top three. Monk did not do it.

“I hesitated in the moment and it cost me,” Monk recalled. “(Wurzbach) gives me grief about it to this day.”

Monk now knows better, and so do the Bulldogs.

All (MEL) or nothing … for now

Kyler Abramowicz sank his teeth into a large quesadilla on Nov. 7 when the Vacaville High School junior should have been at football practice. Kyler is no longer a football player, however, at least for the time being. He quit Nov. 5 at the behest of his father Dennis, a day after the Bulldogs’ leading tackler was not selected to the All-Monticello Empire League team.

Two Vacaville linebackers, senior Coulter Malone and junior Logan Cunningham, were voted to the first team. Senior Cody Hume was a second-team selection. Kyler had 72 tackles in 10 games, surpassing his three  fellow linebackers who were All-MEL selections by at least 25 apiece. If the Vacaville coaches who attended the MEL meeting could not nominate Kyler, they could have at least pointed out to those who could do so that Kyler was worthy of consideration.

A second-team or honorable mention selection might not have been enough to prevent Dennis from venting his disgust on Facebook by posting, “Way to screw over a kid. Sick to my stomach, What a (expletive) joke this has become.” Dennis did not refer to Kyler by name, writing that he was asking on behalf of a friend about “a player” who had been apparently snubbed.  Those who added comments to his post could read between the lines and knew it was Kyler.

Dennis once strolled the sidelines as a coach with the Bulldogs, but his differences with the staff led to his resignation in 2017. No one could blame Dennis from jumping to the conclusion that Kyler was being punished because his father turned his back on the program. This was just a year after Kyler’s brother Talon led the Bulldogs in tackles as a senior and was just a second-team all-league selection. When Kyler got nothing Monday, Dennis had to be thinking it was no coincidence as in “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” 

Here is the difference between Talon and Kyler. Talon was a senior when he did not get what he and his father believed he deserved. Had Dennis forced Talon to quit, Talon would have missed one playoff game before turning in his No. 32 jersey.  Kyler is a junior. If he does not return now, who knows if the coaches will allow him to play as a senior and wear No. 21 again. With Kyler having aspirations of playing in college, imagine how he will explain to a recruiter that he walked out on his team because Dennis was hell-bent on settling a score with the coaches by depriving them of his son’s services.

Kyler might not be angry as his father, but the pain is evident when he talks of what has transpired in the past four days. He would never want anyone to think of him as a quitter, but he has to answer to his father before doing so to any high school coach. In this tug of war, Kyler is the rope that is frayed at both ends.

This is not a matter of right or who has been wronged. The only score to be settled will come Nov. 15 when Vacaville hosts Elk Grove in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff game. Hopefully, Kyler will return by then with a warm welcome from grateful coaches so he can wear No. 21 again – this season.

He’s just kicking it at Nevada

His return to Vacaville High School on Friday would have been far different if Brandon Talton was nothing more than a walk-on freshman at Nevada with no promise of ever kicking for the Wolf Pack. There would have been no talk of his 56-yard field goal as time expired to beat Purdue on Aug. 30. No one would have asked if his kick made ESPN’s Top 10 Plays and Talton replying it did at No. 3.

His father Drew would not be knocking on a wooden table when he says his son has made all 10 of his field-goal attempts. His parents would be not breathing a sigh of relief because Nevada coach Jay Norvell gave Talton a scholarship about 12 hours after telling him he would kick against Purdue. And his parents would not have been refunded thousands of dollars for a semester of tuition, room and boar

Brandon Talton

Talton would have a English class on Fridays instead of adding it to his three classes on Mondays because he has to be free on Fridays to travel with the team as he has twice in five weeks thus far. He did not need to lower his head to say grace before having breakfast Sunday to realize he has been blessed. He did anyway because as much as his life has changed since Aug. 31, he remains the same.

A bye Oct. 5 allowed Talton, who graduated from Vacaville High in June, and quarterback Carson Strong, a 2018 Will C. Wood graduate, to jump into Talton’s car and come home for the weekend. The bye was also an opportunity for them to catch their breath and get ready for seven more weeks of football.

Nevada returns to action Saturday by hosting San Jose State at 1 p.m. Strong will start as he did in four of the first five games. He was held out of the Sept. 21 game at UTEP to heal his bumps and bruises. Senior Cristian Solano led the Wolf Pack to a 37-21 win over the Miners, but the job again is Strong’s.

Talton also had to contend with a senior, Spencer Pettit, to win the kicking job. Talton was on his way to a team meeting at lunch on Aug. 30 when Norvell took Talton aside and gave him the good news. Talton sat next to Pettit in the meeting as usual and knew Pettit had already been told he was out of luck.

“I’ve never talked to Spencer about it,”  Talton said. “We’re friends. I think we got closer after that.”

Out of respect to Pettit, Talton opted to keep the good news to himself and let his teammates find out on their own. That was his plan until he ran into Strong, who gave Talton a pep talk just in case the former Bulldog got an opportunity to play. Talton eventually cut the ex-Wildcat off and told him he would be.

Talton would have preferred Strong keep it a secret, but he did not say as much. “Carson was so excited for me. He had the biggest smile on his face,” Talton said. “It was Carson who started telling everyone.”

If losing his job to a true freshman was not bad enough, Pettit got kicked in the teeth when Talton won the opener with his 56-yarder. The moment of Norvell presenting Talton with the game ball and a full scholarship after the game was caught on video with Strong providing the shout-out. “And he’s from Vacaville!”

Sleep was a priority for Talton once all the postgame interviews were finished. He turned down an invitation by his parents to go out to dinner and retreated to the five-bedroom apartment he shares with four teammates. He will move to a two-bedroom apartment next year with his sister Nicole, who transferred to Nevada after two years at Sonoma State.

“He was tired,” his father Drew said. “He just crashed.”

A modicum of normalcy had returned  when Talton met his parents for breakfast the following day.   He was not recognized wearing a Nutrishop Vacaville T-shirt and Lulu Lemon shorts instead of his No. 43 jersey. And at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Talton hardly looks like a football player at a Division I university.

“It felt like a normal day,” Talton said.

Sure it was.