Tickets to state meet at stake

Reality checks will be distributed Friday at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet in Davis. Many athletes who had their way in divisional meets last week will need every bit of luck they can get just to survive the trials. Those who do not might be even luckier because they will not have to be in the finals Saturday with no chance of getting anything more than a pat on the back from a sympathetic coach.

Many of the section qualifiers from Vacaville, Vanden, Will C. Wood and Dixon high schools fall into that category. Vacaville’s Khloe DeLaTorre is the only one to rank first in the section in any event according to The sophomore has the top time in the 800-meter run at 2:14:43, which she set April 20 in placing second to Carondelet’s Jayla Addision (2:14.36) at the Sacramento Meet of Champions. Granite Bay’s Kylie Nasca was third in 2:16.21. No other girl eclipsed 2:17 that day.

Khloe DeLaTorre and Makayla Galvan on train Monday in preparation for the Masters meet.

Nasca is second to DeLaTorre in the section and is one of the three seniors to crack 2:17 this season. The only other runner to do so is sophomore Veronica White of Christian Brothers. At least two of those five girls will not make it to the state meet May 24-25 at Buchanan High in Clovis because only the top three finishers will go. DeLaTorre knows how it feels to be left out after finishing fourth last year.

The 15-year-old DeLaTorre will do whatever it takes Saturday to earn a ticket. So will other athletes from Vacaville, Vanden and Dixon who rank in the top five in their respective events. Dixon junior Nathan Bloom and sophomore Madison Olds are ranked fifth in the boys shot put and girls discus, respectively. Sophomore Naiaja Sizemore of Vanden is ranked second in the 100 and fourth in the 200.

DeLaTorre was also weighing a heavy Masters load. In addition to the 800, she made it in the 1,600 and helped the Bulldogs qualify in the 4×400 and 4×800 relays. At one least event had to go, so she dropped the 1,600. It has yet to be determined if one relay event will be cut. The same four girls – DeLaTorre, Jensis Rafferty, Reagan Fisher and Alicia Rawdon – compete in each relay, so dropping one will not leave anyone out. DeLaTorre could never do that to a teammate.

Opponents are fair game. DeLaTorre has a specific strategy for each of those who might give her a run for money. She knew exactly what to expect in the 1,600 final at the Division III meet. Brenna Mannion of Vista del Lago, the only Division III girl to break 5 minutes this season, tucked in behind DeLaTorre with Placer’s Anna Seares running out front.

As soon as Mannion made a move on DeLaTorre by pulling even on the third lap, DeLaTorre figured it was time to make a “big move.” She immediately pulled away from Mannion and zipped past Seares to win comfortably in 5:09.05. Mannion was second in 5:12.95, followed by Seares and Vacaville sophomore Makayla Galvan.

Days numbered for ex-Viking

This is not how Armon Bailey envisioned his football career at Sacramento State coming to an end. The 2018 Vanden High School graduate expected the Hornets to beat UC Davis in the Causeway Classic, win the Big Sky Conference and host an FCS playoff game.

Bailey had every reason to believe the Hornets could achieve all three. Sacramento State beat UC Davis and won or shared the Big Sky championship in each of the past three seasons. And the Hornets began each of their three playoff appearances with a home game.

UC Davis running back Lan Larison could not get away from Sacramento State’s Armon Bailey on this play in the Causeway Classic.

Two out of three would have been fine with Bailey. One out of three would have been acceptable – especially if that one was another victory over the Aggies. Going 0-3 left the linebacker to wonder how a season with so much promise fell short of his expectations.

At least the Hornets are in the playoffs. Sacramento will face North Dakota in Grand Forks on Saturday. The Hornets are 2-4 against the Fighting Hawks, but Sacramento State won in each of its past two visits, most recently in 2017. Bailey had seven tackles when the Hornets lost 41-15 at home to North Dakota in 2018.

UC Davis was left out of the playoffs despite a 31-21 win over Sacramento State last week to finish 5-3 in the Big Sky. The Hornets were 4-4 and would have also been snubbed if not for their 30-23 win against their former coach, Troy Taylor, at Stanford on Sept. 16.

Sacramento State also received credit for three of its four Big Sky losses coming against ranked FCS teams – Montana, Idaho and Montana State. UC Davis did not play Montana State or Idaho. The Aggies lost to Montana, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington.

Armon Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles with 82 as a senior.

Falling to 0-11 against Eastern Washington cost UC Davis after the Eagles finished 3-5. The Aggies would not have merited any consideration if they had lost to Sacramento State. Bailey did all he could to prevent that by leading the Hornets in tackles with nine.

“For me personally, it really sucked. I didn’t want to go out on that kind of note,” said Bailey, who had eight or more tackles in seven games this season. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles for the second consecutive year with 82. He had 88 as a junior in 2022.

Marte Mapu finished second to Bailey in tackles last season with 76. Mapu was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and the New England Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft. He now starts at linebacker for the Patriots.

The 23-year-old Bailey believes Mapu has paved a path for other Hornets to have an opportunity to play in the NFL. One such player for the 2024 draft is Bailey, who is a two-time All-Big Sky selection after missing a total of 13 games in 2019 and 2021 with injuries.

As a “humble kid,” Bailey will not come out and say he believes he deserves a shot. As a “resilient guy,” he would welcome the challenge of proving he can compete against the elite.

“I feel like it’s right around the corner,” said Bailey, who has earned a degree in criminal justice and is thinking of applying for law school. “Everything is starting to fall into place.”

Little suspense in MEL football

Welcome to the annual race for second place, otherwise known as football in the Monticello Empire League. Let’s cut to the chase and concede the 2023 championship to Vacaville High without making the Bulldogs play five games.

Vacaville has won six consecutive MEL titles, so the only suspense each season is which team will take second. And even that has not been exciting with Vanden finishing as the runner-up in each of the past five seasons.

Tanner Donaldson contributed to the Bulldogs’ success as a player and now hopes to do as an assistant coach.

Will C. Wood was second in 2017, the first season after Napa and Vintage left the league. Vanden and Fairfield joined the MEL when the Superior California Athletic Conference folded.

Vanden is the only MEL team to come within 20 points of Vacaville in three of the past four years.  The Vikings lost 35-17 to the Bulldogs two years ago, their last loss on their way to the state 3-AA championship.

If Vanden lost twice to Vacaville with Tre Dimes at quarterback, what chance do the Vikings stand  without him? 

Will C. Wood lost 34-31 to Vacaville in 2018, three years after the Wildcats humbled the Bulldogs in a 49-26 victory. The Bulldogs’ last MEL loss was 28-21 to Napa in 2016. Vacaville has won 27 consecutive MEL games since then.

Vacaville’s average margin of victory during that winning streak is 33.6 points. That includes a 40-10 victory against Napa in 2017, a parting gift for the only team that could give Vacaville a run for the money.

The 2023 MEL season kicks off Friday night with Vacaville welcoming Rodriguez to Tom Zunino Stadium, Fairfield traveling to Wood and Vanden visiting Armijo. The closest the Mustangs have come against the Bulldogs was a 49-42 loss in 2008. 

Rodriguez has come within 30 points of Vacaville twice in 14 meetings since then. The Bulldogs’ average margin of victory against the Mustangs is 40 points,  including three games decided by 50 or more .

Armijo is the only unbeaten team at 5-0, but three of the Royals’ victories have come against teams with a combined record of 1-14. Fairfield’s five opponents are a combined 7-16. The Falcons did manage to beat Davis 27-26, but let’s not forget the Blue Devils were routed 43-0 by the Bulldogs in the first week.

Two of Wood’s three victories have come against 0-6 Sacramento and 0-5 Dixon by a total of 14 points. Armijo routed Dixon 42-7 two weeks after the Rams gave the Wildcats all they could handle in a 19-8 loss.

Vacaville can afford to look ahead to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs because no MEL team will pose a threat to the Bulldogs’ reign. The playoffs have not been kind to the Bulldogs, who are 6-9 in the postseason since winning the section Division II title in 2011. They have reached the semifinals once in 10 years since then.

Two section championships in a span of six years (Vacaville won its first in 2006) raised the bar for the Bulldogs. MEL titles are nice, but they lose their luster when they become as certain as death and taxes.

Vanden is the only MEL team to come within 20 points of Vacaville in three of the past four years.  The Vikings lost 35-17 to the Bulldogs two years ago, their last loss on their way to the state 3-AA championship.

Will C. Wood lost 34-31 to Vacaville in 2018, three years after the Wildcats humbled the Bulldogs in a 49-26 victory. The Bulldogs’ last MEL loss was 28-21 to Napa in 2016. Vacaville has won 27 in a row since then.