Confidence carries Toler to state meet

Sacrificing sleep for a trip to Disneyland was an easy call for CJ Toler. The Vacaville High School senior did not realize until returning that a fun night with his classmates would cost him more than a few winks.

Toler was dragging by the time he arrived in Elk Grove last Thursday to compete in the triple jump at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet. He entered with the sixth-best mark in the section at 44 feet, 7.25 inches. He departed after going 42-10.5 in his first turn, 43-3 in his second and fouling in the third.

Beating him to the exit was his shot of competing in two events at the state championships, which begin Thursday in Clovis. Toler will be traveling south again after finishing second in the high jump last  Friday.

Senior CJ Toler stretches in the high jump pit after practice Tuesday. Vacaville’s only state qualifier is confident he has what it will take to contend for a medal.

Earning his first ticket to the state meet put Toler in a much better mood after he was “devastated” Thursday. He could have used exhaustion as an excuse for falling short in the triple jump. He could have complained how he, track teammate Cody Cheatham and 10 seniors on the baseball team were not getting a fair shake because they had to decide between sports and pre-graduation festivities such as the trip to Disneyland.

Toler’s decision was easy. One way or another, he was going to Disneyland. His way turned out to be the same as Cheatham’s. They left their classmates on the way home in Fresno, where Chatham’s father was waiting with his truck. Toler got back to Vacaville in time for a 30-minute nap before going to Elk Grove.

“I’m still a kid. I still have to enjoy high school,” said Toler, who also played football and basketball for the Bulldogs. “I really wanted to make (the state meet) in two events, but I don’t regret Disneyland at all.”

Cheatham did not qualify in the shot put and discus at the section meet, leaving Toler as Vacaville’s sole survivor. Few folks gave Toler much of a chance of making the state meet in one event, much less two. The section seeds the field events based on an athlete’s best mark. Toler’s 6-1 put him in a pack of nine jumpers chasing seven with marks of 6-3 and higher.

“I wanted to make sure that everyone knew I was here,” Toler said. “I wanted everyone to know I belonged.”

Two of those seven did not clear the opening height of 6-0. Four went out at 6-2, which Toler cleared on his third and final attempt to join Lodi’s Damien Biegler and Yuba City’s KeRon Blackwell as the only jumpers remaining in contention. That clinched a trip to the state meet for Toler with the top three finishers in each running and field event  qualifying.

Toler and Biegler both went out at 6-3. Blackwell won by clearing 6-5. The tentative opening height at the state meet will be 6-3, and 13  jumpers qualified with marks of 6-6 and higher. Toler will have his hands full, but he is not at all intimidated. Coach John Wilkerson is confident that Toler will hold his own against the best jumpers in the state.

“He was obviously disappointed (last Thursday), but he gets to press reset,” Wilkerson said. “The door is opening for him. He needs to take advantage of this opportunity and walk through it. He’s got a chance.”

A medal is within Toler’s reach. Just ask him. With a good night’s sleep, Toler plans to prove he is not content with just attending the state meet. “I want to get on the podium. That’s my goal,” he said. “I know I can compete with the best of them.”

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