Track State Meet

Lighthall finishes seventh in state at 800 meters
Posted on 06/01/2022
Joe Lighthall

One measure of exactly how much progress Joe Lighthall made this year running the 800 meters is the reaction he and his coach had to Lighthall finishing seventh at the State Track Meet on Saturday. They were disappointed, which is something neither one might have believed possible five months ago.

 

“If you had told me in January that he was going to be running in the state finals and finish seventh in a time of 1:55.28, I would have been thrilled,” acknowledged Joel Bernard, Hughson’s athletic director and assistant track coach who works with middle-distance runners. “But it was a little disappointing because Joe ran so well on Friday.”

 

Certainly, Lighthall’s performance in Friday’s second heat of the 800 qualifying at Buchanan High School in Clovis created optimism that he might have an outside chance at winning a state medal. His time of 1 minute, 52.47 seconds was a personal best by a second and a half and positioned him as the fifth-fastest qualifier for the 12-man finals race on Saturday.

 

In the prelims, Lighthall was paired up with, among others, Jai Dawson of Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, who eventually finished second in the state. In the heat, Dawson went out fast, but Lighthall stayed with him through the first lap of the two-lap race.

 

“When Dawson eased off, Joe was right there,” Bernard said. “In fact, Joe actually took the lead on the back stretch of the second lap.”

 

Dawson retook the lead on the final turn and won the heat in 1:51.95. Ryan Thomas of Torrey Pines in San Diego was second in 1:52.34, with Lighthall just a step behind in third.

 

“The goal was to be in the top three because we knew they would go to the finals,” Bernard explained. “We didn’t want to leave it to chance.”

 

Mission accomplished on the first day. Bernard said Lighthall felt good after the first race, especially having run his best time ever.

 

“He wasn’t tired. He felt fresh. But it’s hard to run a PR (personal record) one day and come back the next day,” Bernard said.

 

The wind was blowing harder on Saturday night and Lighthall, unfortunately, got off to a slower start. He was one of the few juniors in the finals and the only runner from the Sac-Joaquin Section in a race dominated by athletes from Southern California.

 

Lighthall and Bernard, as they always do before each race, discussed strategy. The plan, according to Bernard, was for Lighthall to stay in touch with the leaders and “put himself in the top half of the field, then take a shot in the second lap and see if he could get a podium spot or something better.”

 

Instead, Lighthall found himself trailing most of the 12-runner field midway through the first lap. The eventual winner – Ellis Delvecchio of Thacher High in Ojai – set a quick pace that Lighthall was unable to match.

 

“Delvecchio went out ridiculously fast,” Bernard said. “Normally, Joe’s able to go out hard and get in position on the back straightaway, but the pace just didn’t slow. He was ninth or 10th on the back straight. It was the first time he has ever been in that spot.

 

“In all fairness, I’m sure that everybody in that field came into the year with more experience than Joe. They’ve been in big races. They’ve had more opportunity to race against fast guys more often. This was a great learning experience for him. Joe said he wasn’t tired after the race, which probably means he left something on the track.”

 

To his credit, Lighthall rallied at the end of the race and outkicked some other runners to finish seventh in 1:55.28. Delvecchio won in 1:51.95, followed by Dawson (1:51.28) and Jacob Snodgrass (1:51.32) of San Marcos.

 

Bernard said he and Lighthall already have begun to talk about next year and what a training schedule might look like. Lighthall will run cross country in the fall, followed by soccer in the winter. Both sports will help him remain in good shape, along with extra running he will do on the side. They’ve even toyed with the idea of Lighthall added the 1,600 meters to his repertoire next season instead of the 400, which he ran this year.

 

But it’s the 800 that likely will remain his specialty. Based on this year’s results, Lighthall will be among the favorites to earn a state medal next spring. Bernard also will be looking for more early season races to provide the kind of competition that will push Lighthall to faster times.

 

“He’ll be a year older and more experienced next year,” Bernard said. “We’re going to work on getting stronger, which for a runner means the ability to perform a lot of high-level work without much recovery. Joe is probably one of the faster athletes in the field in terms of pure speed. He needs to hold on to that longer and be able to recover.”

 

Lighthall had plenty of time to think about Saturday’s race as well as his running future over the weekend. Bernard dropped him off at his home about 1 a.m. Sunday morning, then picked him up at 5:30 a.m. to take him to the San Francisco airport, where he caught a plane to Paris to join his family on a long-planned European vacation.

 

The rest of his family left Saturday morning, but Joe stayed behind because he had a race to run that night – a race neither he nor his coach thought was possible this year. That’s what happens when expectations are exceeded.

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