Chabot track star Conner McKinnon is no stranger to championship races.
As a senior at Amador Valley High in 2014, he placed third in the 800 meters at the CIF state championships with his current personal best of 1 minute, 51.64 seconds. Two years later, he placed third in the California Community College Athletic Association state championships in the 800 as a Chabot freshman.
But after sitting out the 2017 season, McKinnon has been a comeback story this time around.
His road back to the big postseason meets has been arduous but fruitful. He is in prime position for a title run with the fifth-fastest 800 time in the state of 1:53.83 heading into the NorCal Regional Finals on May 11 at Sacramento City.
After his freshman season, McKinnon didn't just get one job – he got four. He worked at the front desk for ClubSport in Pleasanton, as a Starbucks barista, as a DoorDash deliverer and in construction.
"After that year working jobs, I realized I'm young, I still have the talent, I'm still fast," said McKinnon, who was contacted by (Chabot track coach Kyle) Robinson in the middle of May last year about possibly returning. "In the long run, I thought I should go back to school and get a degree."
But McKinnon was nowhere near racing shape. He had competed in a recreational basketball league, and last spring he did triathlon training three days a week for eight weeks. But that comprised all his workouts since his freshman track season in 2016.
He started running regularly with the Chabot cross country team last August.
"A lot of pain," said McKinnon, describing his return to running. "The first month or two was brutal. Just getting through easy runs was a hard workout for me … I started feeling better about October."
This track season, he ran his current season best in the 800 at the Beach Invitational in April in Long Beach. In the NorCal Trials on May 4, he eased into a qualifying spot for the finals with a time of 1:55.75.
"It was a pretty casual race," said McKinnon, who was third in his heat. "I knew the time when I crossed the line was fast enough."
But make no mistake, McKinnon will not be looking for another third-place finish in the 800 in the NorCal finals.
"My goal is to win," he said. "This season, I feel strong."
"It's been exciting to watch him grow," Chabot coach Kyle Robinson said. "He is just coming into his stride now."
BANNER SEASON: McKinnon will be joined by many teammates at the NorCal Finals.
Jamie Guzman will be competing in the women's 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles. The freshman has times of 16.17 and 1:08.04 in the two races, respectively.
Chabot has qualified 12 men and one woman for the NorCal championships.
"This is by far the largest group I've ever had in the NorCal finals," said Robinson, who is in his fourth season. "I know it's the most since 2005 at least."
Beside McKinnon, here are the other Chabot male athletes who will be competing in the NorCal Finals, and a top mark for each:
Pat Alexander, pole vault (15 feet, 3 ½ inches)
Tim Bernal, long jump (22-2 ¼)
Zach Connolly, 3,000 steeplechase (9:50.59)
Chad Dali, long jump (21-4 ¼)
David Frisbie, 5,000 (14:54.54)
Thomas Gallagher, 5,000 (15:53.53)
Roman Johnson, 100 (10.58)
Peter Normann, 1,500 (4:10.51)
Arman Pabla, 3,000 steeplechase (10:14.80)
Nick Pepares, javelin (155-4)
Lucas Vigil, 5,000 (15:49.50)
By Phil Jensen
Special to Chabot athletics